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Cancer revealed powerful lessons for Barenaked Ladies keyboardist

By: Jen Mulson 
 May 10, 2017

Cancer took Barenaked Ladies keyboardist Kevin Hearn out of the game not once, but twice.

The soft-spoken Canadian musician was first diagnosed with leukemia in 1998, right after the band recorded their fourth album, "Stunt." It was Hearn's first record with the band after replacing the original keyboardist in 1995. A second cancer, from which he is now recovered, was discovered in his mouth a couple of years ago.

Barenaked Ladies will perform Saturday at Pikes Peak Center. The Canadian band is famous for its fast-paced, lyric- heavy songs including "One Week," "If I Had $1,000,000," "The Old Apartment" and "Brian Wilson."

"Musically it made me more aware to not think of things in the far distant future," Hearn said about cancer. "Now's the time. Time is precious. That's why I keep pretty busy with my creative life. It also helped me to take my work a little more seriously and try to be more responsible with it. I was in an isolated room for a couple of months and music was a huge part of recovering."

Lou Reed's 1992 album, "Magic and Loss," was one of those crucial pieces of music. And much to his surprise, during treatment Reed sent him an email out of the blue expressing his sympathy and hope for Hearn's recovery. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Reed's death in 2013.

At his memorial, Hearn befriended The Persuasions, an all-male, a cappella singing group from Brooklyn, N.Y. The friendship eventually led to the two groups pairing up to reimagine old Barenaked Ladies songs on the recently released album "Ladies and Gentleman: Barenaked Ladies and The Persuasions." The indie pop of the Ladies alongside the vocal harmonies of The Persuasions has delighted at least one music critic: "A pleasant surprise is a peppy, mostly instrument-free rendition of 'One Week,' their hit from 1998. 'Four Seconds' and 'I Can Sing' send-off the album in high-spirited style," wrote Eric Althoffin for The Washington Times last month.

The New York group will not join the Ladies at Saturday's concert. Instead, the band will perform a mix of old favorites and some new material. Fans can also expect them to continue their tradition of conjuring up songs on the spot. During every show they search for inspiration - the beard of an audience member once spawned a ditty - and will riff until it becomes a whole song. "One Week" came to life in just that way.

Hearn doesn't take any of it for granted after surviving cancer, which allowed him to soak up the wisdom of Reed and the men in The Persuasions.

"They (The Persuasions) were so generous with their spirit and talent," he said. "I learned from them that this is what we do, but it's important to do it with joy and try not to get bitter."

Is it easy to get bitter in the music industry?

"It can be," he said. "But you try to not take yourself too seriously. The joy is in giving and in the giving you receive. It sounds a bit corny, but it's true."