The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

February 4, 2013

Dying guitarist Wilko Johnson rocks until the end

— WESTCLIFF-ON-SEA, England (AP) — Living has been full of surprises for Wilko Johnson. So has dying.

Four decades in the rock 'n' roll trenches have brought the British guitarist obscurity and fame, followed by turmoil, more obscurity and rediscovery. Now the greatest rock star you may not have heard of — songwriter for rabble-rousing 1970s band Dr. Feelgood — is embarking on a farewell tour. Unlike some musical goodbyes, this one is permanent. Late last year, Johnson was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and told he had just months to live.

He says he has never felt more alive.

The 65-year-old musician says that in the weeks since his diagnosis, he's been unexpectedly happy — "In fact it amounted at times to euphoria."

"I suddenly found myself in a position where nothing matters anymore," he said. "I'm a miserable so-and-so normally ... I'd be worrying about the taxman or all the things that we worry about that get in the way of the real things. And suddenly it doesn't matter. All of that doesn't matter.

"You walk down the street and you feel intensely alive. You're 'Oh, look at that leaf!' You're looking around and you think, 'I'm alive. Ain't it amazing?'"

Johnson has said no to chemotherapy treatment that doctors say may prolong his life by a matter of months. He has responded to his diagnosis with a surge of creativity, playing gigs in Japan and planning a goodbye tour of Britain for March. He's even going back into the studio to record a new album.

"After getting this diagnosis, I suddenly find myself writing bloody songs again," said a relaxed and garrulous Johnson in an interview at his home, a modest two-story row house in a faded, windblown seaside town of Westcliff-On-Sea, 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of London and just a few miles from where he grew up.

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