As he sits at the Music Menu in Greektown, I can’t help but look for the signs of illness. They don’t appear. He doesn’t look sick.
He is the kind of man who makes women swoon. And while his bright eyes and tiny scars read like a map of his life as a musician, I can’t help but wonder about the unfairness of it all.
At 42, Pete Midtgard has been diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. It’s a shock, a seemingly unbelievable cosmic rip-off and, quite possibly, the best thing that has ever happened to him.
How could cancer, that unutterable, life-threatening assailant, be something that actually improves life? “Pistol” Pete Midtgard says it has.
Stripped away from the protection of stages, fans and his upright bass, Midtgard has begun to think about the meaning of his life. He has summoned his metaphysical side and, and as a result, taken inventory.
Known as the thunderous front man for the locally adored Twistin’ Tarantulas, his reputation as a music veteran precedes him. Everyone knows Pete.
“How are you feeling, man?” asks Rick Pinkerton, the Music Menu’s main man.
“Pretty good. I am going to be fine,” he reassures.
Instantly likable and unexpectedly vibrant, I am surprised to discover the depth of his spirituality. His father (fondly known as “the Colonel”) passed away six months ago. The loss left an obvious hole in Midtgard’s life.
“That [losing his father] was probably a bigger ordeal than the cancer,” he says.
Asked about his prognosis, he looks to the loss of his father.
“I can’t help but wonder if I was being prepared for something.”
He reflects on his time with his dad with fondness and an understandable grief. When his father passed away, it seemed that he was ready to go. It was a sudden illness, but his father decided not to fight it.
“Now this is happening to me, and ... it has made everything come into perspective.
“The world has become a different place to me. It looks different, it smells different, it tastes different.”
He believes in something more now. Life is no longer a series of rock ’n’ roll gigs and music payola. Things like the perpetual quest for a permanent drummer become a little less frustrating.
For Midtgard, this thing called life, well, it is just the beginning.
A moderate smoker for 25 years, Midtgard knows who’s to blame.
“I mean, what did I think was going to happen?” he says. “I did this to myself.”
Midtgard wants to pay his own bills. He believes medical programs for the indigent are for people in worse straits.
And he retains his sense of humor.
“I have always been a smart-ass. I am not going to stop now.”
So when friends began planning a benefit concert to assist him with his medical bills, Midtgard insisted that they call it “Bladderfest.”
A name that, at first, might make you wince, but once you get to know this guy who’s been dubbed “Pistol,” you know that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You know, I want to thank people in advance for coming to this thing … my friends and fans. This is going to be a great show. I want everyone to get something back for their money.”
Touting a lineup that includes the Twistin’ Taratulas, the Brothers Groove, Twisted Brown Trucker, the Reefermen and the Starlight Drifters, he needn’t worry about the quality of the show. No event titled Bladderfest could be held anywhere but the Magic Bag, and this one has all the earmarks of a full-fledged celebration.
“I know it sounds like the most sugarcoated horseshit ever, but instead of feeling cursed, I feel special. I can’t help but feel that I am going to get through this … and I am going to be a better man because of it.”
He smiles and says wryly, “You know, this doesn’t suck that bad.”
God bless his smart ass.
“Bladderfest” is Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward, Ferndale). Performers include the Twistin’ Tarantulas, the Brothers Groove, Twisted Brown Trucker, the Reefermen, the Starlight Drifters and more. Call 248-544-3030 for info.Eve Doster is the Metro Times listings editor. E-mail [email protected]