The Kalamazoo musician and co-founder of The Go Rounds has faced terminal brain cancer with fortitude, grace and humor, supported by compassionate fellow musicians. The story at Local Spins.
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” – Lemony Snicket, “Horseradish”
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
I’m seated stoically in Graham Parsons’ dining room in Kalamazoo.
Parsons is nestled beside a piano in the corner. Occasionally, his elbow slips onto the keys, striking a stray note.
Seated next to him is Grant Littler, who goes by the stage name G’itis Baggs, and his partner Marguerite Mooradian. A kettle whistles in the nearby kitchen, billowing with thick steam that cuts through the momentary silence.
“I think everyone goes back to how supportive and kind G’itis is, you know, like a good listener and more into anything that you’re doing than you’re into. He’s really good at getting people pumped about themselves and about the world around them,” says Parsons, lead vocalist of The Go Rounds.
“That’s an incredible gift. He’s just a total lightning rod of a creative person. There’s a lot of things I could say. But those things are most important to me. Just as a creative compass and also maybe an energetic compass.”
Baggs, 35, who is an original founding member of The Go Rounds, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last April after doctors found a large mass in the center of his brain. He was given three years to live.
Leading up to the diagnosis, he experienced a host of health issues for more than a year, including debilitating seizures. He became introverted and isolated, out of fear of having a seizure in a public setting.
Then came surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, which was successful in shrinking the tumor but left him sick and physically weak. His appetite waned. In the mornings, he’d often vomit due to the extreme nausea. He lost 30 pounds.
He’d spend many of those days on the couch with a guitar pressed against his chest while Mooradian cared for him.
“I sort of felt like I was watching myself floating overhead. I’ve always been a flighty artist, but I immediately had to become responsible for someone other than myself,” she says, recounting the early days of the diagnosis.
LISTEN: G’itis Baggs, “Phantagraelion” (2020)
‘MY WHOLE LIFE EXISTS BECAUSE OF MUSIC’
Baggs was immediately supported by a fiercely loving community of friends and fellow artists. Musician Seth Bernard created the G’itis Baggs Legacy Fund, a GoFundMe page to raise money for Baggs to record a portion of his extensive catalog, an initiative that raised $26,570 in a matter of days.
When photographer Loren Johnson and I pull the car up to the front of Baggs’ home on a windswept side street, the logistics of the day fade quietly into the background.
Baggs greets us at the door with an infectious smile and welcomes us in. We take a seat in the living room of an eccentric apartment. A few of Mooradian’s paintings line the walls while Baggs’ studio gear is housed in a luminous front-facing room.
While texting with Baggs a week before we meet, he asked if there was anything he needed to have with him or anything, in particular, he needed to know going into the interview. So I open with a rather heavy question about preparation.
“How do you want to spend the rest of your time?”
“I would love to just be able to make music. It’s kind of been a fulfilling time in my life,” Baggs says with a gleam in his eye. “My whole life exists because of music. It just makes sense for me to fulfill that. Do it as much as possible.”
Baggs, who’s been dubbed “a songwriting machine,” plans to record an album at La Luna Studio in Kalamazoo with producer Ian Gorman. The record will feature performances by Seth Bernard, Andy Catlin, Dominic Davis, Elisabeth Pixley-Fink, Mike Lynch, Michael Shimmin and Bennett Young. There are plans to press the album to vinyl.
Baggs also played an integral role during his tenure with The Go Rounds, co-writing songs like “Fleece Down” and “Sweet Green Valley.”
When it’s time for photos, Baggs and Mooradian make their way to the kitchen table, which is washed in sunlight against a window. Baggs sits while Mooradian stands over him, her arms wrapped in a tender embrace. She looks down and kisses him gently on the forehead. She mentions the fortitude and grace with which Baggs has handled the devastating situation.
“I like the fact that he has a sense of humor about it. It’s just another example of his perspective,” Mooradian says fondly. “When I’m left in the dark at night and I grow scared, and he’s passed out, I just watch him sleep so peacefully.”
The two first spent considerable time with each other in the autumn of 2016 when they both decided to spontaneously hop in The Go Rounds’ van and join them for a West Coast tour.
They found themselves ambling across the country, often sitting next to each other sharing a single pair of headphones. When they reached the coast, they stayed in southern Oregon to work on a farm. Cradled in a picturesque valley, their days were spent living in a home recording studio, harvesting crops and playing music into the late evening hours.
“They were just beautiful, beautiful days. Where you know, we woke up and were just surrounded by hills verging on mountains. It was a very free time. I will always cherish it.”
After the farm, they made their way to Oakland. But Mooradian didn’t have a license, and Baggs didn’t have a credit card. In order to rent a car, they managed to convince the rental agency that Mooradian was the wealthy CEO of a trendy startup company, and Baggs was her hired driver. It worked, and the couple made their way down the coast in a comically upgraded Ford F-150 before returning home to Michigan.
LISTEN: “Jouissance,” G’itis Baggs (2020)
‘INCREDIBLY SAD’ BUT READY TO LAUGH, SPENDING TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Following photos, the four of us climb into the car and maneuver the short distance to Parsons’ home. Living in town has been important to Baggs and Mooradian, who don’t own a vehicle. They’re able to walk to the hospital. Or for coffee. Parsons takes them grocery shopping.
When we enter, Parsons is playing the piano. We’re enveloped by the bones of a charming old house primed for fresh paint. But there’s something endearing about its current state: the walls are sanded down to a patchwork of white and brown splotches. Floors creak. The kitchen ceiling consists only of exposed wooden beams.
Parsons looks away and his voice grows quiet when he speaks about the moment he found out about Baggs’ diagnosis.
“It affected me like it would affect any person who has a heart. I’m incredibly sad. My brother died a year ago. And then we found out about G’itis,” Parsons says solemnly.
“You know, G’itis has been a compass for the whole band, not just for me. It was one of those moments where you can feel incredibly displaced and alone.”
We’ve asked Baggs ahead of time if he’d be willing to share a couple of his songs. He gently lifts a guitar from a nook and places it across his lap. He’s joined by Parsons and Mooradian, who fill the room with sweet harmonies. Baggs refers to them as his “rock.”
“These two have been so helpful. They’re just compassionate people. Like deeply compassionate people. We all get along together so well that it’s very natural,” says Baggs, who this week completed a six-month, higher-dose chemo treatment with an MRI scheduled for February.
“Since it can get so intense and sad, I think the fact that we’re all ready to laugh about the dark stuff doesn’t hurt.”
There’s a beautifully fleeting moment that takes place once we’ve put the recording devices and cameras away. Baggs looks up from his guitar and his eyes find Mooradian. He doesn’t blink or break his gaze. No words. Only a soft look of admiration.
“What’s important to me right now is being with my friends and my family, and having fulfilling days,” Baggs says after the song fades.
“If I can make progress, whether it be health, relationships or music, that’s what’s important. There’s nothing that I feel cheated out over. There’s nothing that I feel is being taken away from me. Life has been so joyous already.”
Learn more about G’itis Baggs and listen to his music at gitisbaggs.com.
LISTEN: “The Guinness Heir,” G’itis Baggs (2019)
PHOTO GALLERY: Photos by Loren Johnson