‘The Deaf Kid Who Played Rock ‘N’ Roll’

17 03 2009


His music lives on and sustains a grieving father


Dan Berube performs“The Other Side,” a song composed by his late son, Derek

Dan Berube performs“The Other Side,” a song composed by his late son, Derek

Stonington, CT – As he struggled with Crohn’s disease and a serious eye injury, 24-year-old Derek Berube would sit in the backyard of his parents’ Greenhaven Road home and talk to his father, Dan, for hours.
They talked about the things they loved: restoring old muscle cars, playing their guitars and, always, the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan.
”We talked about everything. I remember every word of those conversations like they were yesterday,” Dan Berube said last week as he looked across to the spot in the snow-covered yard where they used to sit on the grass during the spring of 2007.
Derek was profoundly deaf but could communicate with the help of hearing aids and by reading lips. He told his father about the things he still wanted to do – renovate his mother’s kitchen, repaint the engine compartment of the red 1970 Chevy Nova he had restored and build his dream car, a silver 1967 Shelby Cobra with a 427-cubic-inch engine.
But most importantly, Derek wanted to record the poignant but often angry songs he had written as he battled temporary blindness, the return of his Crohn’s disease, and an insurance company that refused to pay his workers’ compensation claim, draining his savings.
”I just want people to hear my music,” he’d tell his father.
THE OTHER SIDEPicking out dented cans at the grocery store
Haven’t even got a stove to cook on
Got paper in my wallet but it isn’t green
I won’t bother going to the atm machine
But everything is alright.
Heading out for life on the other side
having no problems kissin things goodbye
Starting to feel good and I don’t know why
Just gottah say the hell with it sometime
And just head for that life on the other side

– Lyrics by Derek Berube

Video in link: http://www.theday.com/re.aspx?re=f0dc661e-2394-45ba-af80-268f441b5282

That dream appeared to end on June 5, 2007, when Dan, who had not heard any music that morning from Derek’s bedroom above the garage, climbed the stairs to check on his son. It was in that room, where just about every day they had played “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and where Derek had created his music, that Dan found his son dead from an overdose of prescription medication.

In the days after Derek’s death, Dan read the e-mails his son had sent to his friends about wanting to record his songs.

”When he was feeling better we’d talk about going to a studio and doing it, but unfortunately he didn’t make it. So now his wish is in my hands,” Dan said. “I told my brother-in-law, ‘Don’t let me let go of this dream.’ “

So last July, a little more than a year after his son’s death, Dan was at In Phaze Audio in Griswold recording “Stuck in the Middle,” the first of four songs he has recorded for what will be a 12-song CD.

”Derek would have loved to have been there. Who knows? Maybe he was,” Dan said.

Father passed on love of music

Derek was Dan and Eileen Berube’s middle son, in between Kevin, now 31, and the aptly named Dylan, who is a decade younger.

Unlike his two brothers, Derek would sit back and absorb things, but he “expressed his feelings about everything” to his father.

”He wanted to be like me, which is why we had a different closeness than I have with my other two sons. When Derek died, it was like my motivation went away,” said Dan, who is 57 and has been retired for a few years after working for the former Ortronics company in Pawcatuck.

After Derek’s death, Dan found his son had kept a meticulous computer log of all the money his parents had spent on him while he was sick, right down to the cost of cans of Boost he drank to keep up his strength.

”If you did something nice for Derek, he’d do something for you. That’s how he was with everybody. He was just a caring and giving kid,” Dan said.

Derek was a close friend of Pete Logan, who lived down the street and died nine weeks before Derek after battling cystic fibrosis his whole life. Pete Logan was just 21. Dan and Pete’s father are longtime friends.

Dan came from a musical family and has played guitar and drums since he was 13, so it was a given that his sons would, too. He also passed on his love of Bob Dylan, whose profound lyrics captivated him as a teenager in the ’60s.

”Derek grew up listening to Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. Even though he also listened to Bush, Green Day and Nirvana, he used to say he was born into the wrong generation,” said Dan, who wears his son’s peace-sign necklace. “He was my inspiration, and I think I was his.”

When Derek was 10, Dan bought him his first guitar. It wasn’t long before Derek began learning Dylan songs. He quickly surpassed his father’s playing ability and, when Derek was 16, Dan began sneaking him into local clubs to play and listen.

Dan, his sons and other musicians would spend hours jamming and playing pool in the room above the garage that later became Derek’s bedroom and makeshift studio. Always with Derek was his loyal sidekick, Copper, his 12-year-old basset hound, who also wears a peace sign.

Today the room is much as it was on the day Derek died. Six guitars, a drum set, four amplifiers and PA system are arranged on one side. Light streams from skylights. A music stand holds a thick notebook opened to Derek’s songs. The computer that holds numerous videos of Derek singing sits on a desk. Posters of Bob Dylan adorn the walls and are now joined by photos of Derek working on cars and playing guitar.

Last week Dan pulled out a metal box. Among the items inside were several handwritten pages in which Derek had listed each of the songs he knew how to play, including 40 by Dylan, the date he learned them and what guitar he had used. Also inside are the strings that were on Derek’s guitar on the last day he informally recorded his songs at home.

He wrote ‘songs from the soul’

Derek’s hearing began to worsen when he was 13, leaving him with just a small fraction of normal hearing. He compensated by wearing digital hearing aids, learning to lip-read and using more amplifiers.

He graduated in 2001 from the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, where he lived on weekdays. There, he played in the stairwells because that amplified his music. Dan laughed over the recollection of the day his son got into trouble because neighbors complained he was playing his music too loud at a school where few people could hear it.

“He called himself ‘the deaf guy who plays rock ‘n’ roll,’ “ Dan said. “But I never thought of him as a guy, so I changed it to ‘kid.’ “

In 2005, Derek was working as an apprentice sailmaker at Halsey-Lidgard Sailmakers in Old Mystic when a sail tack struck his left eye. Two surgeries followed but could only partially restore his sight, which he needed to read lips. Because of the surgery, doctors stopped the medication Derek took to control his Crohn’s disease. The Crohn’s returned and surgeons had to remove a portion of his small intestine and bowel and perform a temporary ileostomy, which brings intestinal waste into an external pouch.

Crohn’s is an incurable disease of the digestive system that causes diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain, vomiting and other symptons.

Derek became depressed as the insurance company handling his workers’ compensation claim refused to pay until ordered by the state Workers Compensation Commission. That did not happen until two days after Derek died.

” ‘Dad, I can’t do this anymore.’ I used to hear that a lot,” Dan said.

It was during this ordeal that Derek began to write his own songs.

”He felt like the world was against him. He was 23 years old and he had to go through more (stuff) than most people go through in their while lives. That’s what he wrote about,” Dan said. “They’re not the happiest songs in the world, but they’re songs from the soul.”

In “Stuck in the Middle,” Derek sings:

Stuck in the middle of a downpour

I’m going inside and closing the doors

Call me if the storm ever blows over

If not, I’ll see you in the next lifetime

Some days Derek would be too sick to play. But on those days when he heard his son’s music blasting from the bedroom, Dan knew Derek was having a good day.

”He would come up here and take his life experiences and put it to music,” Dan said.

Videos help father remember

One day last week, as he does most days, Dan climbed the stairs to Derek’s room, flipped on the amplifier and sat down on a stool in front of Derek’s notebook of songs.


He picked up one of the guitars and began to sing “The Game of Life.” His rough, cigarette-tinged voice and aggressive playing gave an edge to his son’s sometimes painful lyrics.

I’ve got a lot of problems and I’m on the run.

I always end up with an IV in my arm.

And now the good doc said that everything will be alright

And if it makes you feel any better, my boat just sank.

… I’m living in a hood that you never understood

Dan said his son wrote these lyrics based on a comment from one of Derek’s doctors.

Dan’s quest has been helped by the fact that Derek made videos of himself playing his songs. Dan studies them to figure out how to play the music. One was done just two days before Derek died.

In another, recorded in early 2007, the slightly built Derek appears wearing a gray T-shirt and sits down in front of his music stand. A small light illuminates the pages in the darkened room and the side of his face.

He begins to sing, his words slightly slurred because of his deafness. Dan’s eyes never leave the screen as he softly sings along.

”I’m so fortunate to have these,” he said. “You can’t imagine what this stuff means to me.”

As Derek sings, Copper begins to whine, which Dan said often happens when the dog hears Derek’s voice on the computer.

”Some days I can come up here and listen with no problem. Other days I have to shut it off because I can’t see the screen,” he said.

Both Dan and Eileen say they still have what they call “Derek Days” when they miss their son even more than usual.

”When Dan gets down about it he comes up here and listens to Derek’s music. I mostly just cry,” Eileen said. “He was just a beautiful kid with a beautiful soul.”

While Dan and Derek used to constantly quote Dylan’s lyrics, Dan now finds himself quoting his son’s songs. “All In a Day” is one of his favorites.

Woke up this morning

Looked at the clock

It didn’t feel like seven to me

Got my ass out of bed

shook off my head

OK let’s do this again


”We all can relate to that,” Dan said. “I just love his music. It’s what made him happy, and it’s what makes me happy.”

Stonington, CT