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Dylan expert’s multitude of friends happy to help him through cancer treatment

John Bushey talks with KUMD program director Majia in the studio for a live show last week at the studios. He is host of “Highway 61 Revisited,” a program that features the music of Bob Dylan. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)1 / 5
John Bushey, host of KUMD’s “Highway 61 Revisited” talks in the studio for a live show last week at the studios. The prominent Duluth expert on Bob Dylan is undergoing another round of cancer treatment, and his friends have rallied in support, organizing a fundraiser. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 5
John Bushey, host of KUMD’s “Highway 61 Revisited” talks in the studio for a live show last week at the studios. The prominent Duluth expert on Bob Dylan is undergoing another round of cancer treatment, and his friends have rallied in support, organizing a fundraiser. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)3 / 5
John Bushey talks with KUMD program director Majia in the studio for a live show last week at the studios. He is host of “Highway 61 Revisited,” a program that features the music of Bob Dylan. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)4 / 5
John Bushey, host of KUMD’s “Highway 61 Revisited” talks in the studio for a live show last week at the studios. Bushey is in his third go-round with an incurable but treatable form of cancer. The Dylan expert-musician-teacher from Duluth isn’t comfortable with the spotlight, but a bunch of friends are throwing a benefit for him to help raise money for his treatments. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)5 / 5

John Bushey is a self-described “Seinfeld” fan who has found a way to relate to every major character from the popular 1990s TV show — except, until recently, George Costanza.

Bushey caught Season 7, Episode 8 about a week ago. In it, Relationship-Costanza’s life with his girlfriend Susan starts to intersect with Independent-Costanza’s life with his friends Jerry, Elaine and Kramer and the character gets fevered and gestures madly at what’s unfolding.

“My worlds are colliding,” said Bushey, using the “Seinfeld”-ism to describe his current situation.

Bushey is a magician and Houdini expert with an international friend base. He’s also the host of a popular public radio program that focuses on Bob Dylan. He’s also a teacher who uses his interests to engage students.

Bushey, 53, is going through his third go-round with Follicular Lymphoma, a Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that isn’t curable, but has been responsive to treatment in the past. Friends from all of his different pursuits have joined forces to raise money, including organizing Magic+Music=A Benefit for John Bushey from 3-7 p.m. today at Clyde Iron Works. Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for children 12 and younger. There will be a pasta bar, a silent auction and entertainment.

Because so many of his friends are from outside the region — some from outside of the country — there is an online component at gofundme.com/johnbushey.

Bushey is the kind of person who donates his magic shows to silent auctions. Don’t tell his oncologist, but he just performed one recently. He prefers being on the giving side of a benefit.

“I feel very awkward about the whole thing,” he said. “I’m very appreciative and grateful and the need is there … (But) I like it going out more than coming in.”

His friends knew he would be a tough sell for the event.

“When this happened for the third time with the cancer, it was like ‘John, let us help you. So many people want to do something for you. We feel so helpless because we don’t know what to do to help you,’ ” said Zane Bail of Duluth Dylan Festival, one of the fundraiser’s organizers.

*  *  *

Bushey has a 6-by-2 foot bookcase in his dining room that is tightly packed with CDs of Bob Dylan recordings. He had a more extensive collection of Dylan memorabilia, but it went to Hibbing and Zimmy’s, the former Iron Range restaurant that served as a sort of headquarters for Dylan pilgrims. He’s seen the artist perform more than two dozens times.

Bushey has been a mainstay on KUMD-FM, where he hosts “Highway 61 Revisited,” a radio program that features the Dylan music he has collected since he first got turned on to the artist during a class about The Beatles that he took when he was in his early 20s.

The show, in its 23rd year, airs at 5 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays on 103.3 FM.

He was asked to do the show by a former program director because of his extensive collection of Dylan’s music, he said. Bushey had no idea he would be still doing it all these years later — or that it would be so popular.

“It’s one of our flagship shows,” said Maija Jenson, the current program director at KUMD who will be an emcee at the fundraiser. “He’s so dedicated. He comes and does a great new show with a new theme and new music every week.

“Listeners say it’s one of their favorite shows.”

Bushey has gotten calls from musicians streaming the station in Sweden. They wanted him to play their cover of a Dylan song — which he did on-air, alongside a contest to name that tune.

Gene Shaw of VisitDuluth calls Bushey his “go-to” guy for visiting writers who want to know more about Dylan’s time in Duluth.

“I always take the writer and John Bushey to dinner,” said Shaw. “Then, I just sit there and keep my mouth shut. We have people who are historians of Duluth and we have people who can tell you the score, who played what game of the World Series 20 years ago. Bushey is the same, but he’s Dylan.”

*  *  *

One of the rooms in Bushey’s home is host to Houdini memorabilia including pitch books and the jail lock from a cell that the magician escaped from. In another room, rare handcuffs are displayed along the walls. There are display cases and safes and copies of Bushey’s research on very specific topics, like McKenzie Mitts, mitten style handcuffs from the 1800s.

“I kind of get into one person (or thing) and want to know everything I can. Anytime I get into somebody, I want it all … I know very little about a lot, but I know a lot about very little,” Bushey said with a laugh.

His current projects were laid out on his coffee table — handcuffs sent to him from around the country in need of repair or replacement pieces that are consistent with the era when the cuffs were created. He’s been working on things at times of high energy.

The handcuff collectors wanted to donate items for the silent auction, but decided that might be a bad idea, Bushey said. They knew he probably wouldn’t be able to stop himself from bidding.

Bushey got into magic before he could read, he said. Who knows why.

“What attracts anyone to anything?” he asked.

If local Dylan-philes consider him a valuable resource for all things Robert Zimmerman, consider this: He’s better known for magic. His Houdini knowledge and collection, his work with handcuffs has brought him wider renown.

“He’s well known across the country,” said Jody LeBlanc, one of Bushey’s friends and a fellow magician.

But this doesn’t diminish his local appeal. Bushey has performed at fundraisers and all-night graduation parties.

“Any magic that’s done around the Duluth area, usually it’s John performing,” LeBlanc said.

*  *  *

Thirteen years ago, Bushey slipped on ice and suffered a shoulder injury. When he went to get it checked out, the doctor noticed a lump on his neck.

Bushey went through radiation treatment, and when the cancer returned a year and a half later, he was directed to live with it until it interfered with his organs — which he was able to do until 2012 when it started to affect his right kidney, he said.

He went through chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic and in between was treated in Duluth. Bushey was in remission for more than a year, then he was back in the hospital in late December 2014. He had planned to continue teaching at Piedmont Elementary School, but has been unable to work since January, he said. As soon as he’s feeling stronger, he plans to return to the Mayo Clinic, so they can harvest stem cells to increase his options for future treatments, he said.

In the past decade, he’s learned to put things into perspective.

“It makes me appreciate life more every day,” he said. “I hate going to sleep. It’s time wasted.”

Bushey said modern cancer treatment is not the stuff our grandparents talked about. There is something to combat every side effect, he said.

“Ninety percent is your attitude,” he said. “I accepted it 12 years ago. Whatever happens, happens.”

In the meantime, Bushey has approached his disease the way he approaches other areas of interest in his life.

“I’ve researched what I have,” he said. “I can talk about it on a microcellular level. You need to be your own best advocate. I want to understand it.”

He compares his blood test results with how he feels and keeps graphs and journals.

“That’s just me,” he said. “It’s who I am.”

If you go

What: Magic+Music=A Benefit for John Bushey

When: 3-7 p.m. today

Where: Clyde Iron Works

Tickets: $20 adults, $12 kids 12 and younger sold at the door or in advance at Valentini’s Vicino Lago, Taco John’s Restaurants or KUMD-FM

Entertainment: The Boomchucks, John Seguin and Andy Hauswirth, Cowboy Angel Blue, Fred Baisch, magician, Duluth Mystics & Friends, food, silent auction.

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