by Spencer LaChance
Phil Lesh is not much of a household name. Few people, especially nowadays, might know that the name belongs to the bass player and constant member of the Grateful Dead. Lesh was a founding member of the American cultural staple and was still there when the group disbanded in 1995. There have been 11 official members of the Dead across the band’s three decade career, but only three others besides Phil can say they were there the entire time: lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann. In addition to playing bass guitar on the band’s 12 studio albums, Lesh also wrote and sang lead vocals on two of my favorite Dead songs: “Box of Rain,” the first track on their legendary 1970 album, American Beauty and “Unbroken Chain” from their 1974 album, From the Mars Hotel. The latter is Mac DeMarco’s #1 bath time song and was the source of the first ever licensed Grateful Dead sample featured in Animal Collective’s “What Would I Want? Sky.” The bassist has undeniably deep roots in the culture of alternative music.
Fewer people might know that the musician is also a cancer survivor. Lesh was diagnosed with prostate cancer on October 26, 2006. Phil’s father was plagued with the same disease but unfortunately was not as lucky as his son. Two months after the diagnosis, Phil underwent prostate surgery and the cancer was removed. Then, nine years later, Lesh announced that he was battling bladder cancer in October 2015. Fortunately, it was caught quickly as Phil spent some time at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. Tests were run, surgery was performed, and Phil came out alright — he only had to cancel two shows. Today, at the age of 77, Phil is still chugging along. This month he is touring with Bob Weir hitting New York City, Boston, and Chicago. Phil Lesh is a two-time cancer survivor and a gleaming symbol of hope for those who face the disease, so be sure to put some Grateful Dead in your Relay for Life playlist and channel the bassist’s strength as you prepare for the big walk.
As one of Northeastern’s largest philanthropic events, we are helping raise funds and awareness for the American Cancer Society at Northeastern’s Relay for Life on March 22, 2019. Our team of staff, DJs, writers, and music lovers, will be relaying and hosting a live radiothon over the air to remember and acknowledge those who have been affected by cancer. Help us reach our goal for this year and please consider donating. Your donation is hard at work funding cancer research to helping someone with their medical fees—every penny counts and means the world to people affected by cancer.