Q&A with Shelley Buck

January 22, 2014
David Wexler

shelley_ryder_03_274x144It was late last year when Shelley Buck was first introduced to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Her 22-year-old son Ryder was in the hospital, undergoing chemotherapy for Stage 4 testicular cancer, and they listened to ESMZ songs for hours.

Shelley Buck instantly felt a connection with her son, who himself was an aspiring singer and songwriter who dreamed of one day opening for ESMZ.

“They lifted him out of dark and scary places,” Shelley Buck says. “They inspired him musically and spiritually.”

Ryder Buck beat cancer, and at Big Top last month, he each member of the band for “saving my life.” A little more than a week later, on Oct. 27, Ryder Buck was struck by a vehicle while on a freeway in California and died. He was 23 years old.

“Ryder was born an old soul, wise, intuitive, and psychically connected to me,” Shelley Buck says. “He chose his companions with his heart, and he never missed the mark. When Ryder made a friend, I knew they were golden — and for life. I believe the connection Ryder made with the members of ESMZ resounded as profoundly with them, as they did with him. For Ryder, it was a give-back.”

Shelley Buck opened up to Janglin Souls about the profound impact ESMZ had on her son and their time together at Big Top.

Q: When did you and Ryder become Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros fans? What was it about ESMZ that inspired Ryder so much?

A: Ryder started taking guitar lessons during sophomore year in high school. Guitar became his passion in his first year of college, when he started downloading chord progressions and teaching himself his favorite songs. He lived it. It was never work for Ryder, just as much a part of his days as breathing.

Ryder first shared ESMZ in late 2012 when he started chemo. He wals constantly introducing us to new artists… or old onels that he’d just discovered. It delighted me when he’d find an artist from my youth and introduced them to me, as if they had just landed on the planet.

I was immediately taken with ESMZ, seeing the same things Ryder did — the genuine heart, the spiritual evolution… the gratitude for life and humility that could only come from meeting the darkness and fighting back to the light. These guys were not preaching; they were celebrating.

Though Alex and Jade are the hub of the band, they project an attitude of mutual respect. It is refreshing to see each talent showcased. Ryder incorporated that into the leadership of his own band. The looseness with which ESMZ plays leaves each song room to be live and fresh. Authentic. I saw three shows Big Top weekend, and though some of the songs were the same, they were never the SAME.

Theirs is not performance, but an offering… sharing… a love of life, a love of music, love for each other.

Not only did Ryder find the music spiritually inspiring, but he loved the mix of sounds, the broad range of instruments. He incorporated that versatility into his own band, Ryder Buck & The Breakers. Mandolin, cajon, harmonica. He was even working on whistling; that was a challenge!

Q: When was Ryder diagnosed with cancer?

A:  Ryder was diagnosed with Stage 4 testicular cancer on Aug. 24, 2012. His surgery was successfully completed on Aug. 30, and he started chemo in late September. It had already spread to his lungs, and lymph nodes were a concern. A second surgery loomed. His first three rounds left him “clear” during the holidays, but it was short-lived.

Two months before he was to see his oncologist, an unscheduled visit to his internist found it was growing again. At this point, we both confessed that we had known it wasn’t over. He started a second course of four rounds in January 2013. Another bullet dodged.

I kept a journal of his journey on Caring Bridge. (caringbridge.org/ryderbuck)

ryder_shelley_01_274x144Q: Describe what those chemo sessions were like with Ryder, and how Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros helped him get through it?

A:  The first rounds were uncomfortable, he lost his hair, but was not as sick as either of us had expected. His “barf bucket” sat sterile in the corner. He felt well enough to schedule gigs over the holidays.

Ryder dove into a spiritual quest when he started treatment. It was during this searching that ESMZ came onto my “radar.” We watched every interview, listened repeatedly to every song. Then he learned to play them. When he was too tired or nauseous to play his guitar, he listened. Though he had a cache of original songs, he spent the majority of his time absorbing the “positive vibe” of ESMZ. He contemplated it. He was uplifted by it. Those hours were especially poignant for me, as little else brought a smile to his face. I was aware, and ironically grateful, for the days we spent together in the hospital. I never missed a day. After all, what mother of a 22 year-old man gets such “face time” with her son?

He took his guitar with him for his first six rounds. We went outside for vocal warm-ups and short walks when he was up to it — always with his guitar. The nurses loved him and spent extra time in his room when he played.

The last round, in May, he was just too sick. He left his guitar at home. I was surprised, as that had been his most reliable therapy.

During the two weeks at home between hospital stays, he would spend one week on the couch and the second one, when he felt better, on the local mountain-top — writing, meditating and playing his guitar. We watched “Big Easy Express” several times. I think he projected himself into that tour, perhaps visualizing himself there. An escape.

ESMZ — more than any other band — became a staple in his days. Ryder loved a good story, poetically told, and relished the poignant lyrics of ESMZ. I think he related to Alex’s return from darker days, even a brush with death. It made Alex human, and his celebration of life more authentic. “Not the pray-er, but the prayer.” Ryder related and was determined to beat the monster inside him. He was already feeling a profound appreciation for life. He was changed, and Alex was an example of what could be.

Ryder learned to play their songs, soaked up their jubilant spirit and dreamed of a day when they would meet.

I had no doubt his dream would come true. Between chemo rounds he rallied enough to get up to Bottlerock. Last summer, he and I went to the Hollywood Bowl show. I was delighted that he chose to share it with me. This band was obviously important to him — important enough to make sure I “got” it. It was easy to jump on board. What’s not to like?

Q: Describe what it was like to be at Big Top with Ryder? Did you know he was going to share his story during Home?

A: Big Top was, by far, our most jubilant time. Ryder was moving through life with a fearlessness and intent that every mother hopes for her child. He seemed to be “walking in the light.” On the fairgrounds, he ran into Alex and Christian, and was floating even before the show started. He had finally made the connection he’d dreamed of and was able to briefly tell them how instrumental they had been in his fight for life.

When “Home” came on, I looked at him. He was already out of his seat and bolted across the Big Top. Having laid the groundwork before the show, it was an easy choice for Alex to hand him the mic. As Ryder told his story and thanked the band — each of them — the crowd roared. He had accomplished the first part of his goal — to thank them, to let them know just how much they meant to him.

After the show, Christian gave him his backstage pass, and he stayed late, connecting on a deep level with each member of the band. Ryder played his final gig that Saturday, but Jade made sure he had passes to both Sunday shows. In the hospital, Ryder had written his own verse for “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” and Jade said they would give him a chance to sing it at one of the shows. He got to sing it for her backstage, a capella.

The night was magical.

He came home, plopped down on the end of our bed at 2:30 am, and said, “I just made best friends — for life.”

We never dreamed it would be such a short one.

Q: What is your favorite Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros moment that you’ve shared with your son?

A: Big Top was a highlight, for sure, but I think my favorite moment was sitting on his hospital bed, watching the interviews and concert footage together… and seeing the smile come back to his face. That was invaluable. I was a fan.

Q: Describe the memorial service for Ryder? What did it mean to have members of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros there at the service?

A: Ryder’s service drew 1,200 people, overflowing into two extra halls of the church. It lasted three hours, to our pastor’s dismay, and still, no one wanted it to end. It was a beautiful celebration of a beautiful soul who shared his love of life and understanding of God through music.

Ryder’s brothers each sang. His father sang, and his aunt closed the service the way Ryder closed all of his gigs — by leading everyone in Bob Marley’s “One Love.”

This was a day of laughs and tears. I even caught myself smiling — especially when Jade led the band onto the altar. I could feel Ryder beaming, laughing in his carefree way, with his head thrown back. Having met Ryder only a week earlier, their presence at his service was a testament to their own hearts, as much as to Ryder’s ability to connect deeply with people. If anyone were to question the sincerity or authenticity of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, let me be a witness for them. What band, so big, would agree to play a funeral… for a man they had just met? They had no way of knowing it would not be a dirge, but instead, a celebration — almost as much a musical tribute to ESMZ as to Ryder, himself. The Magnetic Zeros “walk the walk.”

Three ESMZ songs were played that day, and the band was gracious enough to play along with Ryder’s band, the Breakers, before performing the song they had prepared, “All Wash Out.”

After the service, I told Jade that Ryder said he had written his last “love song.” Inspired by his favorite band and his recent trip to Bali, he intended to write more “universal love” songs… I’m sure he hoped to write for ESMZ.

At the Big Top, Ryder said it was his dream to open for ESMZ some day. I have no doubt he would have. Who knew it would be like this?

Q: Do you have additional comments or stories that you would like to share?

A:  In the days after the Big Top, Ryder was soaring. I even said, “There is so much wind beneath your wings, be careful of the landing.” He never landed. He went out at his absolute happiest… so much to look forward to, and his time with ESMZ played a major part in that. Still lifting him up. Always lifting him up.

Ryder spent 13 hours the day before he “took off”, laying down tracks for his EP. The hard drive where they are stored was damaged in the accident, but we are working with specialists to retrieve those oh-so-precious tracks. The Breakers intend to finish the EP for him.

While in Bali (Ryder’s personal paradise), his connection to the Universal Consciousness… God, The Great Spirit, Buddha… took off. He came home even more serene than he had left.

On some level, this boy was preparing.


  1. Very powerful interview Shelley. Deeply profound and inspiring. I remember the Memorial service as being so incredibly uplifting – especially since everyone who knows the Bucks was dreading how difficult it would be. It was instead remarkably inspiring and celebratory – and ESMZ was an enormously impressive part of it.

  2. Truly amazing and inspiring. I’m sorry for your loss — he sounded like an amazing young person. Such a soul is not lost in death but rather set free to reach farther than what we are limited to here. Bless you, thank you for sharing yours and his story.

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