Musicians without health care: Ailing members of School of Seven Bells and the Replacements shine a spotlight on needy artists

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Image Credit: Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

About a month ago, Benjamin Curtis (above)—half of acclaimed New York indie-pop duo School of Seven Bells and formerly of Texas rockers Secret Machines—was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the immune system.

The silver lining is that Curtis’ particular affliction is treatable. However, like many cancer treatments, it’s prohibitively expensive, especially for an indie musician without health insurance. That’s why his School of Seven Bells bandmate Alley Deheza has launched Support Benjamin Curtis, a website that will take donations to help pay for Curtis’ treatment.

“These next few months will be tough, but [Curtis] is the toughest person I know (even while here, he was trying to figure out a way to sample the MRI),” Deheza wrote on the site. “I wanted to share this with you all, because you guys are such a huge and important part of our lives. Send all of the light and love that you can his way. Every bit will count towards a strong and fast recovery.”

Health care is a burden for everybody, and it hits musicians particularly hard. In most cases, people in bands are not insured (and nor are the producers, mixers, engineers, tour managers, and technicians who support artists), and indie musicians tend to have much smaller support systems to lean on if they get sick. Last year, former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap suffered a stroke that kept him in the hospital for nine months, which inspired Songs for Slim, a new EP by the band that was sold and auctioned off in order to raise money for Dunlop’s care. (The project has since expanded into other merchandise and a series of recordings by the likes of Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, the Hold Steady, Jakob Dylan, Joe Henry, and Frank Black. So far, the first round of auctions netted over $105,000 for Dunlap.)

Other musicians have reached out to fans for financial support with health-related concerns: Before his death last month, the family of beloved singer-songwriter Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. worked hard to raised funds for his rehab costs; friends of metal band Baroness took donations and auctioned off merchandise to help pay for the group’s recovery after their bus crashed while on tour in England; and fans sent money via PayPal to hip-hop legend DJ Kool Herc to help pay for the removal of a kidney stone.

For those in the music industry unable to rally their fans to support them (or for those behind-the-scenes players who might not have many Twitter followers), there’s MusiCares, a charity that supports members of the music industry in times of need. Established in 1989 and run by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, MusiCares doled out over $3 million in aid last year to just over 3,000 members of the music industry.

“We have never had to turn anybody away who needs our help,” explains MusiCares Executive Director Debbie Carroll. “The Recording Academy provides 90% of our operating expenses, so basically anything we raise can go directly to helping people. About 50 percent of what we do is pay medical bills, but there are some cases where someone needed surgery and we paid their rent for a couple of months, so there are other expenses we pay other than direct medical bills. But there’s a strong need for medical support from the music industry.” Those bills also include rehab and substance abuse programs.

If you’d like to donate to Curtis’ cause, head over to his website. If you’d like to donate to MusiCares or learn more about the program, check out the official NARAS website.

Read More on EW.com:
Bruce Springsteen honored at MusiCares benefit gala by Mumford and Sons, John Legend, Elton John and more — on the scene in L.A.
School of Seven Bells bring block-rocking beats to SXSW
Album Review: Secret Machines, Now Here Is Nowhere

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