Deadheads to flock to Taj Mahal for RatDog concert Saturday night
Mark Karan didn't lose it when he played his first show with RatDog in over a year in May 2008. During the fourth concert Karan bawled like a baby mid-show.
"It was like a dam broke," Karan says. "I just started crying after I felt that connection with the audience again."
The RatDog guitarist is a cancer survivor. During the spring of 2007, Karan was diagnosed with throat cancer. It was particularly upsetting since Karan was told that the lump on his neck was benign a year and a half before he was hit with reality.
"I was told not to worry about it," Karan tells AC Weekly. "So I didn't."
While on vacation in Hawaii during the spring of 2007, Karan's neck tripled in size and he couldn't shake a low-grade fever. "I took a ton of serious antibiotics and nothing helped," Karan says during a telephone interview from his San Francisco home. "After a biopsy, I found that the growth was cancerous."
Karan endured chemotherapy and radiation treatment and is in remission. He was able to return as the guitarist for RatDog -- the group formed in 1995 by Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir -- but his voice didn't come back until 14 months ago.
"I could barely get through my backing vocals with RatDog at first," Karan says. "It was tough. But I built things up and I came back. That's something considering that I didn't know if I would live to this day. The support [vocalist-guitarist] Bobby [Weir] and the rest of the guys in the band gave me has been tremendous and then there are the fans who I would like to thank."
Karan still has the hundreds of get-well cards, stuffed animals, caps and T-shirts sent his way. "It's nice to know people care enough to do that," Karan says.
The soft-spoken Karan has a surprisingly upbeat take on his situation. "Going through what I went through with cancer has been one of the best experiences of my life," he says. "It helped shape me. It helped me grow spiritually, emotionally, socially and psychologically. I was put into a crisis situation and I had to rise to the occasion. I'm so happy I'm still here."
Karan has never appreciated the RatDog tunes, which will be delivered Saturday (July 11) at Trump Taj Mahal, as much as he does now. "They're great songs," he says. "They make people feel good. I feel good playing them. Everyday that I can step onstage with Bobby and the guys is a great day. It's great to be in a phenomenal band that makes great music, plays spirited shows and cares so much about each other. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of this."
He also appreciates that he was able to complete his first solo album, the aptly titled Walk Through The Fire, which dropped two weeks ago.
"I wrote a bunch of songs and I was just thrilled that I was able to sing them the way I wanted to," Karan says. "I'm just so thankful my voice came back to the level it did. I had to wait and work at it a bit. I really started to work on getting my voice back about a year ago. I started getting it back singing 'Lovelite' and 'Sugaree' with Phil Lesh and Friends [in 2008]. I'm just so fortunate. But I have to say that it's not all the way back yet, but to coin a phrase, 'it's getting better all the time.'"
Karan won't be playing solo material or quoting lines from Beatles classics when he returns to Atlantic City. It'll be a night of RatDog and that's just fine with Karan, who enjoys relaxing in A.C.
"It's a blast going back there," Karan says. "I walk around and find a Starbucks and that's all I need. Atlantic City is a cool place. There's lots of history there. You have the beach. It's a nice atmosphere. We normally stay close to where they had the Miss America pageant. I like it around there. I wish we had more time to explore what Atlantic City is all about. It's a good place for RatDog."
Plus the ACUA Earth Day celebration, the Album of the Week and Drew Toonz.