Being diagnosed with a serious disease is a traumatic experience for anyone. But being affected at a young age can be even more difficult. Many people just don’t understand why this has happened to them. They don’t have the heart to continue, and many fold under the seemingly impossible odds of everyday life. Bob Benjamin, like Michael J. Fox, felt the effects of Parkinson’s disease earlier than most. And, like Fox, Benjamin is a resilient fighter who continues to live life in his own tough-as-nails way.
Bob’s response to adversity has always been one of perseverance. His early introduction to sports and music structured his thought process towards success and formed his mental fortification of not giving up. The tenacity that he had brought from his childhood has stayed with him. Bob’s way of looking at it is just as he had not been a great hockey player in school or a phenomenal softball player as a kid; it wasn’t going to stop him from doing what he loved. He has one direction and he’s always moving forward.
The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation was created in the late ‘50s by restaurateur and coffee company magnate Bill Black, who is best known for creating the company Chock Full O’Nuts. Black’s wealth enabled him to delve into humanitarian efforts after he found out about Parkinson’s through his own accountant, who had the disease. He quickly found there were no cures and very few medical breakthroughs at the time, and so he put his mind and money into making things happen and creating what would become a worldwide organization for research and cure exploration.
While Black has since passed away, his widow, Page Morton Black, has carried on in his place, serving the community as Chairman of the Board Of Directors. Black and Benjamin actually met through a mutual industry contact who was involved with Page’s musical efforts. That’s actually part of the overall interesting story on the DVD, Just Around The Corner, of how Bob Benjamin was involved in music. Most people know Bob as a figurehead for the foundation, a fan of music since childhood and an avid collector of records. But not many outsiders know that Bob was also a savvy industry professional, working for Billboard before going on to manage Joe Grushecky at the behest of Springsteen commander Jon Landau. Bob also went on to manage and promote several other well-known names including Joe D’Urso and Dwayne Allen.
Just Around The Corner is an interesting look back through the early days and present workings of the Light Of Day organization, the support from musicians and the overall feeling of fighting for the lives of friends through musical solidarity. Presented in a biographical context, Just Around The Corner presents candid interviews with Michael J. Fox, journalist Jean Mikle, Joe Grushecky (who was responsible for bring Springsteen on board), as well as Willie Nile, Jesse Malin, Joe D’Urso, Nils Lofgren and several others. Interviewees tell the tale of a man who takes on everything, shying away from nothing as he pushes himself through tough, daily battles with this evil disease. Humble, effective and patient, Benjamin is pure grace under pressure.
I spoke to singer-songwriter Willie Nile about his involvement and he told me, “I started playing the LOD benefits when my friend got this disease and asked me to be part of it. I was so happy to be there early on. Now it’s so much bigger, taking on a life of its own. There are so many people around the world working to raise money to find a cure for a disease that seems to touch everyone. It’s heartening to see and be a part of a community of musicians all working and playing for the cause. Can you imagine when they finally find a cure? What a day that will be! I want to be at that bash! Then after we wake up from that party, we’ll pick another disease, and go chase that down as well.”
Light Of Day is truly a family affair. Albeit a large family, the feeling portrayed on Just Around The Corner is one of kinship and closeness. D’Urso was getting on a plane for the LOD European tour and had this to say: “I am very proud to be part of a large, extended family of musicians, volunteers and activists who work in various capacities to help raise funds and awareness in the fight against Parkinson’s. Seeing Light Of Day start as one small show some 13 years ago and then now with almost 50 shows in 12 countries is truly inspiring. The goal is simple, to find a cure and never do another Light Of Day show again. That would be amazing and that is the ultimate goal.”
A worldwide participant with LOD, Jesse Malin states, “I have been playing the Light Of Day benefit concerts for the last seven years; it’s an important cause with great people involved. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease is the goal. Using music to raise awareness is the mission. We take this around the world every year and it keeps growing all the time. The film is a great medium to spread the word and strengthen the fight. Bob Benjamin and the team are noble rock warriors out to win this battle.”
And it’s not only famous musicians that are featured on Just Around The Corner, an interesting and fairly unheard of practice that proves the organization embraces everyone that extends a helping hand, not just rock royalty.
Local Jersey performer Danny White says, “I’ve been involved with Light Of Day since the first official show, which was held at The Stone Pony. I was hanging out at Bob’s one day and he casually asked if my band would perform at this show he put together to raise money for Parkinson’s disease. It’s amazing to see how he has taken it worldwide. Bob is an honest, straight-up man and whatever he asks of me I say yes; that is the case with everyone involved in LOD. Bob said these guys were making a film about LOD and asked if I would stop by the Berkeley Carteret to be interviewed for the film. Steve [Caniff] and Jim [Justice] also asked if I had a song that I’d give to the film. So I sent them ‘Prisoners Of Hope.’ They said they loved it and wanted to close the film with it. I think they did an extraordinary job with the film.”
When it comes to banding together to fight for a cure, there’s not many that rival Light Of Day and its peripheral support crews. Special kudos go to Just Around The Corner producers Jim Justice and Steve Caniff, who have lovingly built a viable and heartfelt film that demonstrates the efforts of others without tooting horns or stumbling in fanfare or misdirected idolatry.
Just Around The Corner is a film that centers on the many important people who have made this a success without forgetting the reason it came to fruition. They show that while performers like Bruce Springsteen are integral getting the word out, he’s just as committed as any other player, humble and focused on helping his friend.
This is a quality film that stays on point, building with performances and commentary surrounding the sense of urgency for fighting Parkinson’s disease from the heart of a tight-knit family.
For more information on Just Around The Corner, the Light Of Day show schedule for this January and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, visit the following websites: virgilfilmsent.com, lightofday.org and pdf.org.