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On Stage: David Ernspiker
I guess ol' Nietzsche said it best: "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." Yeah, it's kinda kitchy, kinda black and white, but that simple little line of philosophizing was probably the only thing that got me through some of the rougher periods of my life (especially high school), without pulling a Kurt Cobain.
Everyone has a hard life. Everyone has a disaster in their personal history, and to that person, it is the worst possible thing that could ever happen. For some, it is the death of someone close, or perhaps a nasty divorce, or some sort of ugly sexual abuse, whatever . . . my point is that we all have bad things happen to us, and we all have to deal with these problems in our own way . . . and in our own time. Unfortunately, too many people take these problems and embrace them, live inside of them, and hold them up as if they are some sort of security blanket . . . a huge rationalization for whatever else might get screwed up in their life, like some kind of weird excuse for personal limitations.
Not David Ernspiker.
Just about everyone knows this story by now. David was involved in a terrible auto accident. He and two friends were out celebrating a birthday when their car slipped on a treacherous patch of ice on Grinstead Drive. The car became stuck, and they got out to try and push it free. No friendly 4x4 rescue team arrived to help them . . . instead, another car rounded the curve, hit that same patch of ice, and struck David, pinning his right leg between the two cars.
Everyone I have talked to about this accident say it is a miracle that David is still alive. What is even more amazing is that doctors at University Hospital were able to save David's leg.
David is a lucky man.
It hasn't been easy. Surgery has been performed, almost too many times to keep count. They have removed part of the muscles in his back, and grafted them in place on his leg. He will walk again. Chalk one up for modern medicine.
We all know how great modern medical care can be . . . and how expensive. David's medical bills were phenomenal, something like $400,000. Enter the Louisville music scene.
You see, David plays guitar in the band About Us. He also teaches guitar at Willis Music in Oxmoor mall. When news of David's accident reached his friends in the music scene, things began to happen. MERF (Musicians Emergency Relief Fund) stepped in, and presented David with their maximum endowment. It wasn't enough. A benefit organized by local musicians was held at Phoenix Hill Tavern, and this helped a lot. More benefits were held, and more are in the works. May 26, at Butchertown Pub, the mother of all benefits will take place. Dubbed Ernspiker's Market, it will be a huge carnival affair, slightly reminiscent of Phoenix Hill's Spring Phling. There will be craft booths set up, a thieves market if you will, with most of the proceeds going to David. Three different stages will feature music and poetry, boasting names like lovesauce & soulbones, The Java Men, Speaking In Tongues, Nasty Weather Blues Band, and many more.
Given the independent nature of most musicians (not to mention the ego-thing), it is interesting to see how the local guys and gals in the industry react to situations like this. A band that will haggle over door percentages will usually leap at the chance to make their music in the name of a good cause. It is a refreshing glimpse at just how generous human nature can be. And it has been a revelation for David Ernspiker.
"For about a year before the accident, I was really, really lonely," David told me during a recent phone conversation, "I mean I was really miserable . . . after the accident, when I woke up in the hospital, I felt like a different person. So many people came to see me, friends, musicians, acquaintances . . . I realized then how many people really did love me, and cared about me . . . it changed my life. I felt like an empty cup, and God just poured all this love into my heart . . . and even though my leg will give me problems for the rest of my life, I think it has been a fair trade, so much good has come of this. But most importantly, the music community has embraced me, musicians that I respected, but never met, have given of themselves . . . they literally saved my life."
Out of tragedy is born a life-embracing philosophy. There was a trembling in David's voice when we spoke . . . but it didn't sound like fear, or depression. It was the voice of a man who has been given a new lease on life, a man who now realizes and understands the power of human love and compassion. Indeed, he sounded more like a kid opening Christmas presents than a man confined to a hospital bed.
But not forever . . . David told me he expects to leave the hospital in a few more weeks, and that he is greatly looking forward to going home.
"I want to go home and hold my dog, you know? I just want to be home. And I want to get back to my kids, my students at Willis music."
Everyone is a hero in this story, and I like that. TV, movies and newspapers far too often tell us only of heartbreak and scandal . . . but here is a man who by all laws of physics should not be alive . . . and rather than rehash what is passed and unchangeable, he wants only to move on, and share his experience so that others will be able to better understand what life is really about: love and friendship.