All Zach Sobiech wanted to do was to say goodbye to his family and friends. In the process, the 17-year-old has inspired, exhilarated, touched and entertained hundreds of thousands of people.
Told that a rare form of bone cancer has likely left him with only a few months to live, the Stillwater High School senior wrote a song titled "Clouds" in which he bids farewell to the people around him. The song has been accessed by more than 1 million YouTube users and is available for a 99-cent download on iTunes.
The song's success mystifies its creator. "I don't know why so many people care about it," he said. "I know why it's special to me, but I didn't think it would be special to others."
Sobiech has been flooded with requests for media interviews. A CNN camera crew followed him around school. "It's been pretty crazy," he said.
The crazy part, many say, is that being an overnight sensation hasn't had any effect on him -- beyond the fact that he sometimes notices "more girls smiling at me."
"Sometimes we'll give him a little punch in the arm" when his friends see that happening, said Sammy Brown, a fellow senior who plays with him in a duo called the Firm Handshake. "But it really hasn't changed him at all."
Then again, he didn't change after getting the diagnosis of osteosarcoma, which was discovered in 2009 when he was hobbled by pain in his left hip. And he didn't change when he was told that the cancer had spread to the point that the best doctors could hope for was to slow the disease's progression. Before any of this happened, Sobiech was upbeat, optimistic and fun. He still is.
The proof of Sobiech's character is his selflessness, said Dan Seeman, the vice president/marketing manager for KS95 who heard a demo of "Clouds" while arranging the station's annual cancer-research radiothon and helped arrange for its professional recording. Sobiech is selling a CD of his music that includes "Clouds," with all the money going to fund research of osteosarcoma.
"If there ever was a family that could say 'It's all about us,' this is the one," Seeman said. "But, no, it's about every other kid who faces this problem."
Sobiech said that writing "Clouds" was his natural reaction when he got the bad medical news. "There are two ways you can go at a time like that," he said. "You can cry, or you can talk about it. I'm the type of person who talks about it."
Sobiech has his down moments, he admits. They often happen when reality hits him by surprise. For instance, the first day of school when the seniors were warned not to coast through their final year if they planned to go to college.
"I faced a decision: Am I going to work on school or work on living my life?" he said. "I told my teachers that I probably wasn't going to be doing my homework, that I was going to concentrate on ... my music. They understood."
He's hoping to come up with enough songs to fill another CD, but he knows better than anyone that the future is not guaranteed.
"I'm working as hard as I can to produce quality material," he said. "I'm going to keep moving forward with music."