Interview with Nightwish 12

Source: Sign On San Diego, Night and Day magazine

A pair of 'kindred spirits'

Twist of fate linked Marc Brueland, Tuomas Holopainen - and created a life-affirming friendship

By Chris Nixon

May 22, 2008

"Higher than hope my cure lies," reads the gravestone of Marc Christopher Brueland, a San Diego DJ, artist and animator who passed away in 2003 after battling liver cancer for seven and a half years.

In a strange twist of fate, three disparate elements have combined to create a powerful story: a British cartoon from the 1980s, a Finnish metal band and Brueland's battle with cancer. The story has inspired a song, numerous YouTube video tributes and music fans around the world.

Brueland grew up in Tierrasanta, a kid fascinated with both music and art. He started his own comic book company, Invincible Studios, and later worked as an animator for The Lightspan Partnership, a local computer animation studio.

Brueland also DJed every Saturday night at Club Sabbatt, a goth/industrial club in Hillcrest. At age 22, he was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer, fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma.

During his formative years, Brueland fell in love with a 26-minute, animated piece called "The Snowman." First shown on the BBC, the cartoon includes the haunting song "Walking in the Air," which reached No. 5 on the United Kingdom pop charts in 1985.

Halfway around the world from San Diego, the young Tuomas Holopainen watched the animated film at his home in Finland. In 1996, the musician formed Nightwish, a Finnish prog-metal band. On its 1998 album "Oceanborn," the group covered "Walking in the Air" from "The Snowman."

Brueland discovered the song on a compilation he found at Tower Records in San Diego. Marc's mother, Georgene, remembers the day Marc brought home the compilation: "The music brought us together as a family once again as it did in Marc's childhood, especially at this difficult time in Marc's life."

Says Marc's sister Erin: "It was one of those moments that just changes you forever. It was just fate or chance that he found the song on a compilation."

Over the next four years, Holopainen would get to know the Brueland family through correspondence and visiting San Diego. Each time the musician visited San Diego, Marc was too ill to meet him. Terminally ill with cancer, Marc decided he finally needed to meet Tuomas.

So the Brueland family traveled to Atlanta to see Nightwish perform "Walking in the Air" onstage at the ProgPower festival.

"When he flew to Atlanta, he had metastasis all over his abdomen and all over his lungs," remembered Georgene. "He was in severe pain. But he wanted to do this for Tuomas and for the band. I'll never forget the flight there. It was terrifying for me as a mom to watch, because his body was wracked with this disease. But that's the kind of person Marc was."

In front of thousands of fans at the ProgPower V festival, Nightwish performed with the Brueland family watching from the wings. Before launching into the song, Tuomas dedicated "Walking in the Air" to Marc. Even in his weakened condition, Brueland was able to get out of his wheelchair and walk to the stage to hug Tuomas.

A month later, as Marc Brueland lay on his deathbed at the San Diego Hospice, Erin and Georgene called Tuomas so he could say goodbye to Marc. Georgene thought to call the Finnish musician: "Tuomas was on the phone with Marc a few minutes before he died."

Erin added; "We called Tuomas from the hospice just so he could say goodbye. Marc couldn't talk. He was wheezing from all the fluid in his lungs. But Tuomas got to hear him breathe."

Touched by Marc's life, Holopainen wrote the song "Higher Than Hope" as a tribute. The song includes an excerpt of Marc's voice recorded in an interview with local television reporter Sandra Moss for News 8 KFMB. Brueland's gravestone inscription is the chorus in "Higher Than Hope."

In the years following Marc's death, the Brueland and Holopainen families have become more intertwined. The friendship between the families has helped Erin and Georgene cope with the passing of Marc's father, Eric, also from cancer, in 2007. Tuomas' parents Kitia and Pentti were in San Diego when Eric passed away.

"To this day, Tuomas has joined our family," Georgene said. "I lost my husband now. So there's nobody left but Erin and I. We have an adopted family now in another country. And the kinship of these metal fans is so loving."

Nightwish will be playing its first show in San Diego tomorrow at the House of Blues downtown, and it's going to be a special night for the friends and family of Marc Brueland.

"They're two kindred spirits that met just the one time, but their story has really touched everybody who hears it," said Erin Brueland. "The fans of Nightwish still remember him. They still talk about him on the forum of the Web site. When we go to gigs all over the country, people know who we are and they remember Marc.

"That's why it's a very special day when they finally play his hometown. We've been waiting for this forever. It's really a celebration of Marc and the band."

Georgene Brueland said it best: "This is a beautiful thing that came out of a horrible tragedy."


Drawing inspiration from fantasy novels like "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the Dragonlance series, Holopainen creates fantastic imagery in his lyrics.

The band is currently touring behind its 2007 release, "Dark Passion Play." Tomorrow's show at the House of Blues will be the band's first appearance in San Diego.

Erin Brueland on Nightwish's musical appeal to her family: "Marc (her brother) was always a heavy metal fan. And this European style of symphonic metal, with the orchestra and the female vocals, was somewhat new to us at the time. We got the best introduction to it with Nightwish."

The Nightwish lineup includes Holopainen (keyboards, vocals), Anette Olzon (vocals), Erno "Emppu" Vuorinen (guitar), Marko "Marco" Hietala (bass, vocals) and Jukka "Julius" Nevalainen (drums).

Learn more about Marc Brueland at and see more photos of Brueland and Nightwish at


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