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The Holmes Brothers: Ode To A 'Fair Weather Friend'

With a firm touch on the piano, Wendell Holmes plays the sort of rolling chords and stuttering notes that take a listener to church. But as he sings plaintively in his sharp tenor, he does not praise the Lord. "Fair Weather Friend," featured on the rootsy new Holmes Brothers album Feed My Soul, revolves around this sequence of events: "The doctor he said cancer, I stopped in my tracks / I did not have the answer, but I knew you'd have my back." Only the supposed friend deserted Holmes in his time of need.

Diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2008, Holmes underwent chemotherapy and radiation and now says he's in good health. Yet he appears to maintain lingering resentments over the pal who left him "in this mess." Recorded live in the studio, with just the singer, his piano and a honey-voiced backup chorus, "Fair Weather Friend" leaves only one unanswered question: Who's he singing about? As literal as the song seems at times, it may be that the song's gospel frame is providing a bit of ironic subtext: Could Holmes — who asks, "Did you care if I die?" — be disappointed in God for letting cancer strike him? "Fair Weather Friend" offers no answer to the identity of its titular betrayer; only the testimony of a wounded soul who finds comfort by pouring his deep hurt into a song of survival.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.