Listen to "The Duke" here:
Below, Blythe discusses his friendship with Ford, his attempt to incorporate Ford's voice into Lamb of God's music and his reflections upon his interactions with him.
How did you happen to befriend Wayne? How long were you friends with him?
I met Wayne after a Lamb of God show in Phoenix back in October of 2012. A friend of his had met me backstage before the show and told me he had a buddy in the audience, Wayne, that had been battling leukemia for a couple of years. He asked me if I could give Wayne a shout-out from the stage to lift his spirits a bit. I did so, then met Wayne and his wife out by our tour bus after the show. We talked about his situation and the bone marrow registry for a bit — extremely important: go to bethematch.com to register; it's free, painless and you might save someone's life — then I wished him luck. That was the extent of our physical face-to-face interaction, just a brief hangout after a show.
Three years passed, and then another friend of Wayne's reached out to me through our publicist to let me know that Wayne was dying. He asked if the band could give him a call or something. From there I got in touch with Wayne via email, and then Skype. We kept up with each other, mostly via text message, for about the last month of his life. I didn't know him that long at all, but he was a really cool guy.
When did you decide to write about song for him? Did he get to hear it?
I had Skyped him into the studio while I was recording our last album so that he could hear some tracks that I was working on. After that Skype session, I had the idea to record him saying something over the phone and then layering it into the record, so that he could be a part of the album. Or he could give me a few lines and I would work them into the lyrics somehow. I asked him if he was into that, and he thought it was cool idea, but he wanted to think about it. Regrettably, he died before that was able to happen; however, I still wanted him to be a part of the record in some way, so I wrote the lyrics to "The Duke" very shortly after he died. So no, Wayne never got to hear the song, but he got to hear and see some of the other vocal tracks being created before anyone else, even my bandmates.
The press information that came with The Duke notes that you and Wayne discussed his impending death very openly. What were his feelings about it? How was he able to remain calm?
That's a really complex question, one that I can't pretend to answer with any sort of authority at all. We did discuss his situation quite openly and matter-of-factly, but I didn't say to him, "Whoa, dude, how are you so chill? You're about to die! Aren't you freaking out?!" I didn't drill him about his emotions or anything. I just asked him, "How are you doing, man?" Then I shut up and listened. I think that's the best policy when talking to a dying person: really listen to what they have to say. And from what I gathered by listening to him, he was just tired of living the life of constant struggle that is a long-term battle with cancer. Wayne fought it very hard for five solid years, and there were a lot of rough times during those years: not being able to eat what he wanted, months spent in the hospital and living in the war zone that is a human body undergoing chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be extremely brutal on a person physically, mentally and emotionally.
When the treatments stopped working, I believe Wayne made a conscious decision: "I am going to enjoy what time I have left on my terms, in my own home, around the people I want to be surrounded by." He made a decision, and that was that, but it was a decision reached after years of struggle. From what I knew of him, he was overall just a pretty stoic guy, and I can only surmise that that quality served him well in his last days.
What thoughts have you had about your own mortality in relation to this experience?
Well, on most days, I am not particularly afraid of dying. There are certainly some ways I could die that would scare me, or anyone, pretty badly, but overall the concept of death doesn't frighten me. Why should it? Like it or not, death is a part of life. It's going to happen to all of us, and the sooner a person accepts that, the less death will get in the way of living.
That being said, I also have no desire to die anytime soon at all. I have books to write, photos to take, music to make, places to see, things to do. With that in mind, the long-term things that I want to do within my lifetime have become more and more important to me — I’m not getting any younger. That can make me a bit panicky at times if I start thinking too deeply about everything I want to accomplish within the unknown yet very finite amount of time I have left. It's not the act or process of dying itself that freaks me out, because when death comes for me there will be nothing I can do about it, but rather thoughts like, "Aaaaagh! I have to get to Antarctica to shoot photos before I die! I have to write at least four more books! I've never surfed Hawaii!"
I think talking about Wayne and this EP so much lately has made me want to use my time wisely — and when that time runs out, I hope to face my death with at least half the resolve I saw in Wayne when we talked. His manner was inspiring, and he enjoyed what time he had left on his terms. I am trying to do the same.