"Rock vs Cancer" film documents Canandaigua man's "last days on earth"

Canandaigua's John Grabski collaborated with renown producer Steve Albini on an album as he was dying of cancer. A screening of a short documentary film on the project screens in Rochester Saturday

Canandaigua, N.Y. (WHAM) - John Grabski's love for music often took a back seat to life. Then in 2011, he learned the cancer growing around his heart and on top of his lungs was inoperable.

It gave him permission.

"It absolutely gave him complete licensee to pursue a passion of his and to be extremely clear about the message," said his mother Martha Brown.

13WHAM first met John in 2011. He described the message his mother mentioned.

"I am not, nor have ever been, a perfect cancer patient," Grabski said. "I'm not Lance Armstrong. Rock and Roll is a powerful message for people who love rock and roll."

It gave him the courage to reach out to renown music producer Steve Albini - the engineer behind the hard rocking sounds of Nirvana, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. It began a partnership that produced an album as well as a documentary about the making of it.

"He wanted to make an album documenting his relationship with the disease, and that's how he wanted to spend his last days on earth," Albini said in the film.

"We were stunned," said Brown about Albini's response to the potential project. "He gave my son many precious gifts. His hospitality was key."

The partners threw themselves into the work on "The Strain" which was also dubbed "A Rock n Roll Hate Letter to Cancer." The seven-song album includes a song called "Medicine Out." Another talks about chemotherapy, a third about cancer and mortality.

"I feel that people can't express themselves about cancer very well, and I feel that this album will help that," Grabski said in the documentary.

The short film is called "Rock Vs Cancer." In it, the passage of time and the progression of the disease is clear on the screen - yet not in the music.

"He knew he was dying. He knew there wasn't a way out, that he had to go through it," Brown said of her son. "Man, he went to work. That was his entire focus."

Grabski finished the album. He died four months later while working on a second.

"The Strain" is available for sale with proceeds to benefit Sands Cancer Center where Grabski received treatment.

"Rock Vs Cancer" directed by Jacob Kinberg was completed after Grabski's death. Two free screenings are scheduled at the Bug Jar on Saturday, November 10th at 5 and 6 pm.

Grabski's parting words on screen are poignant: "This is my gift to the world and I'm doing the best to see it through."

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