It Was Like Being Reborn

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • An Interview with John McEuen,

    founder of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

    (This interview is from 2001)



    I knew a man Bojangles and he danced for you in worn out shoes

    With silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants, the old soft shoe

    He jumped so high, he jumped so high,

    Then he lightly touched down"

    The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band


    For me, Mr. Bojangles personifies the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. So does the name John McEuen. Back in the Sixties, John McEuen founded the group we know as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Since that time the band has recorded about an album a year.

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    I had the privilege of interviewing John McEuen by telephone as he relaxed in his California home between dates on his rigorous Reunion Tour schedule.


    John has a soft voice, a quick mind and a delightful sense of humor. John also has sleep apnea.


    He discovered he had the disorder about ten years ago when someone suggested, after hearing him snoring and gasping for breath, that he read an article on sleep apnea. Up till that time, McEuen hadn't realized that he stopped breathing in his sleep. It was then that he recognized that he had the same symptoms from which his father had suffered. He now believes that sleep apnea contributed to his father's death.


    After he fell asleep at a stoplight in 1988 and ended up in a minor accident, his doctor recommended a visit to a sleep lab where McEuen had a sleep test. The test showed that he woke himself up over 200 times a night gasping for air. This obviously caused him to suffer from sleep deprivation. John was put on CPAP. He says once he started using CPAP just about everything in his life has gotten better. "It was a miracle," he says. "Like being reborn."

    "The doctor told he I probably hadn't had a full night's sleep in fifteen years," John told me. "But I think it was probably more like 20."


    It's a possibility that John started suffering from the disorder even earlier in life. He says when he was in his teens he fell asleep very easily, even in class. In the last few years, he often found himself falling asleep at stoplights, while driving, or while talking on the phone.


    "I just thought it was something other people did," he said. And this is a belief many people who suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness have, whether it's from sleep apnea, narcolepsy or some other cause. It may be a form of denial.


    When asked how he had coped with having to be on CPAP, John said, "These are some of the things I've had to tell myself. Realize you are lucky CPAP exists. It will make you live longer and better."

    He also casually remarked that it made it easier to learn snorkeling. "I used to be afraid of snorkeling," he said. But he isn't any more.


    He chuckled. "Hey! I always wanted to be an astronaut. I'd have to have one of these things on my face 24/7 if I was out in space."

    John McEuen is not overweight. In fact, he's probably a few pounds underweight. "Like many things," he said, "you don't have to be in the description of what you're supposed to be.


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    If you know someone you think might have sleep apnea," he continued, "don't be afraid to tell them." He said this could very well save their life.


    "And never be ashamed of having it," he said. "I believe it's just your subconscious trying to get attention." He laughed. "Not enough people looking at me. Maybe if I stopped breathing-----."

    On a more serious note, he added, "I advise anyone to check out my website and realize that most of the things I accomplished after I was fifty years old I wouldn't have accomplished if I hadn't figured this apnea thing out."


    Let me second that. Take a look at John McEuen's web page. See if you don't agree:

    John McEuen's Web Site


Published On: October 27, 2008