I’d like to introduce you to an artist I discovered maybe two months ago now. His history is fascinating and moving, despite its tragic end this story has to be shared.
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His name is Spencer Bell and he comes from Los Angeles (USA); Spencer was a poet, a writer, a painter, an actor, a musician and above all an exceptional lyricist… he had an artistic soul, he was a complete artist!
“That’s me, I’m the lyricist
It’s not my job
It’s my disposition”
From the song “The Lonesome Ballad of Lonesome Boy”
On December, 3rd 2006 the cancer that strikes one person in a million, adrenal cancer, took the life of this unique artist, he was only 20 years old… But Spencer will never really be gone because he left us an extraordinary artistic legacy and the number of his fans raises every day.
“We all knew he was a genius and incredibly talented, but it wasn’t until we started digging through his stuff that we realized how much there was”, says Dan Graupner, a former classmate and recent graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. “There were enough scores to fill approximately seven to eight complete albums.”*
Spencer lived his life at high speed; he always did everything faster than the others just as he knew his life was going to end quickly.
“I’m getting burned
I’m getting put in an urn
I’m getting to live the kind of life I earned
By fulfilling my Dharma
At such breakneck speed”
From the song “Drink lots of water”
Born several weeks early, he was walking at 11 months, spoke with complete sentences at 18 months and composed his own melodies with the piano by the age of two. He composed his first complete song, lyrics and music, when he was only four. He started acting in 6th grade, in 7th grade he could play a Shakespeare text as a professional; he even won a first place in state in 8th grade for his acting skills. His interest for acting decreases as his interest for music increases. At fifteen he plays solo in completely full bars. He joins his first band when he is around sixteen; the band ‘Sheer, Funk & Misery’ recorded an amazing album even more if you consider how young they all were. Spencer had always intended to be living in New York and playing music by the age of eighteen and he did!
“It didn’t matter that he didn’t know how to do something, Spencer figured he’d learn as he went. What mattered to him was getting to the imagined end result. Details were for suckers.”**
He lived in Brooklyn (NY) for two years writing and playing music with his new band ‘The Stevedores’ while attending the New York Film Academy learning 3D computer animation. He made several 3D animated movies within that school. He created art installations called ‘pathways of energy’ by duct-taping walls, flours and ceilings. He made sculptures out of soda cans, scraps of iron and wood, rubber bands, even broken chairs.
He went back home in may 2006 just long enough to charge his batteries and gather together some bucks before joining his band mates: Ben Johnson (drums), Adam Webb-Orenstein (bass), Sean Fernando (keyboards) and Jake Miller (guitar) in Madison to continue they’re musical adventures all under the same roof at the ‘Cactus house’***
They recorded they’re first album ‘Tamuawok’ and we’re working on new songs while waiting for the mastering to be done. They intended to work at the second album in they’re basement while selling ‘Tamuawok’ at the shows they would do around the area.
All went quite well till November, that’s when Spencer started complaining about stomach pains and associative symptoms. After trying common self medication and seeing no change, Spencer went to a doctor who suggested Prilosec, a healthier diet and lots of water. That seemed to be a good thing to do, after all Spencer was only twenty and a young man with stomach aches is quite common.
Optimist by nature, Spencer tried to forget the growing discomfort and started planning Thanksgiving for him and his close friends as well as Brady, his little brother, who was coming for the weekend. After shopping the necessary items he went to the airport to pick his brother up. According to Brady, Spencer was really suffering and was quickly breathless. During the evening Spencer remained comfortably sat, unnecessary movements were painful. On the next day it was even worse, Brady helped convince him that they should go seek medical attention at the Emergency room at the University Of Wisconsin Medical Center.
Based on symptoms, the doctors opted for a CT-scan which revealed a 7.5’’ tumour in his abdomen area. The doctors delivered the news to these two young men, Spencer (20) and Brady (16): Spencer had cancer and needed immediate medical attention.
Spencer told the news himself to his parents who jumped in the first plane to join they’re children alone at hospital a Thanksgiving day. But what cancer did Spencer have? The tumour was so large it was impossible to know the origin without a biopsy.
After five days of excruciating wait news came back from pathology: adrenal cancer! As it grew undetected all sorts of complications had added and it was now too late for all kinds of chemotherapy. The only remaining hope was surgery.
A dream team of surgeons was being assembled by the head oncologist to plan the twelve to fifteen hours of surgery needed to remove the pervasive cancer. In the end the thoracic specialists determined that it was too late… the infiltration was too much to overcome! At best he would never come off respirator, at worse he would die during surgery.
Despite the morphine Spencer understood quite quickly what that meant, after taking some time alone he called his mom and started making arrangements for his precious effects; writings, art and of course his musical instruments. He even provided details about his cremation and memorial services, Piñatas were compulsory! He spent the next few days with his friends and family which had crowded the hospital.
Eleven days after entering the hospital; December 3rd 2006, Spencer died peacefully with his family at his side.
Spencer had a contagious, charming and intense personality according to those who knew him. His family and friends describe him as a visionary, a renegate, a mystic, most commonly ‘Renaissance man’. His teachers say that he was brilliant though a bit arrogant and intimidating.
He was inspired; he inspired and still does nowadays. He didn’t care about the future; he only lived for the present. He was and always will be endlessly loved.
Spencer faced death with an admirable courage and left unforgettable memories and music. He will be continually missed by those who met him; those who didn’t have that chance will still get to know him through his amazing artistic legacy.
“The headstone read,
In the shade of the tree
‘My baby lay heavy
On the floor of the sea’
I’m not going to be here for the
I’ll be under the ocean where
The seahorses play”
From the song “Where the seahorses play” (2005)
If you want to know more and discover all about Spencer and his arts check these pages:
Spencer Bell Memorial Europe
Spencer Bell Legacy Project
* Detroit New Article written by Marney Keenan, 5th September 2007
** Memorial Service, 9th December 06; words from Spencer’s father read by Mary Pagnani
*** The band ‘Stevedores’ was originally called Cactus. They changed name because another band was called the same. The band mates were all living and making music together in a house they had named ‘Cactus house’
All information, quotes, pictures and music are under copyright and rights are owned by the Spencer Bell Legacy Project, please ask permission before reusing any of it.