Cory Helms felt a lump in his neck, a hard, round pebble perched above the collarbone. He hadn't been sick, but, he says, "I immediately thought it was cancer, just because that's the way I think. And I was right." He laughs softly. "Pretty good, huh?" With little other warning save a battery of tests, Helms was diagnosed in February with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a malignant but highly treatable growth of cells in the lymph system. He was 23 years old.
"This is a random thing," says Helms, now 24, a musician who plays with Rahim Quazi, The Chemistry Set and his own band, Professional Juice. "I don't smoke. It's not genetic. I don't do anything unhealthy--that I know of." Instead, Helms simply wound up on the shit end of the health-care lotto. One minute he was a struggling musician; the next he was struggling with cancer.
"Any one of us could be Cory," says bandmate Rahim Quazi. When Helms had his first chemo session, Quazi accompanied him. "My heart broke to see him strapped in and taking this medicine that basically kills things and seeing how strong and upbeat he was about it. And I don't know about you, but I don't have $40,000 sitting around waiting for a catastrophic illness, and I wouldn't want my family to go bankrupt trying to fight it." Afterward, Quazi came up with the idea of enlisting the city's musicians to help--"to pull our music scene together with one purpose. And it isn't furthering our career; it's helping out this family that deserves it and needs it."
The Benefit for Cory takes place Saturday, June 4, at Club Dada beginning at 6 p.m. Admission is $10.
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He contacted Tania Rivas, a promoter who had been thinking along similar lines. Once the two of them started collaborating, Rivas says, "It was like this rock rolling from the top of a hill that just kept picking up steam. People were coming out of the woodwork to help."
The result is the largest music benefit Dallas has seen since January's tsunami concert. Twenty bands, a raffle, a song auction (more on that later), starting at 6 p.m. Saturday at Club Dada. The tsunami concert, of course, was inspired by a different kind of tragedy: epic in scale, remote, unprecedented. But Helms' battle is personal, local and entirely too familiar to most. "My mom had cancer," says TexasGigs' Cindy Chaffin, "so I wanted to do all I could to help out." The infinitely enthusiastic Chaffin joined forces with Rivas and Quazi to build a local bill even the surliest music critic could appreciate: I Love Math, Sorta, Record Hop, The Happy Bullets, The Tah-Dahs, Salim Nourallah, The Chemistry Set's Steve Duncan, Chris Holt, The Theater Fire, Shibboleth, Sara Radle, Radiant*'s Levi Smith and Dragan Jakovljevic, Fishing for Comets, as well as Helms' group Professional Juice. The list goes on.
Theater Fire's Curtis Heath assembled a delightfully novel online auction in which fans bid on artists to play a particular song. Fishboy will be performing the Toadies' "Possum Kingdom," Roy Ivy will be performing "Hot for Teacher" (possibly in a spandex catsuit), Quazi will be offering his take on the My Little Pony television theme song, and Heath himself has been roped into singing "Straight Outta Compton" in a dress. In addition, a slew of companies has donated gift certificates and services for a raffle: Barley House, Meridian Room, Franzini's, Thomas Avenue Beverage Company, 2900, as well as artwork from Curtain Club master artist Cabe Booth, Deep Ellum street artist Frank Campagna and brilliant rock-star shutterbug Allison V. Smith. You don't even have to be at the benefit to win; raffle tickets are on sale at the Fall Out Lounge all week, and winners' names will be posted online. The show will also be broadcast live on TexasGigs.com.
"It helps remind us that we're all connected," Quazi says. "Club Dada is a club that's hurting also, because of the situation in Deep Ellum. That's why we chose it. We wondered, 'How can we positively affect as many things as possible?' If we're gonna use our energy, let's bowl a strike."