The nights are tough for Jesse Malin. Since suffering a rare spinal stroke in May that left him unable to walk, the New York singer-songwriter regularly awakens, alone, in the pre-dawn hours and asks himself if this is all really happening. He reaches for his legs, which still lack feeling, and struggles to turn himself over. And then the fear comes.
“I have a lot of anxiety and insomnia. Your mind goes into some dark places,” Malin tells Rolling Stone, checking in seven months after he was rushed to the hospital, unable to move his legs. “But I just have to keep a positive outlook and believe. I think of that Bruce Springsteen song ‘Stolen Car,’ when he says, ‘I’m driving a stolen car through a pitch-black night/I keep telling myself everything’s gonna be alright.’ But it all feels like one long, tough day.”
That’s an understatement. Since late September, Malin has been undergoing a strict daily rehabilitation routine that combines hours of intense physical therapy with stem-cell treatments at a clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Malin made the grueling 12-hour flight from New York to South America after being admitted to a facility that offers what he calls an “alternative road” to recovery. “They only want people that are very serious and not just playing around,” he says.
With his health insurance limiting therapy to twice a week in New York and without an ADA-compliant apartment to live (his was a Lower East Side walk-up), he saw the Buenos Aires facility as his best option. On certain days after therapy, the medical staff administers stem cells, an infusion that takes about 40 minutes and is followed by intense movement with therapists for the rest of the day.
Originally, Malin wanted to preserve his privacy, disappear from public life, and focus solely on his recovery. “But everyone’s been so great and supportive that I felt it was time to let people know what’s up,” Malin says, citing the donations made to his recovery fund and the proceeds from special merch drops that are helping to pay for his medical and living expenses. On Dec. 11, the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund will partner with the estate of Joey Ramone to hold an auction of Ramone’s clothing and memorabilia to help fund Malin’s recovery. The two punk singers were friends and toured together when Malin fronted the chaotic live band D Generation.
“The amount of people checking and sending love is so touching and flattering that sometimes it’s painful,” he says. “It’s just so real that it often makes me cry, but talking about it is liberating.”
On Monday, Malin premiered a music video (directed by Dave Stekert and produced before his spinal stroke) for his song “The Fine Art of Self Destruction,” which Malin re-recorded, rearranged with his guitar player Derek Cruz, and retitled as “The Fine Art of Self Destruction (Lonely Process)” to mark the 20th anniversary of his debut album. Keeping music at the forefront of his mind, he says, helps him get through the day.
When he finds a window of time, Malin plays guitar, writes in his journal, and does his best to stay creative. But he’s most focused on his ongoing recovery.
“I am getting some strength back in my legs, but it moves a lot slower than I would like. I don’t want to portray it like I’m ready to do the James Brown splits onstage,” he says. “I definitely have a long way to go, but I’m blessed and so grateful for the amazing fans and friends that I have.”