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Rising in Phoenix: The Story of Rick Smith

When he and his family came to the Valley of the Sun in 2001, Rick Smith had no thoughts of playing guitar and singing in public. He’d never done so in his life, nor had he ever sung in a choir, glee club or chorus of any kind.

But, then again, he’d never been in a head-on car crash at 50 miles per hour, either.

“A seat belt and an airbag saved my life,” Smith recalls. He walked away without injury, but the force of the impact aggravated what was determined to be a pre-existing condition – spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column caused by calcium buildup. A normal aspect of aging, spinal stenosis causes neck, back and leg pain and nerve sensitivity. Pain can vary from 1-10 and can be caused by sitting too long, standing too long, walking too far or moving the wrong way.

After his accident, Smith went for a year without being able to play guitar because of unbearable burning in his right shoulder while strumming. He also was unable to go up and down stairs without experiencing shooting pain in his legs. To find relief, Smith tried prescription medication, physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, deep muscle massage and acupuncture.

“Acupuncture helped me turn a corner,” Smith said. “After 10 treatments, the burning ended in my shoulder and I regained the ability to go up and down stairs in a normal way.” But spinal stenosis is progressive, so Smith continues to experience degrees of daily pain in his lower back, legs and neck as well as muscle spasms.

“Being able to play guitar again was a big lift for me,” Smith recalls. “And cannabis has been a nice pain management option with a surprising side effect.”

The side effect, Smith explains, is that cannabis has been a bridge for him to becoming comfortable as a public performer – despite early advice from his wife.

“Whatever you do, Rick,” suggested his wife, Connie, when he first began to practice, “don’t ever sing in public.” But practice makes perfect and in time Connie was telling Rick he should be charging for his music. Today, Rick performs at retirement communities in the valley, farmers markets and other special events. He was recently added as an entertainer by the booking company that schedules music acts for the valley’s major malls.

“Cannabis helped me get out of my room,” Smith suggested.

It’s a concept expressed to him by a lady in a retirement community one day. “Never be afraid to get out of your room,” was her advice, Smith said.

“She explained to me that as some people age, they rarely leave their room and miss enjoying life experiences available to them – like my music,” he said. In pondering her words, Smith came to realize that one of the side effects of cannabis was the doorway out of his room.

“Cannabis has reduced and replaced my pain, but it also has stimulated my interest and desire with music. I now want to learn new guitar chords and new songs. I love to practice, I love to sing and I love it when people enjoy my music and I can brighten their day – as they do mine. A joyful new chapter of life has blossomed for me as a side effect of using cannabis.”

In addition to learning 150 cover songs from the music worlds of country, pop, golden oldies, American Songbook standards, big band tunes, and songs from movies, Smith has written 20 original songs, including a tongue-in-cheek protest song entitled, Cannabisman. His song Rising in Phoenix, a story of what happens when midlife crisis meets the myth of the Phoenix, was a finalist in the former Cave Creek Music and Arts Festival.

“It’s never too late to get out of your room,” Smith suggests. “I encourage all seniors to consider cannabis as a medical option to enhancing the joys of golden years. But be aware of its side effects: you may end up becoming a dancer, or writing a book, or painting pictures, or getting into cooking, or gardening, or playing a musical instrument, or singing in public.

Cannabis and an occasional ibuprofen are the only medications Smith uses.



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