The Miserable Year That Inspired Ahamefule Oluo's 'Now I'm Fine'
It was 2006, and Ahamlefule J. Oluo was not fine.
"I was very young, in my early 20s," he says. "I had just gone through a divorce."
His Nigerian father, a man he'd never met and only spoken with once on the telephone, had died before Oluo got to fulfill his wish of forging a relationship with him.
"There was just so much going on. So many things that I thought were constants in my life, they just vanished."
And then, like a physical manifestation of those changes, Oluo contracted a rare disease that caused his skin to dissolve.
"One day I started losing the skin on my lips. I started losing some of my vision," he says. "It was just such an encapsulation of everything that had been going on."
It was so painful Oluo was put on opiates. He spent his days in a fog.
Oluo is a musician; specifically, a trumpet player. Without skin on his lips, Oluo couldn't play his horn, meaning he was cut off from his major creative outlet.
When he felt up to it, he pounded out tunes on a guitar, strumming with a little stick instead of his fingers.
The music he wrote at that time was different from anything he'd done up to that point. When he recovered from his illness, he wasn't sure what to make of these songs -- or the series of life crises that had inspired them.
Oluo is a writer and standup comedian as well as a musician, and he started to tell some of his life stories on stage. He tried them out at comedy clubs around town. He didn't plan to wed them to the music.
He kept those two parts of his life completely separate.
But in 2012, Oluo was chosen at Town Hall Seattle's first Artist in Residence. He had the luxury to produce whatever he wanted. That year of physical and emotional suffering nagged at him; the events of that year kept popping up. Ultimately, an evening of music and storytelling emerged. Oluo called it "Now I'm Fine."
Oluo and a large orchestra gave one performance of this experimental pop opera, then shelved the idea. The musician focused on his work with the Stranger Genius Award winning band "Industrial Revelation." But the music from "Now I'm Fine" stayed with him.
Two years after its debut, and sole, performance, Ahamefule J. Oluo and his large orchestra have revived the full evening-length "Now I'm Fine" for On The Boards, an intimate theater space on Capitol Hill.
It's been almost nine years since 2006, but Oluo says the memories of that year are still painfully fresh.
"It was such an intense time, and I find those feelings are so much closer to the surface than I thought," he says. "I always think I've gotten so much more past that, until I start working on it again and start talking about it again. All of a sudden all that stuff comes back."
Ahamefule J. Oluo's "Now I'm Fine" runs December 4-7 at Seattle's On The Boards. You can read Oluo's essay about 2006 in The Stranger.