Super 400: Getting Personal with Lori Friday (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part interview. You can find the first part here: Super 400: Lori Friday Reminisces about a Quarter Century with Troy’s Most Iconic Rock Band

“I don’t put much on Facebook,” says Lori Friday, bass player in Super 400, “but I have to post about (my daughter Ellie) because she has a lot of relatives that don’t live locally, and it makes me feel good that they’re interested and can see her grow and her shenanigans.” 

The videos of seven-year-old Ellie playing drums, interacting with her mom and the warmth of that mother/daughter bonding is a window into another side of Lori who is familiar to so many as a musician in a band that has come to represent the best of the Capital Region with an image as vivid to area music fans as that of the late Ernie Williams.

Her back story is as interesting as Ernie’s was.

Lori, her father Lou, and daughter Ellie (2020)

“As a mom, I’m in that world. So, that’s another interesting thing to navigate. 

I’m so lucky. I was such a lucky kid. My parents were just ultimately supportive. I was adopted as a baby, and the judge who presided over the affair had mentioned that I might be musical or artistic, and when I was growing up, they expressed interest. They were right underneath me to lift me up and lift me toward it. They were there, and my dad always made me feel I could do anything. If I felt confident that I could express myself, he would light up with energy and say, ‘Yes. That’s it! What else? What comes after this?’ And I felt I could do anything. I could sell used cars. I could be a paleontologist. You know, I felt if I put my mind to it. So, yeah. I go after everything. Every day I wake up with that the fire of God in me.”

It was the judge who handled Lori’s adoption as a baby who saw the potential in her even as an infant. “I don’t know if he had some kind of intuition, but my maternal grandmother, not my biological grandmother, my adoptive dad’s mom, was there for part of the experience, and he told her that this child might be geared toward art and music, and I don’t know why he said it. I still don’t know why he said it, but my mom had told me that a couple of different times during my life and she said it kind of very knowingly.”

Lori remembers a pivotal moment as a child and the profound effect one teacher had on her. “I can remember being in the Met Art Museum and seeing this fresco up on the wall and being right up against it and not in a book, but actually seeing the ancient brush strokes and being moved by that, and for some reason out loud I said, ‘I’ll never be able to do that.’ My art teacher was standing next to me, and she looked at me and said, ‘Of course you will.’ She just said it so easy. It was the way that she said it that I just abandoned the doubt and carried that over into parts of my life, I guess. 

Two souls intertwined depicts Lori and Kenny,
as well as the soul of their daughter Ellie. (2020)

“So, there was that and all sorts of little moments along the way that opened the door for you where there’s really someone there to either make a phone call or just give you a couple words that make the difference between yes and no, and how fortunate we are to have that. I mean, you love that memory.”

On stage, Lori comes across very differently. Super 400 oozes testosterone, and the image of a demure woman driving the bass line of a band is as far away from her private life as a mother as I’ve ever seen in a woman outside of Chrissie Hynde and Melissa Etheridge.

“I remember 20 or so years ago, I read this nonfiction essay, a woman writer who was in her late 60s and early 70s I would say, and she talked about going to the Y(MCA) and going to the locker room where she was finally at the age where she and her peers were no longer modest or concerned about their body image. They were comfortable in their skin and more effecting in what they were and what they looked like, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t wait to feel that way because women in this country are taught to never accept themselves physically, and there’s even that dimension, too, and I’m getting there. I’m definitely getting there. It’s slow, but I’m getting off-topic.”

Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

Lori was headed in a very different direction when she walked up the four stories in that apartment building to jam with Super 400 in 1996. She had just graduated from SUNY and had been accepted into a graduate program at RPI.

“I grew up in an academic family, and my father grew up in an academic family, and so there was an expectation, not a strict expectation, but it was more like a way of life to be educated and be informed, and I was interested in so many different things as a young adult that I found college to be pretty enjoyable, and I didn’t mind it at all. I always knew I was going to be a musician or a visual artist, but because higher education was expected, I was fine with (going to college) for six years because I figured I’m going to live to be 100 anyway. So, this is like I’m being given the key to study something completely different for four years. 

“So, I was a really grateful kid with respect to my family putting me through college. I don’t want to make it sound flippant, that it was a novelty. It was a privilege. It was a great privilege for me and even though I didn’t have to struggle to go to college, it was offered to me, and it was a privilege, but when the scholarship from RPI came through, I had just met Kenny and Joe. I knew it was time to step off the train. I knew that was my spot. It wasn’t like I was discarding the opportunity to receive a scholarship to improve myself. It was like, I almost felt it was the responsible thing to do at that point. Open up that spot for someone else, and this is what I’d been waiting for.” 

Lori’s adoptive parents, Kenny, Ellie, and Lori (2014)

Her parents didn’t see it that way. “They were very concerned. My folks were like Ward and June Cleaver. Everybody had a health plan. Everybody had a retirement plan. The handicap bars were installed in all the bathrooms by the time they were 45. Do you catch my drift? My dad saved every check he ever wrote, and he had them all cataloged. 

“My parents were unique and amazing, and my greatest allies and greatest supporters, but most of that relationship developed and started when I was about 30. Not when I was 22 and telling them I’m going for rock and roll full bore. So, they were concerned. It wasn’t that they didn’t trust my ability. Their concern was really great for me because they had the perspective of adulthood, but all I saw in the world was openness, opportunity and freedom, and they had the advantage of perspective unfortunately where they had seen the darker side of humanity which included swindling cheating, lying, taking advantage.”

A quarter-century into her career, Lori’s daughter has become a huge part of her daily life. She also teaches daily at The Troy Academy of Music. Super 400 is still in the picture with a new album in the works. But 2020 saw a new challenge in her life that rocked her fairy tale existence

Breast cancer!

“When I first called some folks from the town where I grew up about what was going to happen, they were genuinely concerned in a very loving way, but in subsequent conversations, they were scared to bring it up, saying they didn’t want to pry, and they didn’t want to talk about it. I felt like I needed to talk about it. I needed to acknowledge it. It’s like I had a miscarriage before I conceived Ellie, and people treated that like it’s a secret. It’s something they don’t want to talk about. 

This was the first drawing Lori did after the first operation.
The white tiger represents Lori, and has since she’s been 10 years old.

But talking about it makes it real. It validates the feeling you have about it and gives you control, whatever control you can have over these situations here. Instead of having something that’s happening to you, you can instead carve out your experience with it. 

Lori ended up being operated on four times and going through radiation treatments. He recalls one pivotal meeting. “The surgeon came in He went into it, this incredible sideboard made in his mind when he knocked out exactly what he was going to do, and he drew me up like a map, and I thought it was amazing.”

The surgeon marked her breast with a black X on where he was going to operate. “I said to Kenny, ‘Take a quick shot,’ because this was right before they wheeled me in. They were just about to start the IV drip, and as you know, in 10 more seconds I would have been in another place. 

“So, I had him snap that picture of me so I could have it, and later on when I saw the picture, the moment was past. The moment was over. I had woken up. I didn’t have the marks on me anymore, and my breasts didn’t look like that anymore. It wasn’t the same breast and never would be again.”

Photo by Kenny Hohman

She put that photo up on Facebook.  Troy’s rock and roll Madonna was suddenly up on social media with a startling image in sharp contrast to her rock and roll persona built over 25 years.

“I had to show that because I know on Facebook out of all my Facebook friends how many of them had had breast cancer or a different type of cancer or are suffering silently. I thought, here is something that’s real. I’m opening the door to a conversation.”

This writer’s mother had breast cancer in 1948. I was four at the time, and I distinctly remember my dad coming into my grandmother’s kitchen to tell her that her daughter had survived the operation. I don’t know if he said it in words, but the impression I had at the time was that she was surely going to die.

In 1948, no woman showed the world pictures of the x on their breasts. Even the word cancer was never uttered. The very word was considered an obscenity. My mom lived another six decades. The experience made her both stronger and weaker. And when she died, one of her friends described her as an iron teapot.  

We’ve come a long way. That’s not to take away from Lori’s enormous strength in dealing with this disease. And dealing with this in the middle of the pandemic makes her odyssey all the more remarkable.

This drawing was done between the second and third surgeries.
Lori envisioned both of her parents (both deceased) holding her in care.

“I had four operations: one in November, one in December, one in January, and one in February. And after the one in January they told me it would be the last one. Kenny and I went in to see the radiologist after the second surgery because I was ready for radiation at that point. He welcomed us in, and we sat down. He looked at the images, and he looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘I’m so sorry to tell you this, but we didn’t get it all.’ 

“And Kenny started crying. I think I’ve seen Kenny cry four or five times in the 25 years we’ve been together, and we had a lot of reasons to cry now. I just felt my back get straighter, and I looked at that radiologist and said, ‘Ok, what’s next?’ And he said, ‘Well, we’re gonna do a third surgery,’ and I said ok, and I looked at Kenny and said, ‘Ok, we’re gonna do this.’

“Once you’re in the routine of it, you’re in it. So, we prepared for it, and it was the third surgery. Results came back and they didn’t get it all. So, I went in to see my oncologist, and she said, ‘You have a diseased breast which is the enemy at this point, so we’re going to take the breast, and we’re going to take the lymph nodes and we’re gonna test it, and if it comes back a certain way, we’re gonna take the breast as well, and I said ok. 

“I was perfectly prepared for that. I already had it on my mind that I was gonna do it, so I was ready for it. When I went in to see the surgeon, he said, ‘What did you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I’m kind of confused by this. I thought the plan was I’m getting a mastectomy,’ and he said, ‘(Instead) I can take another crack at it. I’m one of only two guys in the world that would take a fourth crack at this because you just don’t do that. It’s not protocol, but if you want me to, I will. The question is are you going to feel confident that we got it all even if the labs come back that we didn’t?’

This drawing is called “It’s All Here”
Lori envisioned her fourth and final surgery as a success.

“I said, ‘I can’t answer that question, but I’m going to give you another shot at this because (I have to).’ So, he did number four, and the labs came back good, and I did not have a mastectomy. And this particular surgeon is uniquely talented. I’ve never met another like him. I’ve met so many personalities, and I’ve never met anyone quite like this guy.”

Then, she faced the radiation treatments. Kenny couldn’t go with her because of the pandemic. “I’m all alone, and I’m protected, geared up and so is everybody else. No one is talking to anyone else. I’m sitting in the waiting room with everyone else waiting to get dosed with radiation, and no one’s talking. I tried to start up conversations with people, but people were just trying to figure out how to deal with Covid being in the world, not just being in the situation they’re finding themselves in. So, that’s what my radiation was like for six weeks.”

Super 400 came close to being one of the hottest rock bands in the world on the horizon to leading the charge of real rock and roll propelled by the heritage of groups like Led Zeppelin and Cream. For my money, they’re still the best in town, but Lori’s view of the world is both bigger in terms of her family and a bit smaller in terms of Super 400’s superstardom.

“I think the 25-year-old me handled it differently than the 45-year-old me because there’s less at stake now because we’re not trying for global stardom. (Chuckle) We’re playing because of the connection to one another and the connection to people who enjoy it. It’s really as simple as that.”

At the end of our two-hour interview, Lori reflected on where she is right now.

“When I was preparing (for our interview), I knew I had about 10 minutes before you were scheduled to call, and I said, ‘What am I doing right now? What is my life at this moment,’ and Ellie was having some struggle with two digit contractions. She’s seven years old. She was struggling with that, and we were coming up with some games and some light hearted ways to keep it moving, keep it fun, and I looked at her, and I thought. ‘This is paradise. This isn’t rock and roll. This is not doing anything dangerous right now. Ha ha. I’m not changing the world right now. I’m connecting with her.’

Titled “Future is Now” was done by Lori on Election Night 2020,
it shows strength of spirit and body which she envisions for all women.

 “This is my focus at a time in my life. I’m still a musician. I still make music. The pandemic actually interrupted the recording of our latest full length. So, it is happening but taking a lot longer. But right now, it’s my connection with Kenny and Ellie. Not only is it sustaining me, but it’s fueling me up. It’s preparing me for when the world starts opening up again, and we can get together with Joe and record this record. It will be a different record than it would have been without this separation from him.”

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