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Real Music - Sylvia - November 2016

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Real Music - Sylvia - November 2016

by Robert Feuer

Sylvia Murphy, long-time keyboardist for the popular west county band, the Thugz, had the life she had come to know destroyed on a dark Forestville road, returning from a gig in February. Sylvia, who describes herself as someone who always drove slowly, was hit head on by Wesley Stevenson of Windsor, an extremely intoxicated young man, who, at high speed, crossed to her side of Highway 116.

Now 74, she remembers the bright lights, the crash, exploding airbags, the voices of people cutting her from the car, while she suffered great pain. They found the engine in her lap. She suffered a broken neck, her legs and ribs were crushed, both lungs collapsed. She spent three months in the hospital undergoing several operations. She needs to go back for several more. 

“They told me I was supposed to be dead,” she says. “They told me I’d never walk again.”

Through exercising, Sylvia is able to shuffle around the house using a walker. She has no caregiver, no family, and is unable to drive. Everything, even reading, is painful. 

The perpetrator, Stevenson, spent a couple of weeks in a local jail and some time in rehab from which he will soon emerge under five years’ probation. “It’s very little,” she says. “I try not to be angry.”

Sylvia lives on a ridge high above the ocean, which she can view from her living room window. Her small, rented home is surrounded by redwoods, with some madrone and tan oak. Lots of fog, wind, and rain in winter, and a deep silence. In sunlight, Mexican marigolds cheerfully highlight the yard she’s no longer able to walk out to.

Born and raised in Berkeley, she moved to the Occidental area in the early 70s, to begin a teaching career that has spanned 40 years. 

In Occidental, she played with a country rock band, the Big Wheels, every Friday and Saturday night “forever” at Negri’s. Later, she joined a rockabilly combo, the Doo Wah Ranch Band, before dueting with Mike Campbell, Thugz founder and bandleader, at the Blue Heron in Duncans Mills. Campbell brought her into the Thugz, largely to support his harmonies. “I was the old lady in the band,” she says. “The Thugz community is very tribal. It’s a family. Everybody’s there for each other.”

“It made me happy to play,” she says. Though she does play her piano at home, briefly, with difficulty, she’s no longer able to perform publicly. 

Most of all, Sylvia wants to thank everyone who helped with necessary work and funds. “There’s something about a small community. I could never effectively thank everybody. It overwhelmed me.” 

Sylvia struggles on with pain, on a very limited income, facing an uncertain future, though she still smiles a lot. She lost all her hair, but it’s growing back. “I want just a little bit of hope,” she says. “I’ve been trying really, really hard to be brave.”

Cards/donations appreciated at: Sylvia Murphy C/O Jan Henley - 

PO Box 97, Stewart’s Point, CA 95480