There’s nothing quite like being sick or injured to amplify an appreciation of being well. The greater the illness, the greater the sense of joy, and even wonder, if and when health is restored. Tim and Gerri White (together for more than 16 years and married for 11) of the Sacramento-based indie rock band Arts & Leisure may have permanently entered that state of wonder.
In September 2013, while visiting friends in Arkansas, Tim White was in an accident in which he sustained a traumatic brain injury that has required exhaustive rehabilitation. A multi-instrumentalist (and drummer with Arts & Leisure), White was in serious condition immediately after the accident, and there were dramatic questions about how much brain function he might have lost and how much would return. Near the top of the list for White was whether he would – or could – play music again.
The quartet, which includes Gerri White as the group’s main songwriter and vocalist, performs Saturday at the Witch Room. They’ll celebrate the release of their new 7-inch single “Weekend/Over You,” and the Whites will quietly celebrate simply playing together again. For as much as Tim White genuinely loved making music before his accident, he may have a feeling of rapture about it now.
The members of Arts & Leisure, which also include Becky Cale on bass and vocals and Cory Vick on guitar and vocals, are clear-eyed about their band and its place in the world. It’s important to them for the music and the friendship. They are serious, committed musicians, but they don’t expect their music to pay the bills.
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Collectively, they’ve been essential members of Sacramento’s music scene for years, through bands including Baby Grand, the Skirts, the Alkali Flats, the Knockoffs, the Tiki Men, the Decibels and the X-Teens.
Still, Arts & Leisure has enjoyed exposure that sets it apart from other acts. Their song “Seconds From Flight,” from its July 2013 first album “Choose Your Adventure,” was featured on the 2013 season premiere of the CBS television show “The Good Wife.” The 12-song album was produced by Tony Cale, Becky’s husband. Sacramento’s Test Pattern Records label released the record digitally and on vinyl.
The band is comfortable with its music being labeled power pop, though there’s a lively diversity of styles represented, and the record has generated plenty of appreciation. The British music magazine 247 called “Choose Your Adventure” a “faultless debut,” singling out the band’s “excellent songwriting, quirky guitar lines and fantastic harmonies.”
“People need to find out about this band, and quickly,” the magazine raved.
The group even popped across the Atlantic Ocean for a short tour in July 2013, playing shows in Scotland, England and Belgium.
A few months after that tour, Tim White and Tony Cale took a trip back to Arkansas to see some old friends. Tim doesn’t really remember what happened to him after his wife dropped him off at the Sacramento airport, but Gerri White recalls it clearly.
“I got a call from Tony about 11:30 that morning saying, ‘Tim’s been in an accident and he’s alive, but that’s all I know,’” Gerri said.
Tim, who works as a contractor, shares the story as pieced-together snippets of a narrative he’s been told, stitched with some facts he knows.
“I was standing up in the back of a pickup truck going along a dirt road late at night, and I believe the driver hit the brakes, and I believe that my head slammed against the cab and then I flew over the top and hit the gravel road and ended up in a ditch,” White said. “I cracked my eye socket and had two broken vertebrae. I had a seizure, then went into a coma. I stopped breathing.”
He was pulled from the ditch, put in the truck and driven to a hospital. At some point, he started breathing again.
Gerri, who is the executive assistant to Crocker Art Museum director Lial Jones, wasn’t able to get a flight to Arkansas until late the next day. She and Becky Cale traveled together. At a layover in Dallas, Gerri checked her voice mail and listened to a message from Tony.
“He said Tim had just regained consciousness, and he gave this crazy laugh after he said it,” she said. “That laugh made me realize he didn’t think Tim was going to wake up at all.”
Tim’s brain was bleeding in two spots in its left lobe. Another coma was medically induced because of the swelling and pressure.
When Tim woke up four days later, he didn’t know where he was or what had happened. As a result of the TBI, he had developed hyponatremia, a low-sodium concentration in the blood, which Gerri said, “basically caused dementia. He was agitated. He thought we were keeping him there against his will. He was this angry Alzheimer’s patient.”
Gerri, Becky, and Tony took shifts in Tim’s hospital room making sure someone was always with him. Their friend Tim Foster flew in from Sacramento as well. After a couple weeks in Arkansas – including some serious wrangling at the hospital, which wanted to discharge Tim before Gerri thought he was ready to leave – Gerri arranged for medical transport to bring Tim home.
“It was such a triumph to get him home safely,” she said.
Tim spent another week at Mercy Hospital here before he was released. The challenge became making Tim realize he wasn’t as well as he thought he was. While he was relearning how to walk, Gerri had to constantly watch him. He had no short-term memory and couldn’t understand why Gerri was always with him. She was afraid he might fall on the stairs of their house as his motor functions were returning.
“He’d get really angry and tell me to stop baby-sitting him,” Gerri said.
“I didn’t have a good gauge of how I really was,” Tim said.
Doctors said he would recover normal brain function, but it would take time, at least 18 months. “There has been a degree of ‘we’ll have to wait and see’ mentality from doctors ever since,” Tim said.
Luckily, he didn’t have to deal with serious practical issues of relearning how to read or write. He returned to work part time in February, gradually increasing the hours he spent on the job.
He understands that every brain injury, with every person, is different. His recovery will be his own.
“It’s hard to understand (TBI) unless you’ve spent time with it, but your clarity’s fuzzy at the beginning,” he explained. “I thought that most of it was physical and my mind was fine. Now I don’t trust it as much. When I say that I’m fine – I don’t really know.”
Music has always been a major part of the Tim’s life, and it brought the couple together. He has played various instruments in bands over the years, so when he picked up a guitar just after getting home from Mercy to see what he could do, Gerri felt her stomach knot. Tim found one chord, then another. He started to play a song he knew.
“It came fairly easily,” he said. “What hurt was realizing it had been such a long time since I’d played a guitar.”
“He was so focused on playing music,” she said. “It was the one thing he wouldn’t let go of.”
Playing the drums proved much more difficult physically and mentally. The band started rehearsing occasionally, but Tim wore down quickly. He pushed himself to regain his stamina, and Gerri had written some new songs, so they went into the studio in February and recorded them.
“In hindsight it was way too soon,” she said. “But Tim wanted it so bad, and we wanted to feel like a band again, so we did it.”
“I had a strong desire to get back to normal – whatever that was,” he said. “Being in a band and booking shows and recording, that was normal. There was something good and therapeutic about that. It’s therapeutic when you’re healthy.”
They booked a short show for May, and Tim tried to get himself ready. “I wasn’t sure I was going to make it because I started having more clarity, and when we practiced and played the set, I could barely do it,” he said.
But he held his own. It was a seminal moment for the band. “People were telling us how great we sounded, and I was terrified,” Gerri said. “I was thinking we just might blow up in the middle of the set.”
On Oct. 12, the band played a courtyard show at Davis’ Mondavi Center. Tim said he feels pretty good these days, but he’s not the same as he once was. “When we were at the hospital, he told me he felt like he was different person,” Gerri said.
“That’s how I feel – how I’ll always feel,” Tim said. “There’s a core that’s been reset, and it’s the strangest thing. I know how fragile we all are, and how close I came to losing really huge things. That hasn’t escaped me, and I hope that it doesn’t.”
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.
Arts & Leisure (with Allo’ Darlin)
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Witch Room, 1815 19th St., Sacramento
Cost: $10 (18 and over)
Information: (916) 508-0213; www.witchroomsac.com