odd time signatures

Vic Chesnutt: Free of Hope

At 18, Vic Chesnutt drove drunk. That choice consigned him to a future in a wheelchair with limited use of his hands and arms, but with a powerful voice which rang strong until December 23rd. On that night, Vic Chesnutt opened a bottle of muscle relaxants and swallowed them all.

He died on Christmas Day.

It was no secret that he was stressed and depressed by his medical bills, by the prospect of not getting treatment he needed because he couldn’t afford it, by feeling as though he was facing insurmountable physical, financial and emotional challenges.

But there’s an albatross that follows Chesnutt from the door of his home to every show he plays. Though he’s currently insured, an accumulating stream of nearly $70,000 worth of unpaid hospital bills is threatening to swallow much of his livelihood as a songwriter. It’s left him in an unprecedented condition — one where he’s at a loss for words.

“I’m not too eloquent talking about these things,” Chesnutt said. “I was making payments, but I can’t anymore and I really have no idea what I’m going to do. It seems absurd they can charge this much. When I think about all this, it gets me so furious. I could die tomorrow because of other operations I need that I can’t afford. I could die any day now, but I don’t want to pay them another nickel.”

Those feelings are deeply ingrained in “At the Cut,” where almost every song offers at least a sideways glance at creeping mortality. Take, for instance, “Flirted With You All My Life,” an incandescent country tune that’s a kind of a breakup letter to Chesnutt’s own thoughts of ending his life.

To all of those who want to keep telling me how much health care reform sucks, I say:

Tell it to Vic Chesnutt’s family and friends. Tell them how different it might have been for him not to have been excluded from coverage because he was stupid at age 18 and now is uninsurable. Tell them how much it would have sucked for him to pay next to nothing for the security of knowing he wouldn’t be $70,000 in debt.

When the critics, showstoppers and billkillers cry out about how burdensome it might be to take on $100/month to sleep at night (or $300/month in our family’s case), to end the incessant ringing of the telephone and the midnight hunts for change that fell into the sofa to make up the difference between buying a dozen eggs and medications or just medications…

I want to scream. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but I’ll try again in the hopes that someone will hear me this time:

Ending discrimination against the sick, disabled, and infirm in our society is REFORM, folks. Period.

Having help from the government to pay for insurance coverage so we can actually get health care without losing it all is REFORM. PROGRESSIVE REFORM.

To all of you who cry “Sellout! Obama’s a sellout!”, I say this:

For sixty years Presidents have sought an end to medical discrimination. Had Ted Kennedy been more of a “sellout” in 1974, we might have single payer today. Had Bill Clinton been more of a “sellout” in 1994, we might be debating single payer today.

Had Barack Obama been uncompromising, Vic Chesnutt would have been the first of many to free themselves of the “hope” of serving in bondage to medical bills for the rest of their lives.

This issue hits near and dear to me. As the mother of a musician who will have two chronic conditions for the rest of his life, I can see into a crystal ball and call the future for him.

One future would have meant abandoning his gifts and his dreams to work for a corporation that would have covered him on their group insurance. The same corporations, by the way, that purists rail against.

The other future is one where he can remain a self-employed musician, pursue his dream, make music to calm and inspire, to energize and to relax, to gift others with his gifts, and teach and inspire other young musicians to greater heights without fearing total loss of everything he’s worked for, or selling his drums to pay for his meds.

Those seeking to undermine and minimize the significant reforms we now will have to our health care system should first count to 60, and tell me how we got there via a different path. Then they should face Vic Chesnutt’s family and friends, and then they can come explain it to me face to face.

It’s awfully pretty theory, you know. The theory of the pure, the attraction to the perfect. It’s lovely, until you find yourself face down in a gutter with dirt being piled on your back, creditors gnawing at every waking moment, and still…you are not well. You are not healthy, and you have no real prospect to get healthy because the doors to the system we have right now do not welcome those who are ill, but only those who are not ill.

All of a sudden theory turns to the stone of reality, and in Vic Chesnutt’s case, he was freed of hope. May he be the last to be so afflicted, and may he rest in peace. All my sympathy goes out to his family and friends.

I invite all of the pursuers of purity to take a moment of silence to remember the rest of us in the dirty ditch called reality.

free of hope
free of the past
thank you God of Nothing
I’m free at last

free of hope
free of the past
thank you God of Nothing
I’m free at last
I’m free at last
I’m free, free at last

Postscript here: “…he was in the middle of a desperate search for help. The system failed to provide it.” Systems are people, and governments, and people and community. Community. Yet it seems that community in these modern times does not extend to actually helping. Only judging. At least, that’s what I read in the commentary.

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