Right after she found out she was dying, Carol Simpson found a way to live forever.
She decided to record a bluegrass song.
That song, A Part of Me, grew into an album of the same time, recorded with the Canadian band, Hard Ryde, that will be available on the band’s website on May 5, the same day Carol will sing the song for the first time in public at her favorite music club north of the border.
The story about how the song and the project came to be says a lot about Carol’s strength in dealing with the unthinkable. It also demonstrates the generosity of bluegrass musicians and fans when one of their own is in need.
Carol, a longtime bluegrass fan, was, as you might imagine, devastated to find out that she had untreatable cancer. But she worried more about her husband and two sons than herself, and decided to write down everything she wanted them to remember when she was gone.
The opening line was direct and gut wrenching: “Today was the day I found out I was dying.” When she finished four pages later and talked about it with her family, they decided transforming her sentiments into a song would be the perfect legacy. Carol loves to sing but doesn’t write, so she decided to seek advice from Melissa Sherman, an award-winning songwriter. As Melissa remembers, Carol thrust the papers at here and said, “Do something with this.” As Carol remembers it, “I thought I was just going to get some direction.”
Choosing Melissa was easy, Carol told me. “First of all, she’s a girlie, and she understands. She’s a mother.”
Writing the song was not so easy, Melissa said. As what Carol had said in those four pages sunk in, Melissa started coming up with a plan. “I’m a ballad writer,” she said, “so I wanted to go slow.” Then, with six words, Carol burst her bubble: “I want it to be upbeat.”
Melissa went through a number of false starts before writing what ended up to the keeper version of Carol’s story. They key line in the chorus says it all: “There’s a little part of me inside of you.”
By the time Melissa was finished with the song, the band was on board for the project that soon grew from one song to a CD’s worth. Everybody from musicians to engineers donated their time so all proceeds from sales can be donated to cancer charities.
The day I called to ask Melissa about the project, Carol happened to be in the studio listening to the final mix. She burst into tears at my first question, which was simply what she thought of the song that grew out of her long letter. After that, she was fine.
“You never know what to expect, but you know what, it was exactly what I wanted,” Carol said.
She said she’s not afraid of dying, but she is scared by the prospect of getting on stage to sing A Part of Me. “But I have to put that aside because I want to have fun. When the music starts, I can put the disease aside,” she said.
She does admit to having one concern that she thinks is universal. “You live, you do what you can, and when it’s your time, you hope those you leave behind will be OK,” she said. It seems Carol’s song, helped into being by a caring bluegrass community, will help ensure they will be.