Rogue Wave was my favorite band long before I knew front man Zach Rogue was from Oakland, or that the rest of the band was from the same Midwest town where I spent much of my youth. Their music has pulled me through some dark times and brings nothing but joy and inspiration with each new album. Rogue's lyrics evoke a kind of visceral response that I can't fully explain. Raw, poetic, compelling, and sometimes conversational -- I feel like I'm learning something or being given good advice when I listen hard and try to unpack the songs' various meanings.
I knew Rogue Wave's drummer Pat Spurgeon suffered from a kidney problem and that the band and their friends had rallied to support him. But what I didn't know about the band could fill a stadium, so I was the first in line for tickets to see D Tour, a new indie film detailing their story. Spurgeon's health issue was life threatening, but his undying passion for music didn't let it stop him, and he went on tour with the band like he'd always dreamed of doing.
Spurgeon's long-time friend Jim Granato is a filmmaker for SFMOMA, and the two of them decided to work on an independent project about Spurgeon's experience touring while self-administering daily dialysis treatments, which require completely sanitary environments not often found on the road. Initially Granato thought of the documentary as a concert film. It is peppered with rare live performance footage of Rogue Wave along with Nada Surf, John Vanderslice, the Moore Brothers, and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. But the project unexpectedly and tragically became much more than a concert film. It is a story about heroism and love, the beauty and tragedy of life, and people taking huge risks for friendship and for art. As Daniel Handler said to the crowd at a fundraising concert at The Independent in 2006, "Rock 'n roll and friendship are gonna' save the day."
Documentaries are much more emotionally risky than fictional films. When you cry during a documentary, it's about something real. And, boy, did this film make me cry. In my peripheral vision, I noticed couples holding each other closer in the seats around me. Tissues were dug out of purses amid sounds of involuntary emotion. It was impossible not to feel a connection with the band and their friends, and Granato made sure to include some funny and endearing moments to soften the blow of what has been a difficult journey for the band. After the screening at SFMOMA, a much healthier Pat Spurgeon joined Rogue Wave to play an intimate acoustic set in the museum's Schwab room including the debut of a new song. The most civilized rock show I've ever attended, it was the perfect venue to see my favorite band live for the first time.
If nothing else, Rogue Wave's story will make you think more deeply about that little sticker on your driver's license that dictates whether you'll save others' lives if you lose yours. If you don't have that sticker, please get it today. We will all be here for only a short time, and we all know that life is really about how you live it, and the people you live it for. I would be remiss if I didn't express my gratitude to Jim Granato for making the film, which has already won several awards, and to SFMOMA for putting on such a heartfelt event that surely meant a lot to the rest of the audience, many of whom were close friends or fans of the film's remarkable stars. Thank you.
A special screening of D Tour is scheduled for September 15th, 2009 at 5:45pm at the San Francisco Main Library and the film will air on PBS stations nationwide this fall as part of the Independent Lens series. Be sure to catch the KQED broadcast on November 10, 2009 at 11pm.