The UCLA Department of Head and Neck Surgery hosted its own version of a pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Wednesday evening, honoring John Mayer as a UCLA Luminary and rewarding the work of Dr. Gerald Berke who played a prime role in Mayer’s recovery.
Berke noted that Mayer’s medical condition originated at age 17, when he suffered cardiac arrhythmia and was hospitalized for one week — a period that jump-started his songwriting endeavors. In 2011 and 2012, his health problems resurfaced due to tissue inflammation on his vocal cords, otherwise known as granuloma. He has raised awareness on this issue through his Back To You Fund.
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“I still can’t sing the way I used to; it’s coming back so slowly,” Mayer told The Hollywood Reporter. “Like today, I did a warmup, and I told myself, ‘Wow I can sing more notes than I could two months ago.’ It keeps crawling out, crawling out, but I kind of like that. It’s made me appreciate; if it wasn’t a gift before, it’s a gift now. He gave it to me.” Berke added, “He gave it to himself.”
Mayer described his experience as frustrating and at times, discouraging, but he continued to search his soul for the one way out, as he noted it was his duty as a singer. “What’s really important are the stories that were written about a Goliath of singers getting surgeries on their voices. And it’s because they worked too hard. It made managers of musicians think, ‘I really need to slow this down.’ The expectation to work five nights a week is too much singing. From traveling, airplanes, interviews – even talking at this level right now is unacceptable!” Mayer joked. “Singers are always concerned if they will be able to sing the next day, and it’s a sensitive issue that can escalate over 10 years.”
When asked about the support system provided by girlfriend Katy Perry, Mayer replied that she was his voice. “I whispered in her ear, and she would tell it to the table – I had to rely on her comic timing, and she was pretty good,” Mayer said. “I used to type in my iPhone and it would talk to her. I’d go to dinner with an iPad. In fact, I’m going to dinner right now with her and my iPad!”
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The gala was hosted by Wayne Newton and also featured performances by Celine Dion and UCLA’s Gospel Choir and a few words from Mayer’s fellow honorees, A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss and his wife, Ann, and Dianne and James Bashor. Those in attendance included Jason Alexander, Teri Hatcher, Dancing With the Stars’ Karina Smirnoff and former Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky.
“I needed my voice more than ever,” Mayer told the estimated 700 guests in the Four Seasons ballroom. “Because sometimes it’s more important to restate who you are than to initially state who you are.”
As Mayer took the podium after receiving his award, he commented that finding the right doctor is similar to finding the right note. “He wasn’t in the phone book – he probably didn’t even know who I was,” said Mayer of Berke. “I’m sorry, who’s John Mayer? I’m too busy cloning a throat, take a message,” mimicked the musician. “That’s when you’re good.”
Mayer continued, “Through his medical care, I learned that the voice is an instrument, it’s a rite of passage, and nobody sees that as delicately and carefully as Dr. Berke and his colleagues at UCLA Medical Center.”
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The singer-songwriter also performed “Dear Marie” (from his recently debuted Paradise Valley album) and his 2003 hit “Daughters,” accompanying himself on the guitar and harmonica.
What’s next for this seven-time Grammy Award-winning artist? Mayer told THR that he will use this year to create and talk less, spending February playing and writing with other musicians to prepare for his next record, planned for 2015. “I won’t be touring as much,” he said. “I really want to get the record right, focus and compile, as well as work on some side projects.” Additionally, he noted that the John Mayer Trio with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan “will be coming back.”
- This article originally appeared in THR.com.