After meeting Charlie Lustman, it's a little harder to take life for granted.
In 2006, the musician and then-proprietor of the Silent Movie Theatre was told that the curious bump on his jaw was a rare cancer. Eradicating it meant removal of three-quarters of his upper jaw (since replaced with a prosthetic mouthpiece) and a year of chemotherapy. But he'd been given back what he was afraid he'd lost, and he felt compelled to turn his feelings into music. The result was the song cycle "Made Me Nuclear," which he released as an album and now performs as a theatrical concert at the Santa Monica Playhouse.
Alone onstage, Lustman appears vulnerable. Behind him loom the concentric rings and cross hairs of what looks like a giant piece of medical equipment about to swallow him.
Worry washes across his face as he relives the news of the diagnosis. He was 40 at the time; he and his wife had one child and another on the way. But it isn't long before he finds some humor in his situation, envisioning himself transformed, like some comic-book hero, when he's injected with radioactive dye for a CT scan. That's the gist of the bouncy title song, in which he declares himself remade as "a subatomic man."