X is playing its annual holiday show in San Francisco. (Courtesy Gary Leonard)

Cancer won’t stop X’s Billy Zoom

His bandmates in X are calling it their own “X-mas miracle.” It’s hard to downplay the triumphant stage return of founding guitarist Billy Zoom, who was sidelined this summer by a bladder cancer diagnosis, which necessitated immediate medical treatment. Having defeated prostate cancer in 2010, the indestructible icon joins the legendary punk group on its annual A Family X-mas Tour in The City this week. Friends also launched a Support Billy Zoom’s Kick Cancer Fight page at the GoFundMe site, which so far has raised almost $100,000. Zoom checked in by E-mail.

How did you deal with this diagnosis?

You have to play the hand you’re dealt. I feel pretty good when I’ve been off chemo for a while, but I go back in January for more treatments. I’ll be doing this for the next year and a half, unless the cancer comes back, in which case I’ll need more surgery. This won’t be over for a while.

What bigger thoughts of mortality have you been considering throughout this? What personal truths have you learned?

Cancer is very humbling. I have too many unfinished projects that need to be taken care of, and I need to spend as much time with my family as I can, and take one day at a time. I still have my custom amp business, which is seriously back-ordered, and we’re in the process of setting up a Chinese factory to produce more affordable versions of my products. They’re currently hand-built by me and pretty expensive, although worth every penny. I work on my Austin Healey whenever I get a chance. I have too many unfinished projects, and finishing them all has taken on more of an urgency.


George Eliot once said that the last thing we learn in life is other people’s perceptions of us. It must be great to find out how much people care about you much sooner. Were you stunned by fans’ outpouring of compassion, donations?

I was absolutely overwhelmed. It’s made all the difference.

How is it that you play so effortlessly in concert, and never seem to break a sweat?
It takes a lot of concentration to visualize my hands and guitar while I interact with people in the audience, but guitar playing is a mental exercise, not a cardiovascular workout, like singing or playing drums. It’s more like solving an abstract math problem. Guitarists who sweat a lot are doing it wrong.

Onstage, you’re one of the happiest men in rock, always smiling, never scowling. What are you thinking?

Usually, I’m trying to remember the next chord!

IF YOU GO
A Family X-Mas
with Mike Watt and the Secondmen
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., SF
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 15-16
Tickets: $35 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com

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