Rae Spoon 
Not Dead Yet 

Coax Records • 2023

Rae Spoon took their second chance at living and made themselves the best damn album of their life.

Fuck the “Fuck Cancer” bumper stickers and multi-coloured ribbon-and-pins and days-long bike races and billionaires buying their way into naming rights on hospital buildings. This “industry” around the fight/race/campaign against cancer tries to make us feel like we’re all in it together, but we’re not. Not really. The real fighters, like Rae Spoon, have to take on the disease that’s ravaging their body and simultaneously challenge a discriminating and biased healthcare system whose bedside manner remains poisoned and privileged against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

In March 2020, with the world on the precipice of a global pandemic and shutdown, Spoon’s interior world started a type of shutdown of its own when the musician, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and author discovered they had cervical cancer. “I was forced into the health care systems I had previously avoided,” Spoon says, “because of how I was treated as a trans/non-binary person with CPTSD.” Some three years later, Spoon returns to music-making with an often celebratory chronicle of their medical journey, Not Dead Yet. Spoon says the title comes from a “common saying in cancer communities” that reminds those diagnosed with the disease that they are “still living full lives” regardless of their treatment plan or the status or stage of their cancer.

This kind of battle mentality in the face of mortality is nothing new for Spoon, but they haven’t sounded as focused and accomplished as they do on Not Dead Yet. Coming back from the brink of death has given Spoon’s artistic expression a vitality and vigour that it’s been missing of late. Double entendres abound on Not Dead Yet, as on the early single “Open Heart” and opening track, “ICU.” These kinds of play on words could end up sounding trite in lesser hands, but Spoon’s sincerity and lived experience infuse them with heartfelt and heartbreaking poignancy. 

Conversely, “Shake Shake Shake” and “WTFIT” deliver punchy middle fingers to a medieval medical system that refuses to see beyond the binary. Each comes with brilliant lyrical moments (“Do you ever wonder why I can’t be here / unless I take an Ativan,” for the former; “ If I took off my shirt would you say what the fuck is that? / I’d say a lot of money that I didn’t really have,” from the latter) that otherwise would be laugh-out-loud funny if they weren’t sadly true. 

Not Dead Yet hits hardest when Spoon get profound as they do on the poetic “I Think I Was a Person” and deeply personal “Simple Complication.” Both songs explore how cancer (and illnesses in general) attack and deteriorate some relationships while strengthening the resolve and fight of others. In dark moments, when it feels as if everyone is abandoning you and leaving you for dead even before your last breath, some heroes and angels bring the light. 

Far from being an album steeped in the most desolate and isolating times of Spoon’s medical journey, Not Dead Yet is an inspiring and profound exploration of what it feels like to have a second chance. “Since I almost died I’ve been living more,” they sing on the jubilant “Living More,” whose short, sharp, and compelling calling card of a chorus reduces me to tears nearly every time I hear them sing it. Amen, Rae Spoon—you went and took your second chance at living and made yourself the best damn album of your life so far.

Thanks for checking out DOMINIONATED

We rely on reader support to keep delivering Canadian music conversations like the one you’re reading.
Become a supporter and help keep DOMINIONATED’s conversations going.