A musician from San Rafael struggled to complete his debut album; now he’s fighting for his life

On New Years Eve 2020, aspiring singer-songwriter Nick Whitman made a resolution to write and record an album of his original songs.

He’d always played guitar and sung on the sidelines, but he’d never taken music seriously, enjoying it instead as a diversion from his real work in tech, including a stint as an entrepreneur. prosperous applications. At one point ten years ago, the apps he created were bringing in $50,000 a month, which allowed him to buy a house in the Santa Venetia neighborhood of San Rafael.

When he decided to make a debut album, he was already entering his forties and had never played professionally or played in a band, so he doubted the effectiveness of such an ambition. But he felt he had something to say in his music and forged ahead, writing and recording a four-song EP in his home studio.

“I was off to a good start, writing one song a month,” he says. “Then the pandemic hit and it all goes south.”

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At the same time the world was closing in, his personal life was in shambles. Her marriage had been on the rocks for some time and later ended in divorce. He quit a 9-to-5 job with a tech startup he hated, sold the house he shared with his ex-wife, and moved into a duplex apartment, working on his music in a studio he rented in an industrial section of San Rafael, recording his voice and playing all the instruments himself. He admits he had a lot to learn about writing, recording and mixing his tracks, but he had his own vision and wanted people to hear his songs and tell him what they thought.

Photo by John Brecher

“Cancer gave me a chance to really test where the rubber touches the road on my spirituality,” says Nick Whitman.

So when he saw other aspiring songwriters and musicians performing on Chillavision, a video streaming service on social news site Reddit, he launched his own weekly Chillavision show on Saturday nights to showcase the songs he was working on and chatting with his viewers.

“For some reason it became very popular very quickly,” he recalls. “For a while we were pulling in a few hundred thousand viewers every night.”

Drug struggles

A rambling and discursive conversationalist, Whitman says he holds the record for the longest Reddit stream, 20 hours and 20 minutes. After playing his songs on his show, many of them with a kind of alternative country rock sound, he attracted the interest of a European independent label, who offered him a contract. So far, he’s preferred to self-release the 14-song album, “Down in California.” It is available on Spotify, Amazon, YouTube and other streaming platforms.

For many years he had struggled with a drug problem, an addiction to marijuana which he attributes in part to the breakdown of his marriage. Originally from Buffalo, New York, he felt guilty for not seeing his father before he died of cancer in his hometown a year ago. That’s when he hit rock bottom.

“I was so controlled,” he says. “When I smoke, that’s all there is.”

Mourning the death of his father, he decided it was time for him to pick himself up, seeking help in a recovery program which led to what he describes as “a spiritual awakening”.

“I felt so relieved,” he says. “My life completely changed from that moment on. Misery and loneliness have somehow disappeared. It was a miracle in many ways.

Year of sobriety

As he celebrates his 43rd birthday in April, it also marks a year of sobriety. He wrote a song for the album, “Love with a Capital ‘G'”, which he says “recaps my journey into sobriety”.

As his spiritual life blossomed, he had worried about his physical health for some time, losing 80 pounds in a year and suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms.

“I used to tell my doctor that everything in my life was great,” he says. “I was living my dream, recording music, doing yoga every day. The only thing is, I have this weird GI thing.

In early January, after a series of tests and scans, he was diagnosed with stage four rectal cancer that had spread to the liver and lungs.

“My doctor said to me, ‘Look, without treatment, you have six months, maybe a year,'” he says. “‘With treatment, on average, about two years.'”

Weeks later, he broke the devastating news to his online community of fans in an emotional segment on his show Chillavision.

“You meant so much to me,” he told them, wiping away his tears. “I love you all.”

In response, one of his loyal viewers posted, “I’m censoring my reactions, but I’m beyond sorry. I can not.”

Committed to music

Because her cancer metastasized, the only treatment her doctors told her was chemotherapy. After a debate with himself, he decided to go ahead and is now on his second cycle of chemo.

While his album was mostly done before his diagnosis, he has penned a new song, “Except You,” which reconfirms his commitment to his musical creativity despite his life-threatening cancer.

“The conceit of the song is that I’m gonna keep making music unless you stop me,” Whitman says, his voice cracking.

Along with his music, he doesn’t know how he could cope with his prognosis without the spiritual awakening he experienced while working on his sobriety.

“Cancer gave me a chance to really test where the rubber touches the road on my spirituality,” he says. “Are you going to turn around and run because of this bad luck, or whatever you want to call this bad situation, because it would be easy to give up on everything? I’ve been there a bit. I haven’t been perfect. I had moments of doubt. But, I try to maintain the light. In fact, I’m writing a song about it now.

Contact Paul Liberatore at [email protected]

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