Vic Chestnutt is Day-ead

            On Christmas day Vic Chestnutt, my brother Phil’s favorite songwriter and performer, died from the effects of an intentional drug overdose taken two days earlier.  Chestnutt had considered suicide a number of times.  In an interview in November, he told NPR (National Public Radio) “I’ve flirted with death my whole life.”  In 1983 at the age of 18 and driving drunk, he crashed his car and as a result became an incomplete quadriplegic, unable to walk, with only partial feeling and ability to move his limbs.

            A musician before the accident, Chestnutt became a serious one after.  Somehow, with virtually no ability to move his fingers and arms he re-learned how to play guitar chords – “I just figured out how to do it.”  With his lungs and diaphragm also affected, Chestnutt developed a haunting musical style using only chords.  His voice, songs and lyrics were guttural, emotional and ethereal. 

            Chestnutt had many health issues and surgeries, often related to the accident.  He could not obtain health insurance because of his “pre-existing condition” – his recording and songwriting income drained away to the medical profession.  A recent $100,000 gall bladder surgery left him deeply in debt, needing additional surgery and about to lose his house.

            Vic Chestnutt’s death tore my brother apart.  My brother Phil may have been the first “hippie” resident of Kansas.  If not, he was in the first wave.  Phil is an intelligent, emotional free thinker who straddles the political chasm between libertarianism and liberalism.  I love him.  These are Phil’s words:

vic chesnutt was my favorite living singer/songwriter. his songs ran the
gamut, hard core metaphysical angst to lullaby. he grew up in georgia
and added syllables to his words just like pop, my grandaddy.
dead would pronounced as "day-ead"
vic is day-ead. he ate over 100 muscle relaxant pills. he killed himself.

now both of my most cherished musician, thinker, poet, entertainer,
composer, singer songwriters are lost. vic and frank zappa.

[Upon learning of his death]... i told madelyn that i was going to go down stairs and listen
to vics interview with terri gross on podcast. (from earlier this month) back before he left us.
she declined to join me.
i took a bottle of wine with me.

in that interview vic talked about, among other things, his suicide
attempts and his debt. none of the canadians he had recently been collaborating with on the "after the cut" album could believe that this man was about to lose his house because he got sick.

so i listened (again) to the interview i'd heard such a short time ago,

i balled and wailed and threw a fit, hit the door (with enough restraint
that i didn't break the door, or my hand) frightened the dogs, repulsed
my wife.

i don't usually do grief as full tilt as this, but this is how i took it
when the amerikan health care system, based in greed, killed vic chesnutt day-ead.


I have attached a link to NPR’s tribute to Vic Chestnutt after his death, should you want to listen to the man and his music - the man who my brother loved.


Photo of my brother Phil with a friend.  Phil is the one with the red shirt and denim bibs.



The Most Literary Poetic Rock Album (CD) of 2009

This just in – with 83% of the precincts reporting, we are ready to declare a winner.  The winner of the Most Poetic Literary Rock Album (CD) of 2009 goes to…

The Airborne Toxic Event.  Their self-titled debut album musically sounds competent and invigorating.  The vocals are often angst-filled and always forceful.  But, the album outshines others with the fine poetry of its lyrics.  One could just pull out their evocative lyrics, read them and be moved.  Combined with Event’s delivery this album stirs emotions.  Well crafted songs like “Gasoline,” “Missy” and “Wishing Well” would taste fine without listening to the words, but with them, they become a feast.  

When I first heard their rough ballad of lost love, “Sometime after Midnight,” I was wrenched back to a long-ago college night at the Draught House in Lawrence, Kansas.  Did they write this song specifically for me?   The song inspired me to write this poem.  Please keep in mind that I am inspired to write poetry about once every other decade and if you read any further you will understand that my infrequent twenty year inspirational cycle is a good thing. 

 Forty Years After 

After forty years you still remember.

So much from then fades away,

lost forever,

but not her.


Are you the only one who carries

the weight of your first love,

drags it along with you,

at times a burden,

at times as light as a snowflake,

at times a sweet ache that feels

almost as if you just dropped her off

minutes before curfew?


Do others still feel the flash of memory

that comes unbidden,

that brings with it a faint smile

or a near tears quivery chin?

How could something so long ago

still touch places meant for here and now?


You touch the memory

of your love that would never end,

and the gut-grabbing end of hers

for you as if it were yesterday.   


You still think of her,

where she may be,

what she does

and how she lives.

Does she still remember

like you do?

Can she still feel

the pain

and the joy

like you do?


Two Coyotes

                 At dusk, exactly a week before Christmas two coyotes showed up in our east pasture.  The pack lives in the woods nearby and we listen to their songs at night.  They grace us with their odd harmonies several times each month, and often our dogs join in.  Quantrill and Sheba have passably good voices and one might wonder if their ancestry may be closely linked with their woodland brethren.

                We have large windows in the family room that overlook the hay and horse pastures.  As we began fixing dinner a dishwater blond coyote followed by a brindle one traipsed out of the woods and through the hayfield.  Near the middle of our hay pasture a plastic grocery sack had been stuck in the brome for about a week.  The coyotes approached.  The coyote streaked with black sniffed at the bag and a gust of wind stirred it, causing the white plastic to puff up like a balloon.  Both coyotes started.  One actually leaped backwards into the air.  As the bag settled, the two warily crept closer.  Within a minute or two both coyotes were playing with the bag, sticking their heads in it and tossing it into the air with their noses.  We laughed at their fun and brought out the binoculars for a closer look.

                In the adjacent horse pasture, our mare and two geldings had stopped feeding at the hay ring and were enjoying the show.  Before long the coyotes grew tired of nosing the bag.  They loped over to the fence about thirty yards from where our horses stood watching.  As the coyotes slipped through the fence, Pepper, our alpha male herd boss fearlessly drew near them.  My wife, Nancy, and I observed Pepper’s approach, battling each other for the binoculars.  Pepper stopped and bent his head as if he was gathering in their scent.  The golden brown coyote warily stepped toward him.  Our gelding shook his head and the coyotes retreated to the fence.

                Pepper either lost interest or determined these coyotes showed the proper reticence.  Or perhaps his hunger once again became his primary precedent and he returned to the hay ring.  The coyotes gradually moved into the pasture following Pepper, keeping their distance.  For the next twenty minutes the horses fed at the hay ring while the coyotes searched the immediate area for field mice or voles or whatever little critters they eat.  Each species kept their eye on the other yet displayed tolerance and a willingness to coexist in close proximity.

                What went through their minds?  Our horses are used to the family dogs in their domain; did they think of these coyotes as simply a pair of strange dogs?  Horses must realize that they have a height advantage and a thousand pounds on a coyote.  Did they see any threat at all, or only a vague curiosity?  The coyotes, on the other hand, were harder to fathom.  They were out of their territory, outnumbered and outsized.  Yet for some reason they ventured into a strange place.  Why?  Were they sent by the pack to reconnoiter?  Bored and on a walkabout? 

Coyotes have always intrigued me.  They live among us here in the country, often heard yet rarely seen.  They are so dog-like that one almost feels they could be approached and pet.  They kill and eat flesh, but know better than to mess with horses and cattle.  Coyotes band together in extended families and possess many admirable familial qualities.  What makes them tick?  And how close to them genetically and behaviorally are the dogs asleep on my family room carpet?  Are the differences intrinsic, a genetic code?   Or might it mostly be environment and upbringing?  How different would a coyote raised as a family pet behave?  Such questions ricochet around in my head whenever I see these comically intriguing creatures or hear them live-in-concert at night.  


On Blowing My Personal Carbon

My book’s title, Blowing Carbon, comes from growing up in the muscle car era of the 1960s.  A teenage male’s self-esteem, his social standing and his ability to connect with members of the fairer sex depended in no small degree on what he drove.  Cars back then were carbureted – no electronic fuel injection – and emission controls were non-existent or in their infancy.  Gas was leaded and rot-gut cheap.  Engines bore glamorous cubic-inched names like 327, 393 Hemi, 409 and 427.  Cars were fast and rubber was laid with carefree abandon.  Car engines of the era experienced carbon build-up that could be cleansed by “blowing out the carbon.” 

 Maybe blowing carbon had no significant effect on real carbon build up.  And possibly blowing carbon became solely a teenage tribal ritual complete with a ritual significance like crossing one’s self or saying the pledge of allegiance.  The process of removing carbon that clogged engines – that robbed them of their vim and vitality – involved rapid acceleration and high speeds.  The proper figurative ritual genuflection called for peeling out, tires screeching, and rapping one’s 327 or 409 up to excessive speeds as quickly as the engine would allow.  The blowing carbon legend dictated that such a process expelled the excess carbon build-up and kept one’s engine clean and running trouble free.  Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t. 

 The short story “Blowing Carbon,” for which the book was named was the first story I wrote that won an award, a Literacy Award from the Ozark Creative Writers.  It is a story of forgiveness in which a woman from a dysfunctional family learns to forgive her parents.  Just as her father once blew the carbon out of his Mustang, she determines to blow out her own carbon-fouled grudges and animosities held against her parents. 

 In a way writing is like blowing carbon for me.  Growing up as a Kline/Davis male provided me with copious daily examples of our family’s emotionless men.  We keep our cool – cucumber cool.  We don’t get angry.  We don’t get sad, and Heaven forbid we should ever shed tears.  We define “even keel.”  Maintaining such a lifestyle allows for considerable emotional carbon build up.  Writing, for me, provides a vehicle to step away from that man I have become.  Everything that I ever wanted to say but couldn't, all of the thoughts I keep to myself, all are fair game when I write.  Writing blows my carbon and cleans my carburator.  Writing brings back the vim and vigor, and maybe, just maybe, changes me ever so incrementally

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