There are plenty of positives about getting older: wisdom, maturity and a more balanced outlook are just three of them. But it would be unrealistic to suggest that there aren't a few negatives thrown in there. When bassist Eberhard Weber woke up in his hotel room on the morning of April 23, 2007, in Berlin, Germany, where he was to perform with the Jan Garbarek
Grouphaving played in numerous groups with the Norwegian saxophonist since Photo With Blue Sky, White Cloud, Wires, Windows And A Red Roof
(ECM, 1979)little did he know that the smallest sign of something amiss would lead to a life-changing, life-threatening experience.
"It was the beginning of a big tour," says Weber. "We had about 100 or 120 concerts in the future, and this was our fifth or sixth concert. "I left my hotel in the morning, and I didn't feel anything weird, but when I got out of the elevator, I felt like I had chewing gum underneath my foot, and I looked, and there was no chewing gum. So I walked around. Once in a while, I stumbled a little bit but not really seriously; I'd shake my foot and wonder what was going on. I even went to a restaurant and ate there and then went back to the hotel."
Had Weber known what was going onthat he was in the early stages of having a strokehe might have gone to the hospital earlier, and things might have been different. "I can only say that I felt something, but I didn't know what it was," Weber continues. "The easiest comparison is to something everybody knows, which is when you are getting a cold or a flu. You don't feel it immediately; you think, 'Ooh, something is weird.' This was the kind of feeling I had, but I couldn't really say what it was."
So Weber continued with his day. "I even did the sound check," Weber continues. "I went to the sound check in the afternoon because everything was set up by the roadies, and I sat down and I played. I could play sort of normally, but I realized there was a little trouble with intonation. So I said to the guys, 'Let's play this very, very delicate melody,' to see if I could do it. I was not able to play it in tune; my left hand was already on its way out. So I said, 'OK, I'd better go to the hospital and find out what it is.'
"I went there," the bassist continues, "and they said, 'You're going to have to stay,' and I said, 'I can't; I have a concert tonight [laughs],' and they said, 'No, it's better if you stay here.' So I went back to the hotel, and, because I was already in a suit for the show, I changed, packed my stuff again into my heavy suitcase, went back to the hospital and said, 'OK, here I am. What can I do?' And I just lay down. Later on, I went to bed around 10 o'clock, and then I don't remember anything. I just remember the next time I woke up, at a regular hospital time, around 6:00 or 6:30 a.m., I realized I couldn't move my left leg anymore or my left arm. So it happened some time when I was asleep."
What's most unfortunate is, had Weber detected something sooner and gotten to the hospital earlier, something might have been possible to prevent it. "The hospitals expect you to come in as soon as possible to do some diagnosis and give you some fluid and so on," Weber explains. "At the time, there was a maximum time limit of three hours, after which they couldn't do anything. By then it's getting more dangerous. And since I didn't feel it right away, I only went to the hospital around five o'clock, but this chewing gum thing that I felt was at half past elevenmore than five hours, so they couldn't really do anything.
"I was hit on the right side of my brain," Weber continues, "meaning it impaired the left side of my body. Good luck, so to speak, in the bad luck, because when it's on the left- hand side of the brain, you usually lose your language and partly your memory."
Weber was hospitalized in Germany for two and a half months before returning to his home in the south of France, where he continues regular physiotherapy. "It happened on April 23rd, 2007, and I went home on Friday, July 13," says Weber. "They did everything they could, and after about two months, I could get out. Now it's difficult to walk, but I can do it with a stick. I can drive because I have an automatic gearshift, so I don't need my left foot. My problem is that because I'm handicapped, it's difficult to walk, difficult to go shopping, difficult to do normal things. I usually need someone to help me. I can do things at home a bit, but very slowly. I learned that, to a certain degree, with a stroke you can't change anything. I have therapy three times a week, but the therapist tells meand I know he's correctthat we can only keep the status quo. We can't improve; we can only prevent things from getting worse."
Weber's stroke has been public knowledge for some time, but this is the first time that the bassist has chosen to speak about it at length. It comes on the heels of a new release, Résumé
(ECM, 2013), that's a remarkable achievement, considering that Weber is no longer able to play his instrument. Even more remarkable than the feat of making the record is Weber's strength, pragmatism and positivity. Losing the ability to play an instrument, for some, would be the end of the world. And Weber certainly went through a couple years after the stroke thinking hopingthat his strength would return. "My left-hand side doesn't function that well anymore," Weber explains. "It's difficult to walk. It's difficult use my hand. So at some point I had to say, 'That's it,' and I had to stop. But I continued to believe for some time, to practice a little bit here and there with my bass, right after my stroke. But one or two years after my stroke, I realized that even if I were to get better, I would never get back to my original state."
But if the stroke and losing the ability to play weren't enough, Weber had one more tragedy to come. "Because my wife [Maja] couldn't stand that I gave up, I did it more or less for her [practicing the bass], but after she died last year [in 2011], I said, 'Now it's time to say goodbye.' It made no sense to continue fooling myself about my disability."
Maja Weber will be known to fans of Weber's music because, with rare exception, it's been her distinctive artwork that has graced Weber's ECM discography, beginning with his debut for the label, 1974's classic The Colours of Chloë
, straight through to Résumé
, which does not have her design on the front cover but which contains one of her drawings inside the CD booklet. "We were together 42 years," says Weber. "She died just a few weeks before our 43rd anniversary. It was a liver tumor, and it was clear right away that it could not be operated on. More and more, we come into these situations. It's only when you get older that you realize they're getting close."