When “Things Ain't Fine”

Illness and grief lend special meaning to this spirited folk-country debut album.

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Mark Edgar Stuart was 36 years old when he first felt the pains in his chest.

“They were bad,” he says, now just-turned 39. “I went to a doctor and they told me it was heartburn and they gave me some medicine. But I knew that wasn’t it. We know our own bodies.”

Soon after, Stuart realized the pains coincided with alcohol consumption. So he went back to the doctor.

“They said, ‘Oh, you’re allergic to alcohol, just quit drinking,’” Stuart remembers. “They gave me a cortisone shot in the ass and I quit drinking for six months. I wasn’t much of a drinker anyway.”

Then he noticed a visible bulge where the pain was.

“I thought, hell no, that’s not heartburn. That’s not an allergy.”

Stuart went back, this time to a minor medical center. They called for a scan and told him to go to the West Clinic the first thing the next morning.

“I didn’t know what the West Clinic was,” Stuart says. “I went home and told my wife what they said and she burst out crying. She knew what the West Clinic was.”

Stuart was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer.

“It was second stage,” Stuart says. “I started chemo and the whole bit. It was a wild few months that kind of changed everything.”

Stuart, an ace bass player who’s played in or with local acts such as the Pawtuckets, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and currently John Paul Keith & the One Four Fives, recounts this episode on “Things Ain’t Fine,” the second song on his unlikely debut album, Blues for Lou.

“I felt a bump in my chest that I knew wasn’t right,” he sings to open the song, then comes home with a diagnosis:

She never worried if I came home a little late
She’d fix me a plate and she’d wait there
Hopin’ soon that I’d walk in
To squeeze her hand and tell her
Everything is fine
When things ain’t fine
We laugh for a while
But things ain’t fine

Later he sings about, briefly, shielding his mother from the news: “Nothing hurt quite as bad/As calling mother up and have to tell her/Everything is fine/When things ain’t fine.”

“You spend more energy convincing everyone else that you’re okay,” Stuart says. “I was exhausted from saying ‘I’m fine.’ But Mom — that was the hardest phone call to make.”

Stuart’s mom had plenty to worry about at the time. Stuart’s dad was sick and Stuart’s older brother had found a tumor in his bladder. “He was going through the whole cancer thing too,” Stuart says.

Stuart and his brother were lucky, surviving their bouts with cancer, but their father — the “Lou” of Blues For Lou — took a turn for the worse.

“I was kinda getting over it in October 2010,” Stuart says. “I came home for Christmas, still a little bit bald-headed. He died that February. We knew it was coming.”


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