Catch My Disease by Ben Lee

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Catch My Disease by Ben Lee

Rick Kane
Perth, April 2006

Mum was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Over 18 months her health deteriorated noticeably but her spirit, love of family and zest for life did not abate. I would talk to her on the phone. You could hear the difficulty she had breathing but all she wanted to know about were the kids. One time when I flew to Perth to see her the family went out to the country so she could go gliding. The irony did not escape any of us that Mum was thousands of metres in the air without an engine, defying death.

Another time when I was over we got rolling drunk. Mum should not have been drinking at all but she let her hair down. Two days before she finally took her leave, when she could barely muster the energy to chew she insisted that she be taken to the shops to buy one of her daughters-in-law a birthday card and pressie.

On receiving the news that Mum was in her final days I readied myself to fly home to Perth. One of the things I did before I left was make up a CD for the family; music to console ourselves following the inevitable next stage of Mum’s terminal illness. I know my family. We would grieve deeply but we would also need a valve, to let out everything we can’t explain. Everything we can’t fathom. Everything and nothing.

Preparing to leave for Perth, I knew that this was my job, my role. So I sat down on the floor with dozens of CDs around me thinking of what songs to add to the playlist. It was painful. It felt morbid. But I knew that cometh the moment, this was the thing I could give to my grieving and bewildered family.

You have to know your family very well to complete a task like this. On one level it wasn’t too difficult because I could picture my sisters’ reactions when a song would start. This made the task easier. On another level it was mind-bendingly difficult.

There was one song that I definitely wanted to play. Ben Lee’s Catch My Disease. I pictured the family on the back patio at Mum’s place in a circle, singing to each other, open your heart and catch my disease. This would be the cathartic moment. This would be where the pain flowed out as the love poured in. I felt very sure that my family would understand and connect and celebrate Mum in this song. But …

I didn’t chicken out. I put it on the playlist. With very serious reservations. As I flew to Perth I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What if?’. What if one person is offended. I didn’t want to upset anyone. We would share our grief – one clan, one blood, one people. What if this song was misconstrued? Emotions fragile, feelings confused. Great loss can hit you hard and in the most unpredictable ways. I didn’t want an argument to be triggered by this song. Hell, I didn’t even want to see an eyebrow start to rise.

Mum passed away, in her own home, surrounded by her family, surrounded by love. The grief was immense and it poured out. As night fell, family members, having completed the dreadful formal administration that follows death, gathered out the back to begin the informal but much needed wake. Bottles were emptied, laughter and tears shared.

Someone asked, “Where’s the music?”

“I put together a mixtape,” I said, “in honour of Mum and to celebrate her.”

The family ribbed me. “What, you prepared a playlist? That’s ghoulish.”

Then someone laughed and we all joined in. The eldest, Vron, taking charge, gave me a hug and said to the family assembled, “This is just what we need to pick us up.”

And so we danced. To Elvis and Marvin, Johnny and Dolly. More bottles emptied themselves and we swayed and twirled and for a moment Mum was dancing with us. In such a moment the music was all we needed.

Then I hit the pause button.

I said, “I’m not sure about the next song. I think it’s alright but.” Sisters howled me down, chided me for my doubts and said, “Play the bloody song.” So I hit play.

A simple handclap as backbeat starts the song. It is joined by toy piano, acoustic guitar, bass and drums before Ben Lee sings, My head is a box filled with nothing. At this point every one of us, in our own spiralling moment, might have collapsed. Exhausted, defeated, terrified. Then one of the sisters screamed, “And that’s the way I like it”. And we were off. Singing, with handclaps, air instruments and joyous tears. The family formed into a circle on the makeshift dancefloor and we sung our hearts out. For Mum, for ourselves, for what we have and what we can never replace. The song was our valve. So we played it again. And again. And again. And that’s the way I like it.


© Rick Kane

YouTube clip sourced via New West Records


Rick is a regular reader at Stereo Stories In Concert and a popular contributor to our partner site The Footy Almanac.

By | 2017-01-07T08:18:33+00:00 January 6th, 2017|Indie pop, Pop, Singer-songwriters|14 Comments


  1. Veronica Clarke January 6, 2017 at 10:41 am - Reply

    My beautiful brother ❤️ I am bawling on the train on my way to work…. tears streaming down my face…. public transport has witnessed me at my most fragile, many times. Your words perfectly describe my and I’m sure all of our emotions. Your words are visual art, poetry in motion, memories captured in the here and now.
    Thanks for sharing and bringing back these bitter/sweet moments. And I still love this song!
    Today, just minutes after having deep, life and death conversations with my beautiful life partner Kev, your words are even more meaningful. Family holds our hearts forever ? Love you Vron x x x

  2. Les January 6, 2017 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Wow. Stereo Stories at its best…

  3. DBalassone January 6, 2017 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Gosh, this is a beautiful, poignant piece Rick. Made my day.

  4. Ben Lee January 7, 2017 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing

  5. Phillip Dimitriadis January 7, 2017 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Lovely piece Rick and a fine song. Mum would be proud.

  6. Ilona Lee (Ben's mum) January 7, 2017 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Your story has made me cry

  7. Yvette Wroby January 7, 2017 at 8:40 pm - Reply

    As always Rick well done. My sister and I made playlists for mums service too and it was brilliant and cathartic and needed. Xxx after reading this piece I am going to bring it out and listen again on 27th which is exactly a year since she died. Thank you

  8. Lucia Nardo January 7, 2017 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Rick, a deeply moving piece. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Rick Kane January 7, 2017 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the comments and thoughts. Xx

  10. Edwina Coates January 8, 2017 at 9:01 am - Reply

    So glad you put pen to paper ! Great story ! Perfect song!

  11. IA January 9, 2017 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Lovely words Rick, may she rest in peace forever.

  12. JTH January 10, 2017 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Moving. Here’s to your Mum – and music, and words, especially Ben Lee’s and yours.

  13. Smokie January 12, 2017 at 12:39 am - Reply

    Extremely moving, Rick.
    And, it is an excellent song.

  14. Hugh Jones April 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this piece Rick, which I missed when it was first posted. I’m dealing with parent departures myself and your story has really helped. I’ve started on a playlist.

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