Darryl Quesenberry has been throwing himself a birthday show for the last 20 years or so, and he knows that sounds egotistical.
“It’s a little self-serving,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s a good excuse to get friends together, and if the bar can ring a little more, the bartender can take home some money and make the next month’s rent easier, then why not?”
Quesenberry is a Bay area music-scene elder better known as Funky D. He played keys in the Funky Seeds and has been a member of other outfits like Food, Urban Gypsies and Porcupine. Half-Baked Guru, a band he formed in the early '90s, nearly landed a development deal, but never broke through. Still, music is Funky D’s life. He was born in Floyd, VA to a bluegrass-picking dad and learned to walk, barefoot, at music festivals. But his father’s alcoholism rendered him absent, so Funky D was essentially raised by a guy named Robert Butterworth, who taught Funky D about community value and that bands are family.
“He’s also the person who gave me LSD and took me to see The Who. He changed my life, empowered me to have the courage to get out from everything associated with my dad,” Funky D said. Doing more for others has been a theme of Funky D’s parties, and it’ll be the centerpiece of this one, where he hopes friends come early to see two of his favorite bands open the show.
Things feel a little different this time, however, as Funky D prepares to celebrate his 53rd trip around the sun. Someone else has to carry his gear onstage, and he’s been in a lot of pain lately since the stage 3 colon cancer he was diagnosed with returned to his body (the community held a fundraiser for Funky D in 2015, but Saturday’s show is not a fundraiser).
“It’s not even just in my colon anymore. It’s all over, in my liver all over the place, my lungs, lymph nodes, my spine. It’s everywhere,” he said, adding that his oncologists have been vague about a prognosis this time around. “It’s pretty grim, Basically they say a year with chemo, six months without, but then there’s the 20 percent chance that I can beat it through chemo or through this natural thing.”
The natural thing he’s talking about is Rick Simpson Oil, named after a Canadian medical marijuana activist who was motivated to share a simple method for extracting oils from cannabis after he purportedly used his method to cure his own cancer. Funky D used the oil and changed his lifestyle after that first diagnosis.
He says that he’s probably going to try chemo this time around. His 25-year-old daughter understands him more than anyone, and she knows about his negative feelings towards chemo, but she came up with a compromise in which Funky D would at least try a round of chemo.
“So if I start this, and it sucks, and I say ‘Fuck this,’ then I can stop,” he said. “But why not try? I know that is her being fearful of losing me, and I get that. I mean, if there’s anyone to feel bad for it is her. She is full-time student, going on an internship, working on a job, she has me to take care of. This is all happening at one time in her life in an age where she should be carefree and having fun.”
Funky D actually decided to settle down and be less carefree himself when he found out he would be a dad, and he has always used his daughter as a barometer for his behavior.
“Like, what am I doing to actually deserve a child,” he explained. If you asked his friends, they would tell you that Funky D has actually helped so many bands — his family in so many ways — get off the ground. It’s that sense of community that he learned very early on, and he’s hopefully passing it along to a new generation.
Funky D, who has shed a lot of weight since his cancer diagnosis, has an almost tangible peace around him when he talks about all of it. He’s resolved a few interpersonal hang-ups and said that if he’s ever hurt anyone, then they should tell him, because he’s sorry.
“It goes both ways, I forgive everyone, I don’t wanna hang on to anything,” he said. He also wants to record a few more songs that haven’t yet made it to tape. “You know, some things that I like, there’s a divorce song and some tunes I wrote when I thought I was gonna die.”
He stops short of saying that he is religious, but Funky D does believe that energy doesn’t get destroyed. He feels happy about what he’s put into life, and he thinks that the passion and caring have circled back his way over and again.
“There’s a lot that we don’t understand, and that’s OK,” he said. “That energy — it just goes somewhere else.”