Lit keeps the light on for ailing drummer
By Jerry Fink (contact)

Friday, Aug. 7, 2009 | 2 a.m.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the release of the alternative rock band Lit’s platinum-selling album “A Place in the Sun.”

Band members should be celebrating their good fortune. Instead they are lamenting the misfortune of their drummer. Allen Shellenberger, 40, has been battling a malignant brain tumor for more than a year, and the tumor has reached Stage IV, the worst stage of cancer. Lit has been in limbo ever since the diagnosis, which affected everyone in the band.

“It’s tough,” frontman A. Jay Popoff says during a telephone interview from his home in Fullerton, Calif. “We’ve been performing together for 18-plus years. We don’t know how we want to go about moving forward yet. It’s been the four original members from the beginning, and we want to be there for our brother, who is sick.

“But we love playing live. It’s our entire existence, has been since we were kids.”

To ease the pain, the three others play occasional engagements with various drummers, with Shellenberger’s blessing.

Lit performs poolside Saturday at Green Valley Ranch . The replacement drummer will be Nathan Walker, who usually works with Rufio and Lucy Walsh.

“It gives us an opportunity to go away and let off steam and play a live show,” Popoff says. “We’re letting fans know we’re still here and at the same time getting the grief out of our system. So the shows are good for us.”

Lit was formed in Fullerton in 1990 by Popoff, his guitarist brother Jeremy, Shellenberger and bassist Kevin Baldes. Initially they called themselves Razzle. After changing their name to Lit, the punk-pop group began attracting a local following, selling out local venues. They released two records: “Five Smokin’ Tracks from Lit” and “Tripping the Light Fantastic.”

After signing with RCA Records, the band made its breakthrough with “A Place in the Sun.” Lit has released two more albums, “Atomic” and “Lit.”

The band is more interested in live performances than recording, but the tours were curtailed significantly when Shellenberger’s cancer was discovered.

When Lit performed poolside at the Hard Rock last summer, Shellenberger played a limited number of songs.

“He was sick but he was able to play some, so he would play a couple of songs and then a fill-in played,” Popoff says. “We kept him in the show as long as he could physically handle it.”

His last performance was in July 2008 at the House of Blues in Anaheim at a benefit to raise money to help defray his medical expenses.

“He was such a strong man, the healthiest one in the band,” Popoff says. “Physically he was in great shape. He ran like eight miles a day. He was about to open his second boxing gym. He was a really strong dude. The cancer is having a hell of time beating him, but the type of cancer he has is unbeatable. It’s just been a matter of keeping him from feeling pain.”

Recently the band members put together a more than three-hour home video documenting the group from the beginning. They took it to Shellenberger’s home.

“We watched it all way through, and we all laughed together, looking back through all the great times,” Popoff says. “He’s not feeling sorry for himself. He’s one of the most appreciative people I’ve ever met. He’s had a really good life, and he loves it.”