Musicians Need Health Insurance, Too

>On the occasion of the weekend's landmark-ish health care legislation, Cosmo Baker, one of the most passionate DJs I know, recalls the influence of Philadelphia's unheralded DJ Too Tuff (of the mighty Tuff Crew), an uninsured musician who was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer. (The archiving function is disabled, so just look for the March 22 post here.)

I love reading these sorts of up-and-comer reminiscences, all heavy lifting and spasms of world-beating confidence and mellow self-doubt, when incidental, in-the-moment props from a cherished icon might just chart a new horizon of possibility. In the interest of disclosure: Too Tuff is currently incarcerated and, in one of those ironies only those familiar with the contradictions of policy might appreciate, receiving treatment.

A few years back, the late and occasionally great Punk Planet did an eye-opening piece on health care and young musicians, and this Friday, the Future of Music Coalition, which has been working for years surveying and monitoring the needs of uninsured musicians, will weigh in with its take on the weekend's events. One of the oft-used narratives during the health care debate, from the 1990s to this week, has involved the young's haughty belief in their own invincibility. But it's that same reckless belief that we are drawn to, in art and in life.

You think that huddled mass of Tuff Crew family and friends on the museum steps is concerned about co-payments? These were always-grinding teenage conquerors: of Philadelphia, one street at a time, and then, if they caught fire, maybe peripheral territories in and around New York. And that's the way it should have been: in this moment, the mundane inevitabilities of aging, referrals, generic drugs, etc. should be beneath them. After all, somewhere in that thicket of b-boy stances, raised fists and peaked shoulders crowding out friends' faces is the iconic statue of Rocky Balboa, the ultimate outsized American fairy tale of toughing it out.

A Fundamental Experiment is the name of a fundraising album for "JMW," a San Francisco musician and artist who (mysteriously, I should say) "took a misjudged step from the roof of a three-story San Francisco Edwardian and tumbled to the narrow, dark alleyway below," and then ended up in the surprisingly generous hands of the city's health care bureaucracy. With little money to their name, some "outer-realm" musicians have banded together to raise money for his hospital expenses. These kinds of gestures--benefit albums, concerts, etc.--are ever-present in the lower tiers of the industry--is a record label run out of a dorm room really going to insure you?--and hopefully the need for them will thin out in the coming decades.

AFE, released in an edition of 300 LPs with silkscreened sleeves, features cover versions of Neil Young songs performed by Julian Lynch, Matt Mondanile, Sun Araw and others. It should be available shortly.
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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.

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