moe.’s Chuck Garvey returns to The Palace Theatre stage

ALBANY — When moe. plays the Albany Palace Theatre this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25, It’ll be the first time since Chuck Garvey’s return from a sudden stroke in 2021.

There’s some evidence that lingers behind. His speech pattern may be a little slower. Sometimes there’s a pause as he chooses his words. But had you not known he had suffered a stroke a year ago, you wouldn’t suspect it.

Photo: Paul Citone

Garvey, 53, awoke on November 6, 2021, with his right hand shaking. Shortly after, he collapsed at his home. Once he gained consciousness, he said, he was able to recognize his wife and friends in the room with him, understand what they were saying, but he couldn’t speak.

Garvey was named among the guitar-playing gods by Rolling Stone magazine.  In the hospital, he had no control over the right side of his body. He had to go back “to the woodshed,” as he would say, to relearn how to play the music in his head.

He sets a goal for himself to achieve a resemblance of his life prior. For the New Year’s Eve show, he wanted to play a few songs. He played an hour and a half. In conversation, he chooses a word to use. He now challenges himself through interviews before upcoming shows.

Everyday tasks are a game for him now. Conversations, the evening dishes — once taken for granted — have a desired outcome now attributed to them. He is putting himself out in front, talking about what he went through, and what he goes through today, in order to get back in front of crowds.

Have you performed on stage yet?

Yeah, I did. The first night was New Year’s Eve, and I played about half the show. And since then, I’ve done three, three shows in one weekend. Now, this week, we are in Portland, for two shows and then another. So, I’m dipping my toes in a little bit. But we’ll start touring more, like three-week runs and stuff like that. But right now, we’re doing kind of like a short burst, and that really helps me.

I read how you were going to ease into things. With New Year’s, you were planning on maybe doing a couple of songs. It sounds like you’re pushing yourself. Are you playing the whole set now?

Yeah, with New Year’s Eve, I played for about an hour and a half and since then I’ve been doing full shows, which are three-and-a-half-hour gigs. So it’s, it’s long, but it’s been working so far.

That’s quite the feat. The endurance alone is impressive enough for me.

I think it is. Some people have a punk kind of band. They would do an hour, an hour and a half, and it’s a sprint. We do more like a marathon.

Photo: Paul Citone

It is a marathon. Absolutely. I’m getting the impression you are pushing yourself with just about everything that we take for granted; like this interview. I read how you are intentionally getting yourself out there, to get you into the action of speaking. Is that your mental approach to it?

Yes. I’ve learned over the space of the past year — plus — I just needed to set goals. Everything was happening so slowly that I wouldn’t even see what I was accomplishing. After like a month or two I would see. Oh yeah, I’ve learned so many words, and other things. Or my hand is working better now. You know everything is just slow but it’s getting better. Talking about my speech or people who have gone through this, who have lost their speech, it’s really hard to speak with people, and if you don’t do it enough, you lose it or you can’t get it back as much as you could. So, sometimes some people actually withdraw from the real world and that’s bad. Mentally and …. I can’t say it.

No, that’s perfectly fine.

But working on this every day, it really helps. I don’t know, just so it’s better to interact with people every day. You learn something new and you get farther. That’s my approach.

I am um sorry. I dug a hole that’s too deep for myself.

I guess the whole thing is, I like talking about this because I want other people to be inspired to work on themselves. I don’t want them to be withdrawn because they can’t speak enough or not well. So I’m setting myself goals and hopefully I can set some goals for other people. 

You had touched upon how this can tax your outlook on things, that it could lead you into depression. How do you keep yourself from doing that? Is it setting goals for yourself every day or is there a time increment within which you try to accomplish them?

I think when I got first couple of weeks I was in a hospital and then I was transferred to my rehab they had a lot of stuff to do everyday: speech therapy, [physical therapy]. You know? And they would mix it up. I would get to such sessions of each every day and I would go back and forth. So it’s a way of end date engaging your mind and your body, and the whole thing. When I left there, it really helps me to think about that. So I could do that with myself. When I was at home or you know, in our daily lives, I would just try to work that into my schedule.

Reading about your recovery and what you’ve been through, it sounded like you were going from having to overcome sensory overload when you left the hospital, to not having really much control over the right side of your body.

What kind of steps do you have to take toward your recovery today?

I have to work on my speech every day. I did many months of speech therapy, and that really helped. I got really far with that. It was instilled in me, too. I could try to work on things every day by myself. I look for a new word or, you know, something that I haven’t used yet. I have to work on that. The same thing goes for [physical therapy]. I would try to get a lot of steps in every day. I have to try to get a lot of steps in. You know what I mean? And, also, I have to work with fine motor skills with my hand.

It’s almost like a game. I’m trying to work on this in a way that I get things done at home. But it’s also a way to get myself better. Washing dishes, it’s like something that’s kind of a chore but it’s something that helps me work on my skills.

I really have to work on a guitar. My right hand is the picking hand and then, so that takes a lot of time. I have to warm up like, like an hour or so before it gets into a place where I can actually play things that I feel are good enough for the band and our songs. So it’s really hard to just get to that point every day, too. To be able to play these songs that I’ve played many, many years.

Photo: Paul Citone

Has it made things easier through your recovery to play your songs or has it made it more difficult because you remember how you played it then and how you need to approach it now?

The part of my brain that was affected by the stroke, it was more about my speech and a lot of my nerve pathways. Luckily I can remember our arrangements for songs and just my usage motion. Sorry, [my] musician’s brain is still intact. I can hear melodies and so it’s, that helps me. It helps me, too, to grasp the songs and the arrangements and everything. I can still draw from sometimes there are little things — riffs or melodies. I have to go back and remember. it’s not everything. But once in a while, I have to think about it. Like what, what is it? What was it? And maybe it was something more like muscle memory, or who knows? But I have to go back and relearn these things and it’s almost the same as relearning how to say sounds or words. So I sometimes I have to go back to the woodshed. I’m doing it today actually. I’m working on songs and so it’s, it’s working to get to the baseline.

I guess that sounds frustrating. Is it, is it frustrating?

Yeah. But I guess it was helpful for me. I knew that I couldn’t do what I used to do, but it was just like everything else. It’s kind of a game. Like, let’s work on this until I get to this point where I feel proud. What my guitar playing is, It has become. Because, after the stroke, I couldn’t do anything with my right hand. It was pretty bad. So it’s that goal that pushed me.

How are you with the dexterity and all that with your hand, now? Do you have 100% use of it now?

I think most people don’t really realize that I have problems. But for me, you know, it’s different.

I was going to say with just speaking with you, had I not known that you had a stroke, I wouldn’t have suspected. I mean, I could tell that you were choosing your words and pausing. But outside of that, I couldn’t tell.

That’s one of the things that I learned doing my speech therapy. Everything that we talk about. every day, all these little phrases. You’ve used them a million times. But for me, I have to, think about them. Almost like the medic kind of phrases. I have to think about it. What they mean, and then how to. I have to actually practice. And the same goes with playing guitar. You have to do it a couple of times before it gets too a point where it’s, I don’t know, easy or I don’t have to think about it.

Sounds like my writing process.

That’s right. You have to edit, you have to edit all the time.

When I speak with you in the tone of your voice, you sound very upbeat and you sound like a very positive person to be around in the room. Has your outlook on life changed since the stroke? Have you always been this upbeat? How has your perspective changed?

I’m the same person. I have the same personality, the same things that make me laugh, and the things that I think are funny are there. It’s the same as always. I have loved language and things. I guess it’s the same playfulness. I still have that. I think the thing that’s different is I don’t take for granted that I will be able to do this, you know? So every time I have the time to talk with people — my friends, family, everyone — it’s a new thing for me right now. I don’t know. It’s a different kind of outlook, I guess.

Originally Published on TheSpot 518, used with permission.

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