Say Hello To Heaven – R.I.P Chris Cornell

On Monday, I was at a memorial. A catholic service. The deceased had killed himself. Mixed with the grief was a disbelief – an incomprehensible place where nothing can possibly make sense. I was trying to explain depression to a friend. It wasn’t working. A hushed conversation in the back of a funeral parlour isn’t going to do it. Where is a good place?

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Some people talk to me about music. It’s built into the description of being a music geek. Like minded people communicate in that somewhat nuanced language, and others will ask you about it when something happens… usually a tragedy. As I walk into my son’s school yard another parent begins.

“Did you hear about Chris Corn…”

“Stop.” I reply. “I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I don’t want to talk about it. Especially in the school yard. And definitely not as a casual conversation.”

He stumbles with his next words. “Sorry, I just…”

“No problem. Just not going to talk about it.” And with those words I deliver my child to the door of the school and walk home.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

My turntable spins. A line keeps coming back to me. I grab the liner notes to verify it. Fuck Wikipedia and the second-hand sources that screw up lyrics on the best of days.

“He hurt so bad / like a soul breaking / but he never said nothing to me…”

In the spring of 1991 I picked up this record – Temple Of The Dog. It was before Soundgarden had released Badmotorfinger in October, and I was telling a recently met acquaintance/friend about it. I hadn’t realized he was the Entertainment Editor at the campus paper until he asked me to write a review. Although, “Hunger Strike” would go on to be a hit the following year, it was “Say Hello To Heaven” that had sold me on the record. It was a song Chris Cornell had written after his former roommate Andrew Wood had died of an overdose. Wood, the vocalist for Mother Love Bone passed before the bands debut record had hit the streets. Like all overdose deaths tend to do, the lines between substance abuse and mental illness get blurred. Wood’s public persona had been one of fun loving and flamboyance, Cornell’s interpretation said something far more personal.

“Since you can’t say to me / now how the dogs broke your bone / there’s just one thing left to be said…”

Cornell’s voice soars into what I think is his most poignant moment. “Say hello to heaven.”

The turntable spins.

^^^^^^^^^

Other people talk to me about depression. I’ve been pretty open about my own battles with it. But, trust me when I say that like minded people do not communicate with conversations about it. You don’t walk up to someone on the street and say, “so, I hear you feel like you’ve been run over and dragged on gravel.” Or… if they do, I’ve not joined that club. Those that have gone through it will either talk about their own experience, or listen as someone talks about theirs. Usually, these take place either one on one, or, if you’ve ever been hospitalized, a group setting. I tend to try and bring a sense of the ridiculous when I do open up, mentioning the full on weeping despair I once had over not finding a clean pair of socks. While a person’s tone can be jocular or matter of fact, there is nothing casual about depression, anxiety or mental illness. Still, my lack of foot covering story gets a laugh as a ‘WTF’ moment.

Still, life can be wonderful and then you have an episode…

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

In June 2001, I was looking out the window of a hospital room down upon a place I had dubbed the “crop circle refueling station.” A fire hydrant in the middle of a large grass field, mowed in circles until it reached the concrete of the building itself. Detoxing off of thirteen prescriptions given for a mixture of pain and overwhelming sadness. It had been six months since I cried about the socks. Three months since the back surgery to remove two herniated discs, one of which had been calcified and impaled the sciatic nerve. The doctors hadn’t caught onto the fact that the ‘Oxy’ mixed with an already diagnosed ‘clinical depression’ was causing a severe reaction.

My life was good, but it felt like shit.

I was so heavily medicated I wasn’t sure which thoughts were real and which were the drugs. What I do remember most about that time in my life… an eternity worth of sleep seemed a whole lot better for me and everybody else than sitting around and waiting for the pain to subside. Three days after I arrived in the hospital, down to just my meds for cholesterol, it felt like a fog was lifting off my brain. Looking down on the “crop circle refueling station” I wondered what the fuck had happened to me.

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^^^^^^^^^^^

April 2001. A month after my surgery.

The meds say half a pill before bed. That was an hour earlier. I want to be better. I want to sleep. Fuck it! I’m taking more.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Chris Cornell’s wife released a statement on Thursday. She believes her husband had taken a few extra Ativan tablets after his concert on Wednesday night. A medication that helps with anxiety when taken in low dosage.

Problem with anxiety… patience for medication to kick in doesn’t work so well. If you are having a panic attack, or looking darkness in the eye waiting isn’t something you are prone to do.  In a moment like that, when the abyss creeps in, it’s easy to over medicate. And that’s when the real shit begins.

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Friday afternoon the CD player is shooting a laser on a plastic disc and I’m being flooded with traces of doom. Every god damned lyric has me projecting bullshit about how dark everything must have gotten over the years. I’m looking for reasons. Except, you know, they just don’t exist. What am I searching for…

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A month ago, I was talking to my thirteen-year-old son about Vic Chesnutt. His suicide came up and we both cried. He asked why, and if it was wrong. It went something like this…

My head began to hurt. “I don’t have a good answer for that. Some people will hold up a Bible and tell you it is a sin. Others will talk about how selfish it is to hurt the people you love by ending your own life. Personally, I don’t buy into that. I believe that mental illness… depression; it takes away the hope you have for a good future. It only leaves you with the impression that your pain needs to end, and that you are a burden on those who suffer through it beside you.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”

“What?”

“The burden thing. Mommy pays for you to be home with us. You’re not a burden. So what if he owes money.”

“Part of being an adult is the desire to be self sustaining. That our own life should not impede or lower the people we care about.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! When Grandma and Grumpa got sick you moved and took care of them didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Were they a burden?”

“No. I was exactly where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be. However, they didn’t see it that way. Grandma saw me leave my family to take care of her and it really bugged her.”

“That’s what I mean, if you were sick I would want to be with you.”

“That is how depression works. You forget that people really want to be there for you. You don’t want to ask for help. You don’t want to hold people back from their own lives. You just want to end the pain.”

The conversation went on… it never really reached a satisfying conclusion.

^^^^^^^^^^

Looking through the scores of articles published in the first 24 hours, I come across one in the Huffpost, from Julie A. Fast, an expert on mental illness and a survivor herself. I’m struck by a small paragraph near the end of the piece.

“If he has a brain like mine, he has an illness and his brain was triggered by something that resulted in a suicidal episode. It may have had nothing to do with his amazing life. Sometimes an illness is simply stronger than the person. Sometimes medications mess with our sensitive brain chemicals.”

The words hit me with a mix of confirmation, resignation and an awful strong desire to say “No shit – Sherlock.” I’m pissed off at everyone and no one at all. I resist the idea of opening a bottle of wine as Cornell’s epic voice pleads “reach down, and pick the crowd up.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^

The day Kurt Cobain died I was the Entertainment Editor of my campus paper. Quite a few people were bugging me to write an obituary. When I didn’t, a couple staff blamed the EIC (Editor In Chief), actually suggesting she didn’t want one. It was ludicrous. She knew why I didn’t, and I never had to explain myself. She could always see right through me. It was personal. As someone who had visited dark places, I wasn’t prepared to go there. I couldn’t express myself in terms that would bring anything remotely insightful. It had nothing to do with all that ‘voice of a generation’ crap, just a sadness that I couldn’t comprehend. Always regretted not saying something, but I simply can’t find words for it. Still haven’t got them.

Kurt Cobain – Elliott Smith – Mark Linkous – Vic Chesnutt – Chris Cornell. All artists I adored.

What’s the old saying… there but for the grace of God, go I?

I don’t know these people, but I know that place. I can’t help but take it personally. Every suicide I hear about hits me. My ears burn. I ache. I place it in a compartment tagged “to deal with later” and wait until I have time alone. Then I ache some more.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Last year a friend posted an article on Facebook – Suicide Rates Amongst Middle Aged Men Rises 43% in the last 15 years. Chris Cornell was 52. I turn 50 in July.

Fuckin’ Facebook and its fuckin’ statistics.

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Twenty-four news cycle, major media, outlets that only mention artists when tragedy strikes, headlines about a voice silenced, and I feel rage. Misdirected rage. Quite honestly, why should I give a shit about all the talk about ‘grunge’ and ‘Seattle’ and ‘vocal range’ and the hyperbole surrounding it. 1990’s superlatives that lessen the time to a cliché. I’m smart enough to know what I’m searching for; the need to find something – someone to articulate how I’m feeling. Words that parallel my thoughts and give them voice. A smarter person than I to bring perspective. I’m searching, listening, searching and listening. Nothing so far.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

It’s Saturday morning. It starts with “Big Dumb Sex.” Cornell sreams ‘fuck’ enough times to make even Zac De La Rocha blush. This back before Soundgarden could fill a stadium. Before metalheads and alt-rock fans had been hearing “Jesus Christ Pose” on Walkman’s. Before people were bringing his voice up in conversations about rock’s greatest vocalists. It’s just a stupid fuckin’ song by a barely twenty something guy. The hook is the fact that he is using profanity to the point of hilarity, as a means to say “this is my version of pop music.” A parody of all the glam metal/big hair bands of the day. Essentially, it was meant to make you laugh. No deep meaning. Just a moment of being a dumbass.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Outside the funeral home my friend and I get a bit into the whole self-referential morbid mortality thing. He wonders how people can catch up inside a funeral home. How laughter can continue in a room with the deceased. I take a different angle.

“Do me a favor. If or when I go – laugh. I don’t care what the circumstances are – laugh. I don’t want how I died to define me. I don’t want singular moments of when I was exceptional or unexceptional being the focus. I want The Lemonheads punk version of “Amazing Grace” played at the memorial. I want stupid stories regaled for all to hear.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

I didn’t know Chris Cornell. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want Wednesday night in Detroit to be his epitaph. So, If, like me, you are looking for something to make sense of it… stop.

Just go put on a record.

Don’t watch the latest CNN updates.

Just put on a record.

Listen.

Repeat.

I suggest the Soundgarden cover of Devo’s “Girl You Want” from the EP SOMMS. It’s awesome fun and a great way to remember a person in their happier “dumbass” moments.

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Record Store Road Show #1: Record Store Day 2017 – SRC Vinyl Niagara Falls, Ontario

IMG_20170423_193537989With my son’s friends and their families having planned a birthday party four months ahead, and my lack of memory for dates, I found myself in unfamiliar territory on RSD 2017. Instead of the usual 3- 4 stores I would hit in Toronto; I was down to one shop in Niagara Falls, Ontario and possibly another in Buffalo, New York if too many of my wish list titles were missed.

Having unpacked, and having absolutely no desire to fly down a mixture of plastic and H2O to scream “weeeeeeeeeeeeee,” as my aging back begs stop, I take note vote of a need for a different activity.  Just because I’m a geek in need of a walk, I use Google Maps to get me over to SRC Vinyl the night before Record Store Day so I can make sure I don’t get lost the following morning. Sunrises and I don’t have a good track record with established coherent thought, so having prior knowledge of where I’m going is helpful. Besides that, it gets me away from the water park and into a record store. The phone app takes me through an alley and a couple of residential streets before I arrive at a place that should have been a straight line with a single left. Any more directions and the damn phone would have taken me over the falls in a barrel.

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Every independent record store has a vibe of its own. A feel that can’t really be reproduced. There was a Milwaukee store that had a lot of open brick and a large shelving system suspended by chains from the ceiling. At the time, I saw it in the late 90’s, it was the best damn store I had ever seen. Just last year in St. Augustine, there is a place I visited that isn’t much bigger than postage stamp, but a cooler selection of new records than every store I had been to in Orlando.

The curious thing, every store seems to be measured by how closely the staff resembles the misfits of High Fidelity.  The Nick Hornby classic book, turned John Cusack/Jack Black movie, has become a music geek touch stone by which record stores seem to be judged. Honestly, people in RSD lines over the years keep bringing it up. Regardless of gender, race etc…, it seems that staff need the correct balance of knowledge and attitude to be taken seriously. In this case, it’s exactly what you expect. The staff are awesome. You ask questions and you’ll get real answers. Which is good, because half the fun of the record store is talking with like minded music geeks about any subject that crosses your mind… just because you speak the same language.

It’s probably about a thousand square feet, but the selection is much better than any similar sized store I’ve been at in mid size city. So, my expectations are pretty high for the following morning. Then again, as a teen I tried to convince my doctor I had an allergy to the rise of the sun as it puts me in a foul mood. Didn’t work, but I’m sure you see the point.

The thing is, standing in line for 75 minutes’, half asleep and cold with a cell phone in my hands playing a Settlers of Catan app in place of company, it can lead to odd observations that match that wee hours’ crabby attitude.

SRC is directly across the street from a funeral home that claims to be Canada’s first. (I’m picturing an advertisement along the lines of “Serving The Dead Since 1826,” but, ya know, I’m no ad exec.) In front of the entrance of that home is a large ornamental clock with their business name. Metaphors begin to swirl in my mind. Just what the hell does a funeral home with a clock in front of it say about life and death.

Time is limited?

Your time is coming?

Your time is due?

There is just so many useless thoughts that pop up as you stare at a clock in front of a funeral home. I mention this to the guy beside me, and he points out the ‘Gentleman’s Club’ beside the hotel for the newly deceased. “What do you make of that?” he says. All I can tell him is, “a comedian could make a thousand jokes. However, I’m just not that funny.” At that he laughs.

As with every RSD, there is always the passer by that approaches the random strangers with the second-hand smoke dancing around them and asks just why people are waiting outside a record store. The one non-smoker answers.

“Oh, is it a sale?”

“Not exactly. There selling new and limited release records.”

“Records. I have a bunch from when I was younger. I wonder what they’re worth? People still listen to records?”

“Yes.”

“I saw a news story about people buying records again, but I also heard people get music for free off the internet, so I couldn’t figure out why people still buy records.”

“Some people care about the quality of music and musicians getting payed I suppose.”

“Maybe. But why would I pay when I can get it for free. I’m off to get my Starbucks. Nice chatting.”

“Have a good day.”

The line moves forward just after that. SRC is extremely organized and ready. Going in we receive ballots for a Third Man Records package, and bang you are off to the races.

Now, lining up and being within the first dozen people is great, but it is an advantage that only lasts seconds. Right behind the few are the many, and they all have their lists too. Glimpsing at my own, I start to quickly scan the displays.

David Bowie – Cracked Actor… “THANK YOU!”

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Ramones – Singles Box… “That’s mine!”

The Cure – Acoustic Hits (picture disc)…  “Yep”

Big Star – Complete Third Box… “Oh yeah!”

Bruce Springsteen … “holy shit. That’s over a …. No thank you!”

The Smiths… Damn! Someone snags it as my hand is reaching out. By now the store is crowded and people are flipping through everything. With that I start to go into shelves.

S for Spoon…. “All right!”

N for Nilsson… “Oooooh, only one copy… and I got it… Awesome!”

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F for Flaming Lips… “Oh come on! It was a guaranteed Merry Christmas gift! A sure ‘you’re the best brother ever!’ DAMN!”

In line, ahead of me some ‘dillhole’ is trying to buy multiple copies of an RSD title, which of course, is strictly against the rules.

“Look, I could go through the line again, and then it wouldn’t be the same purchase!”

“I can’t sell you multiples!”

“Look, it’s just one extra.”

“I’m not allowed to do that.”

Let’s stop for one second here folks. She can’t sell him multiples. Really! RSD enforces this policy with banishment. Meaning they wouldn’t get to sell RSD titles again. You are asking a small business to give up thousands in sales so you can buy something for your buddy or flip it on e-bay. It isn’t going to happen, so don’t ask.

“It’s just…”

“Can’t do it. But I will put it back on the shelf for you.”

With that, the battle with the ‘me, myself and I customer’ ends and I get to make my purchase.

“You handled that well.” I remark.

Without a hint of cynicism, she replies “It’s my favourite day of the year… and that wasn’t bad at all.” As I pay in cash she apologizes for having to break open a roll of loonies. I remark, “Oh my god, how dare you cost me a couple seconds opening a roll of change. This is the worst day of my life and I blame you.” She chuckles politely at my horrible attempt at humour.

I get out of the store, and look at the clock. I feel the passport in my jacket pocket. There are several items I really want that, like with every RSD, the local store didn’t receive. It is just part of the experience. So, the question that hangs in the air. Do I cross a border? The stupid clock across the street taunts me.

Do you really have the time?

“Stupid f@#king clock and stupid f@#king metaphors” I say to the stupid f@#king pigeon at the side of the stupid f@#king road. The pigeon keeps pecking at the Tim Horton’s cup discarded ten feet from the garbage can. As I pick up the trash the pigeon takes flight landing on the timepiece to take a crap.

Back at the hotel, I call Record Theatre in Buffalo.

The additional titles I was looking for arrived but due to very busy nature of RSD they can’t say how many they have left, and certainly have no guarantees the titles will not be sold before my arrival. I’ve seen the pictures of RSD at Record Theatre. The lines are looooooooooong. If I could be near the front, it would be great, but arriving an hour after, or worse if the Peace Bridge has a big line, is not a positive prospect. Regardless, I text my former roommate to tell him I’ll be heading to Buffalo to look for some of the titles we missed out on. My wife looks at me with that “you’re seriously crossing the border!” look. The phone rings a few seconds later.

“I’m looking at Evan Dando’s Baby I’m Bored. It’s pricey but they have it.”

“What about Vic Chesnutt?”

He must have known it was my next question.

West of Rome?”

“Yeah.”

“In my hands if you need it.”

I take off the coat and place it on the bed. No border crossing this time. Then I realize, I have new records that have to sit 24 hours to be heard. Sitting in my ‘completely made for records backpack’ given to me for Christmas are records that have to wait.

In my mind, I scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” because, you know, one is not supposed to leave Robert Smith’s face contained in shrink wrap waiting for a turntable to spin on.

Despite my distance from home, it’s been another successful RSD.

A Parenting Lesson & the Vic Chesnutt reissues…

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It can be difficult to explain pain to people. Words wrapped in metaphors trying to communicate the signals of nerve endings setting your brain alight. Both physical and mental anguish causing a torment that it often seems no one can relate with. I’ve visited these worlds from time to time; laid in a hospital bed and stared at the ceiling with a morphine high; taken pain killers to merely dull the excruciating; ingested medications to keep you from being overwhelmed by the thoughts manufactured by the prescriptions given for the original injury. I was a fan of Vic Chesnutt before I really understood these things, but I found a whole new appreciation once a calcified disc had pierced my sciatic nerve.

Recovering, I spent a great deal of time with Chesnutt’s early catalogue. Hearing it as if for the first time. It had become a part of the soundtrack of that time in my life. Songs that could be depended upon to show up right when I needed a good cry or laugh. His songs had given my own screwed up existence a voice I could recognize.

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Driving through the east coast of Canada over a three-week trip, Drunk, West of Rome, and Is The Actor Happy were in constant rotation. At one point, I had to stop the car in Fundy National Park as a porcupine had decided to point its quilled ass in my direction. Just as Chesnutt sang those ever so visual lyrics from “Dodge” … “I showed my behind so frequently, my dear old mother wouldn’t recognise me” the damn beast pulled its ‘pedestrian right of way’ bullshit, giving me its own version of the middle finger salute. A few seconds up the road a moose gives us a completely ambivalent look as if telling us that this particular occurrence happens everyday. A kind of “get over it” gaze of communication. Fuckin’ nature! Get over yourself!

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Fast forward seventeen years and my first born says “you’ve had this band on a lot, who is it?”

“Artist. Vic Chesnutt.”

“You going to see him in concert?”

“No. That really isn’t possible anymore. He died around the same time as Grandma and Grumpa.”

“From cancer like them…”

Now, I’ll be honest with ya… I kinda suck at this whole parenting thing. My thirteen-year-old son is the most empathetic child I have ever met. Having worked with and around kids since I was one myself, I can say this without the interference of parental pride. He is a soul that feels things deeply, and this conversation can’t end well. So basically, I’m stuck. He’s thirteen. Old enough to find out about things on his own. Dilemma, do I use this as a teachable moment, or just let it pass. As I said, I do suck at this.

“No.”

“A disease?”

“Are you sure you want to keep asking?”

“Why?”

Sigh. “This conversation could go to places you don’t like.”

“Was it a disease.”

How exactly do you answer this? I’m not a therapist. My own father wasn’t exactly the model of ‘after school special/ Dad of the year/ or ‘Dawson’s Creek’ perfectly scripted answers.

“Yes, but not in the way you are thinking.”

“Then what?”

Not sure how long I stared at my toes before I replied. It felt like enough time to have studied and gotten a psychology degree, but as I looked up my son was still standing in front of me with polar bear pajamas and a determined look.

“He overdosed on prescribed medications. Most people believe he committed suicide.”

“But…”

He teared up. I teared up. My nine-year-old walked down the stairs, looked at us, scoffed, went back up the stairs and started building his next Lego battle.

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I began speaking. Or maybe it was stammering. Perhaps pleading. Somewhere in the mix of trying to find words I talked about depression, physical pain, Canadian vs US health care, debt and back to depression. You know what… not a bit of it sufficed.

“Isn’t it wrong to do that, you know, kill yourself?”

My head began to hurt. “I don’t have a good answer for that. Some people will hold up a Bible and tell you it is a sin. Others will talk about how selfish it is to hurt the people you love by ending your own life. Personally, I don’t buy into that. I believe that mental illness… depression; it takes away the hope you have for a good future. It only leaves you with the impression that your pain needs to end, and that you are a burden on those who suffer through it beside you.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”

“What?”

“The burden thing. Mommy pays for you to be home with us. You’re not a burden. So what if he owes money.”

“Part of being an adult is the desire to be self sustaining. That our own life should not impede or lower the people we care about.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! When Grandma and Grumpa got sick you moved and took care of them didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Were they a burden?”

“No. I was exactly where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be. However, they didn’t see it that way. Grandma saw me leave my family to take care of her and it really bugged her.”

“That’s what I mean, if you were sick I would want to be with you.”

“I understand that. But it would suck to need or ask for help. That is how depression works. You forget that people really want to be there for you. You don’t want to ask for help. You don’t want to hold people back from their own lives. You just want to end the pain.”

He thought on it for a while.

“Doesn’t his music make you sad now?”

“Some of it always did. Some of it makes me laugh, some of it makes me cringe, sometimes he can make me laugh and cry in the same song. But I’m not really answering your question, right.”

“Yep.”

“Since grade one, you’ve had friends that have moved away.”

“Yeah.”

“When you think of them do you only think of the fact that they’re gone, or do you think of the fun you had when they were here?”

“The fun.”

“A person shouldn’t be defined by how they died, but by how they lived. Vic Chesnutt was an artist who I really appreciated. His music means a lot to me. Look, I’m not great at talking about this. It sucks that he died, especially how he died. But I still love the music he gave us to enjoy. I don’t hear his death, I hear his voice.”

That thought gets left hanging, and it just doesn’t feel like it should end on this note.

“You know, when I play my battered up old 12 string.”

“The one you bought from a weird old guy, and is difficult to tune because the neck was broken.”

“Yeah. I think of Chesnutt every time I play it.”

He catches me on this and calls me out. “You said the same thing about that guy in The Lemons and Wilco, and that lady Victoria.”

“Yeah. And it’s all true. I think about all those people. It’s just that they all have a unique voice. Not singing style. It is an overall, way of phrasing ideas that connects with me. I love that old piece of crap guitar because it doesn’t sound like any other guitar I’ve heard from anyone. Sometimes when I play it, I feel a whole range of emotions. All of them, coming from different places and all moments I wish I could bottle and stay in a little longer than is actually possible. The music ends, and even when I try to play it again, it just isn’t the same. The music that I keep playing, and paying for, it does that too. Those artists… Vic Chesnutt… they help me find moments that connect to … I don’t know… connect to living. To not being alone. Sometimes you can find moments like that on your own, but other times, it’s great artists that pull out those moments and share them.”

“You’re sounding all weird Dad.”

“I suppose I am.”

Anyway. The Vic Chesnutt reissues have caused a bit of a stir in the house. So far, the three that have arrived sound absolutely perfect. My complaint, has nothing to do with the quality, but rather the shipping costs. Despite much lower priced options available, most companies still choose methods that can nearly double the transaction price. For some of my favorite records I went and purchased the coloured vinyl. However, others will have to wait until they become available at my local record store before I can purchase them. Essentially, shipping is pricing me out of the market. Seeing the chat rooms, I’m not the only one.

P.S. West Of Rome will be out on Record Store Day 2017… next week folks.

Circumstances & Connections: Music Memories or Vic Chesnutt – Drunk

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Fucked up beyond all recognition, I pace the floor wildly with pen in hand, scribbling indecipherable notes for a movie script I’m writing. Thirteen types of prescription medication, ten of which are treating my “so-called depression” (depression caused by the painkillers themselves) and three for the nearly severed sciatic nerve in my back (depression caused by the painkillers themselves). My thought processes are in all places at once, perhaps I’ve reached cosmic enlightenment, or maybe I’m just screwed. Vic Chesnutt is in the background singing “Supernatural” and I’m wondering how to incorporate my own scene of waking up in a hospital bed after surgery, with my push button for morphine drip in my arm and nothing else. That is to say, completely naked because apparently I’m a “bleeder.” I catch the lyrics “Out of body experience / I flew around the hospital room once / On intravenous Demerol / It weren’t supernatual” and I’m running for the rewind. Sure I had heard the song many times before, but a baker’s dozen of different coloured medication gives you a different perspective on what you’re hearing.

Several months later I’m detoxing from the one psychiatrist’s human experimentation by being in a hospital full of head shrinks. My boom box has Chesnutt singing “I tried to learn from the psychiatrist / how to stay calm and minimize risk / I should have kept all those appointments / I’m gonna need em / I’m coming disjointed” as I simultaneously weep and draw the now abandoned script idea.

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Listen now children – drugs are bad – getting off them – worse!

Still, Chesnutt keeps me grounded. Inspired. If he can get past all the shit and turn it into beautiful art; my penny ante crap should be a cinch.

A few weeks later, my wife and I are in sitting in our car at Fundy National Park having stopped for an odd little animal. This porcupine has its ass in the air threatening our Ford Contour with a face full of quills if we proceed. Vic is again providing the soundtrack. “I showed my behind so frequently / my dear old mother wouldn’t recognize me.” Sure it is entirely out of context, but my wife and I are in stitches at this little bit of coincidence.

2001 was pretty much the most challenging year I had faced in my adult life (up to that point anyway), but Vic Chesnutt and his album Drunk certainly made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my journey.

Thanks Vic, I hope you’ve found peace in whatever smoke filled dive you’re playing in the great beyond.

I Really Want This! Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams – Various Artists

 

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Back in ’93 I was given an album to review that became a best friend of sorts. Surprisingly it was a compilation record (which usually just don’t stand up due to inconsistency) of songs by an artist whose music was only known previously to musicians and music geeks, but it knocked me over. One song after another caught my imagination with vivid imagery and music that could be both morose and uplifting within the same moment. It was brilliant, which is something you usually can’t say for a record recorded by “various artists.” However, what holds it together is the artist to who the album was benefiting – Victoria Williams.

“My sister got bit by a copperhead snake in the woods behind the house” is the first line that pops out the old speakers as Soul Asylum breaks into “Summer Of Drugs” and I as listener was hooked. By the time Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) sings “Frying Pan” I’ve decided I want to play guitar.  By the conclusion I’m looking for a bullhorn so I can tell any and everyone within earshot that they have to listen and buy this record. Williams’ songs are so detailed in character that songs feel like you’ve both read an exceptional short story and listened to a new musical experience. Despite the different styles of the various artists performing the songs, the original vision of the songwriter herself remains potent and shines through any genre leaping in the album itself.

If you don’t know the story, Williams star was on the rise when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Having been bogged down with debt from increasing medical bills a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt rock and beyond joined forces to help her and others out. The Sweet Relief Charity Fund was set up to help musicians in need of expensive health care.

More than 20 years have gone by and Pearl Jam is still playing their contribution “Crazy Mary” live, and my CD still has a home within twelve inches of the stereo. So, you can see my love for this record runs deep, and I want a vinyl copy… I just didn’t think that one actually existed. That is until the other day when I just started putting album titles into the discogs search engine and… oh my, it exists. But damn… only in European used stores that would raise the price with shipping to over a hundred bucks.

So, I hope that it gets re-issued on vinyl eventually or that the ghost of Ed McMahon shows up at my door with an oversized check.

Sweet Relief can still be purchased at your better record stores on CD and has two follow up LP’s.

Sweet Relief II: Gravity Of The Situation – The Songs Of Vic Chesnutt

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And

Sweet Relief III: Pennies From Heaven

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Check them out, give ‘em a listen, and maybe you’ll want to drop a few dollars to a worthy cause.

P.S. – Here’s a video of Victoria Williams covering the great Sam Cooke

 

Driven to Far: An Autobiographical Music Review – Dark Night of the Soul – Sparklehorse & Danger Mouse

Driving

I suppose I could have added up the kilometres, but that information wasn’t relevant.

Distance

Doesn’t have a goddamn thing to do with how far you have travelled.

Locked in thoughts of where you were and where you’re going without the benefit of perspective. Each moment passing without the ability to reflect on it, because time passes and you can’t grasp it. Words linger without being able to wrestle them to the ground and beat them for information.

Instead there is only me, the kilometres and the music I’ve chosen to spend my time with.

Driving back and forth through snowstorms, Mark Linkous sings “When you raise your head from your pillow don’t delay / Because people decay / Will you let the rays of the sun help you along / I woke up and all my yesterdays were gone.” I might have a tear. It depends on which day; which snowstorm; they kinda blend together like the snow as it settles on the ground.

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December 24, 2009 is the last Christmas I have with my parents. It isn’t pleasant. Sick people don’t make for good company… and by this time we’re all sick. They have cancer – I have depression. Everyone else is just sick with worry. None of us know yet.

Dark Night of the Soul is playing in the car on the ride home – another snow storm. Vic Chesnutt is singing “What went on in my horrible dream / I was peering in through the picture window / It was a heart-warming tableau / Like a Norman Rockwell painting / Until I zoomed in / I was making noises in my sleep / But you wouldn’t believe me when I told ya / That I wasn’t with someone in my dream / Catfish were wriggling in blood and gore in the kitchen sink / Yeah, I told ya / I told ya / I told you / Now sweetie, promise me / That you won’t sing /This sad song, grim augury.”

On boxing day, as I drive alone towards my parents house I hear of Chesnutt’s death. He took a bunch of muscle relaxants on Christmas Day and never came back. Some tears hit me and I’m not sure if they are for me or him. He was such an awesome songwriter.

New Year’s eve, my parents are both being taken from their home by ambulance. My mom needs surgery, my father can’t take care of himself and I can’t be with both at the same time. Separate rooms in palliative care two hours away from me. Peterborough – nice city, full of shitty memories. I’ve grown to hate Highway 115/35.

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Frank Black is screaming “I’m pluckin’ all day on my angel’s harp / Shoutin’ at the rising moon / Knowin’ that I will soon stay” and I’m driving in another snowstorm… following an ambulance from Peterborough to Toronto. Cars are sliding around, but I take my time, life has handed me enough drama, it doesn’t need me to create more by being an idiot.

After the surgery my mom is in and out of consciousness, sometimes doing well and sometimes not; talking to doctors about my parents is like watching a yo-yo go up and down without any tricks.

Iggy Pop sings “A massive headache in my aging skull / Means I do not feel well / Pain, pain, pain / Bad brains must always feel pain.” Maybe, but I’ve got a steady diet of pain killers and muscle relaxants to keep that shit at bay. There are too many places to be and I‘m never in the right place.

She died. My mom. I don’t know what I was listening to when I found out. I was five minutes from the hospital in another fuckin’ snowstorm. And after, I was alone in the parking lot, distraught, destroyed, and I don’t remember what I was hearing or seeing.

February turned to March, and there was more snow and more trips and the doctors and nurses knew me by name and the Black Keys, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash had joined the soundtrack of my trip along with Dark Night of the Soul. Two days before my father died Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) shot himself.

“Our souls / Time slippin’ by / I call out your pain / All alone / Shadows movin’ / Shadows movin’ / Shadows have long gone by / Dark night of the soul”… words, they haunt you more if you place them into your own context. They take on meanings that the writer never had. I slip further in thought.

Like Chesnutt, Linkous music had meant a lot to me. It had seen me through some good and bad times… and there should have been more. Both had put out an amazing repertoire of tunes and suddenly – like my parents, they were gone.

When the hell everything turned to shit I don’t know, but when my mourning turned into a full out depression, I got help. That was four years ago.

“Daddy’s Gone” spins on the turntable. A tear drops. Not for my parents… it’s for my kids. Cancer doesn’t just rob the sick of life; it steals time from the living; it steals focus away from happiness and places it squarely in survival mode. Caregivers and their families endure but those too young to understand see smiles slip away when heads turn from their eyes to look upon the photos on the wall. Funny, was I just describing cancer or depression?

Every few months I listen to this record and it takes me to places to important to forget. The emotional resonance just pulls me in and washes over me. Then, for a short time, I mourn again, and then I move on.