“When the doctor asked, ‘Does ALS run in your family?’, my first thought was “What is ALS?”
Those words would be startling for anyone to hear at any time in their life, so it’s understandable that when Bryan Wayne received the doctor’s diagnosis, he reacted with some amount of confusion and disbelief.
The singer-songwriter has a wife and two young sons, not to mention, a respectable career as a songwriter that has already produced such noteworthy country songs as Chris Cagle’s Top 25 radio single, “Country By the Grace of God,” and the Tommy Shane Steiner smash “What If She’s An Angel,” as well as cuts from Big & Rich, Clay Walker and others.
So, when Bryan started noticing cramping, twitching, and muscle weakness, all early symptoms of ALS, he headed to Vanderbilt Medical Center to get checked out.
“You have ALS.”
“It’s still surreal to think that a doctor said those words to ME,” Bryan remembers. “I had participated in the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ a few years back, but I still really didn’t know what ALS actually was. I had heard of “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, but I just remembered Gehrig as being the MLB’s ‘Iron Horse’ and recalled the black and white footage of his ‘Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth’ speech. Once I started learning more about the disease, it was terrifying. Terminal. No real treatment. Paralysis. The loss of your voice, your ability to swallow, and eventually the loss of your ability to breathe. Average life expectancy is 2-5 years.”
After coming to terms with his diagnosis and the heartbreaking prognosis, Bryan’s mind obviously went to his wife and two sons, but then also to his music.You see, one of the devastating symptoms of the condition is losing your ability to vocalize, either speaking or singing. ALS would literally take this musician’s instrument away. But Bryan, known as much for his unwavering optimism as he is for his musical craftsmanship, developed a plan. He explains, “I have always enjoyed the ‘behind-the-scenes’ life of a songwriter. But with the prospect of losing my voice becoming more and more real every day, it felt urgent for me to put out a record of my own”.
When Bryan began selecting songs from his catalog for his upcoming record,While You Wait, he took a different approach than most. He wasn’t looking for a three minute up-tempo smash that everyone can party and dance to, although he has those in his catalog. He was looking for songs that connect, songs that would allow him to interact with those who face their own challenges and with those who love a song with a deeper, positive meaning. Mostly, he wanted to provide his family with an eternal piece of his heart, and the sound of his voice.
“I wanted to put MY voice on songs that I’ve written—songs with positive messages, along with songs that I’ve written either for or about my wife and sons—so that they, along with friends, family and, who knows, the world, can hear ME singing MY songs forever,” he says.
With the album While You Wait finished, the Vienna, Virginia native still feels the fear of the imminent, but he’s facing it with an omnipresent smile and an unparalleled grace that touches everyone he comes in contact with.
“I won’t lie, it’s overwhelming,”he says. “I know the road ahead is not going to be easy. Barring a cure, I know the odds are not in my favor that I will live to see my sons graduate high school, let alone college. But ALS has taught me to try my best, to not take a single second for granted. Some days it’s easier said than done, but I’m trying. And it’s taught me to better appreciate my wife, my sons, my family, my friends, and life in general. I wish I had gotten that wake-up call some other way, but if it took getting ALS to wake me up, so be it.”
Bryan adds, “I have decided instead of being angry and bitter about my diagnosis, I am going to take this opportunity to remind my friends and family how fleeting life is, and how important it is to appreciate every second.”
To celebrate While You Wait we sat down with Bryan for a Rapid Fire Round interview.
If you were a musical instrument, which one would you be?
If you could choose one person, alive or not, to play a concert with, who would it be and why?
Garth Brooks, the main inspiration for my moving to Nashville.
What is your favorite television show/movie?
The Office/The Natural.
What is your favorite meal?
My mom’s lasagna. She passed 3 years ago and my sister makes it now-it’s the best.
When was the first time you felt like you made it in the industry?
Knowing I had an artist’s next single as a writer.
When and where do you do your best writing?
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given about working in the music industry?
Keep trying, don’t give up!
What is your favorite thing to do on a day off?
Spend time with my wife and sons.
If you had to choose between a private plane or your own yacht, which would you choose?
Plane, for sure.
Where do you turn for inspiration or comfort when life in the industry gets overwhelming?
What is your biggest irrational fear?
Singing on stage!
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
Major league baseball player
Do you feel like you’ve gotten used to being a celebrity, or do things still surprise you?
I am surprised every day by my career.
Who would you choose to play you in a movie of your life?
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
My first name used to be Brian with an I