Tag Archives: Fresh Air

US health industry tells Vic to snuff it

vic chestnutVic Chesnutt took his own life on Christmas Day. By coincidence, he’d just given an upbeat interview to NPR’s Fresh Air in spite of an ongoing battle with his health care providers. The segment seemed to pierce the celebrity veil we imagine insulates our talent castes from the worries of everyman. When he died, I reflected on the interview. I was reluctant to mar a eulogy with the villainy of the US medical system — but then NPR re-aired the piece, en memoriam, minus the damning testimony. They added in its place a remembrance by three colleagues who concluded: “To say poor health care killed Vic Chesnutt would be very reductive.”

Reductive? These corporate musicians, at the behest of NPR, have to throw an artisan spin on Vic Chesnutt’s legacy because his art should transcend his mortality?! Vic’s art, real art, is about mortality. Vic’s death was real and the anxiety he expressed in his interview was real. He hadn’t chosen to keep his troubles to himself for the sake of the listeners’ seamless pleasurable enjoyment. Who are these commercial artists to mute Vic’s story? It made me sick.

Others wonder aloud why Vic’s rich musician friends couldn’t have offered to pay for the medical procedures he needed. Perhaps they did, who knows. And perhaps their concern not to be “reductive” was extracted from a much longer session where Vic Chesnutt’s struggles were discussed at length.

Vic’s talent may not have been lost on these would-be eulogists, but we can’t fault them for not being artist spirits enough themselves to know how to shepherd an honest narrative about Vic.

I point my finger at NPR for the rewrite, and I’ll take issue with one of the musicians. At a wake, there’s always someone who uses the opportunity for self-promotion, and at this one it was REM’s Michael Stipe. He discovered Vic Chesnutt, let’s get that out of the way. Michael’s remembrance of Vic was an anecdote about a lyric he thought he’d stolen from Vic. It was so good, he must have stolen it. Stipe was so honest, he called Vic to confess. Vic’s response was gracious, no it’s yours. Stipe insisted, and so did Vic. Such was Vic’s grace, and so elevated was Stipe’s regard for Vic, and evidently so great is Stipe’s humility and –in the end it turns out by Vic’s own lips– his genius. He transcended his master. Much of the draw of coattail opportunism at funerals is that dead men tell no tales.

NPR’s problem, and shall we imagine, the problem of its underwriters, the major health insurers, was that Vic Chesnutt killed himself right after telling an NPR audience he could succumb any day for lack of proper medical care. Chesnutt died from an overdose of pain killers, which raised the disquieting suggestion to listeners that he lived in a lot of pain. Sure Chesnutt had attempted suicide before. He’d written a love song to suicide. The trouble was, he declared in his interview that “Flirted with You All My Life” was a break-up song with death. “I don’t want to die” Chesnutt exclaimed most earnestly.

While our nation’s health insurers have been content to let the common sick extinguish themselves by attrition, their PR crews come to the rescue of high profile victims, usually the focus of mass protests, even if they come late. Vic Chesnutt had given them no time, between the airing of his interview, and his Christmas day demise.

To listeners who heard the first airing, especially ones who might never have heard of Vic, the tragedy of this internationally renown artists being unable to get health care was a climax. It was a moment when entertainment rang dissonant.

For the rewrite, Terry Gross removed the critical segment, leaving the focus on Chesnutt’s earlier suicide attempts. Gross sounded like an insurance interrogator the way she made Chesnutt clarify that his first attempted suicide was actually before his debilitating accident, before health issues would have been a motivation. I would like to see Gross dissect her guests’ responses with such scrutiny, I wonder why she began with Vic.

Thus the rewritten interview became an indictment of Vic Chesnutt’s propensity to self-destruct. Forget narrowing Vic to health care failure, Terry reduced him to habitual suicide. The character assassination continued by next highlighting his song “I’m a Coward.”

In place of the dramatic, redemptive climax, Gross interviewed Michael Stipe, Guy Picciotto and Jem Cohen. Just before wrapping up, Gross raised the issue of Vic’s health care. All agreed the system failed him, but their pre-discussion consensus was not to be “reductive.”

As if the songwriter’s legacy wasn’t going to speak for his whole. Here his colleagues were concerned that their characterization of his death would define him. If Vic had died mid-song, would there have been a need to say his life wasn’t just about that song?

Little did they suspect that NPR would “reduce” Chesnutt however they wanted. Once again where Vic Chesnutt’s sentiment connected with his audience, the industry hovered to intercept.

If you didn’t catch Chesnutt’s original interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, here’s how it ended:

GROSS: I read that you’re in debt like $50,000 because of health insurance issues.

Mr. CHESNUTT: That’s right.

GROSS: So – and this is because you had a series of surgeries and although you pay a lot for your health insurance, it didn’t cover all of it. Is that – do I have that right?

Mr. CHESNUTT: That’s exactly true, yeah.

GROSS: Uh-huh. So, what are your thoughts now as you watch the health care legislation controversy play out?

Mr. CHESNUTT: Well, I have been amazed and confused by the health care debate. We need health care reform. There is no doubt about it, we really need health care reform in this country. Because it’s absurd that somebody like me has to pay so much, it’s just too expensive in this country. It’s just ridiculously expensive. That they can take my house away for kidney stone operation is -that’s absurd.

GROSS: Is that what you’re facing the possibility of now?

Mr. CHESNUTT: Yeah. I mean, it could – I’m not sure exactly. I mean, I don’t have cash money to pay these people. I tried to pay them. I tried to make payments and then they finally ended up saying, no, you have to pay us in full now. And so, you know, I’m not sure what exactly my options are. I just – I really – you know, my feeling is that I think they’ve been paid, they’ve already been paid $100,000 from my insurance company. That seems like plenty. I mean, this would pay for like five or six of these operations in any other country in the world. You know, it affects – I mean, right now I need another surgery and I’ve putting it off for a year because I can’t afford it. And that’s absurd, I think.

I mean, I could actually lose a kidney. And, I mean, I could die only because I cannot afford to go in there again. I don’t want to die, especially just because of I don’t have enough money to go in the hospital. But that’s the reality of it. You know, I have a preexisting condition, my quadriplegia, and I can’t get health insurance.

GROSS: Is it true you can’t get good health insurance?

Mr. CHESNUTT: I can’t get – I’m uninsurable. The only reason I have any insurance now is because I was on Capitol Records for a while. And I had excellent health insurance there. And then when I got dropped from Capitol, I Cobra’d my insurance for as long as it was legally possible. And then – and which was insanely expensive to cobra this very nice insurance. And then, when that ran out, the insurance company said they could offer me one last thing and that is hospitalization. It only covers hospital bills. That’s all it covers. And it’s still $500 a month. So, it doesn’t pay for my drugs, my doctors or anything like that. All it pays for is hospitalization. And yet, I still owe all this money on top of that.

GROSS: Wow. Well, I wish you the best with your health and your music. And I really want to thank you–

Mr. CHESNUTT: Thank you.

GROSS: –a lot for talking with us.

Mr. CHESNUTT: Oh, I’m honored, honored beyond belief.

Election year 9/11 Kool-aid inoculation

Why is it that people who want to re-investigate the official 9/11 account are thought to be dragging their heels in the past, but publishing industry flag-wavers can trot out the orthodox 9/11 dogma every election cycle to repave America’s jack-boot stay-the-course resolve?
Pentagon hit by something smaller than a jet plane

This week it’s Firefight, a book about the firefighting aspect of the still-veiled 9/11 attack on the Pentagon which destroyed Department of Defense offices which contained, of all darned things, their budget data. NPR’s Fresh Air featured an interview of the Firestorm co-authors, one of them a volunteer firefighter and Iraq veteran, with nary a question about the peculiarities of the Pentagon disaster, but plenty of evocative details. Jet fuel, plenty of it, spreading all over the roof, etc, etc. with nothing of bodies, aircraft parts, or unbroken glass, un-scorched lawns, no etcetera.

If I was a too-devious-for-my-own-good Neocon stink-tank thinkee at Presidio Press, I’d concentrate on a detail to make this story recall the audience’s own false-memory of the event. Being so clever I’d know that the most powerful memory trigger is smell. But how to reference a smell if everyone’s experience was primarily through television visuals -not even that, actually? Perhaps the suggestive power of radio could evoke the illusion of smell if enough radio land characters were to belabor its significance…

For the Pentagon story in Firefight, that detail would be “horse hair” in the ceiling insulation. Not only was this apparently a striking memory for the firefighters, but interviewer Terry Gross reaffirmed that America’s 2001 media audience had fixated on the curious detail as well. Had you?

Oddly today the subject didn’t lead to explanations about the use of horse hair insulation, or the impediment it might have created for firefighting. Nope, just the smell. On top, added the co-author, of the smell of all that jet-fuel don’t you know. Of course.

They’re hoping for our sense of smell-memory to kick in, because of course our sight-memory wasn’t there either. We have only print-news accounts to go by, the still photos themselves dispute the official story.

But there was video we didn’t see, and haven’t yet seen.

The book begins with a reference to the adjacent Citgo gas station, but not its cameras. Why did federal agents immediately confiscate all security camera video that had captured the incident and subsequently release only a couple seconds of footage that actually shows nothing? If an American readership is sought for this new book, by guys who’ve taken this long to do the research, would there be no interest in answering the predominant curiosity out there? Was it a jet that pierced the Pentagon?

The Firefight book is re-writing the emerging 9/11 narrative, re-branding, re-imprinting the 9/11 mythology for the election year John McCain Neocon reelection.

The reason for the timing of this coincidental to election year publication was that one of the authors was waylaid by a couple deployments to Iraq. Wonderful! An alibi AND a not-unsubtle tying of 9/11 to Iraq. Host Terry Gross preempted listener skepticism by asking what the soldier author thought of what’s been shown to be a debunked linking of Saddam Hussein to 9/11. His answer of course, a soldier’s duty to his nation’s call, regardless the leadership’s methods.

Throw in the author’s IED head-trauma injury that has left his memory impaired. Now he’s a wounded vet, deserving of our patronage, and his personally responsibility to these 9/11 untruths will be inoculated from the eventual debunking of this treasonous 9/11 lie.

What a thoroughly wrapped package! Unfortunately for the clever stinkers a not inconsiderable portion of the American public believe the Pentagon was hit by a missile, and their smell-memory is of fish.

Global South evangelism

Viewed from MexicoThe Global South. There’s an interesting term. I heard it bandied about on the radio yesterday. What a brilliant glimpse of the parochial drive to globalize, to convince us and all to be global citizens. “South” to whom, developed nations? The “southern” climes which struggle perpetually to develop are the tropical zones between the northern and southern hemispheres. They’re not south of Australia, for example, or Argentina. We live on a spinning marble, let’s remember. No one’s on top. Americans have accepted international where we used to say foreign. “Global South” is about as xenophobic as overseas, with condescension thrown in.

In Carlos Fentes’ The Old Gringo, a fictional account of Ambrose Bierce’s last days following the Zapata revolution in Mexico, the aging writer encounters Poncho Villa. Behind Villa’s men on a front porch hangs a map of North America, upside down. When Bierce points this out, the Mexican fighter explains that whether Mexico is viewed as above or below Los Estados Unidos is of course a matter of perspective.

The context in which I heard a Global South being discussed on NPR’s Fresh Air was on the matter of religion. The warmer countries are practicing a more durable form of Christianity apparently. They are an example, it was insinuated, of which traditional developed-nation Christians must take heed. That was the pitch.

The scare? The darkies will usurp our northern moral authority. “Will the next pope be from the Global South,” an incredulous Terry Gross asked? It’s not even a question was the reply. With their overwhelming preponderance of Catholics, the Global South will elect popes of color for as far as we can see. That was not even an answer, if you were paying attention, and clever. Otherwise how to explain a Catholic Church already vastly Latin American electing a German ex-Nazi to popehood?

I hope I’m not also contributing to the condescending tone by suggesting that the tropics offer mankind not much in the Christianity department. Spirituality yes, especially as it might be tied to nature and man’s quest to transcend his basic and collective nature, but self-reflection on printed texts? I think that’s been best left to the colder climes which necessitate industriousness and passing the time indoors reading.

I mean in no way to disparage religion as it’s practiced where it is needed. But to insinuate that a prayer spoken in a precarious environment should put our well-fed congregations to shame is manipulative and base.

Maybe of course we are being prepared for the global economy, the new downsized everybody. No health care, reduced social services, reduced community wealth. Iraqification. The New World Order is a Third World Order. Get ready for Global South uncertainty, anxiety, fragility, mortality and a faith with which to endure it.

The religious example with which NPR was trying to inspire its listeners was made clear by this incredible question: “Is the Global South mainly Evangelical?” The non-answer was again a misleading confirmation. “We should avoid trying to analyze the Global South in northern terms.” Exactly. Different parlance for different folks, my thesis entirely.

And Terry, over half of the world’s Christians are Catholic. The percentage is even higher in the tropics. Evangelicals garner but a fraction. Yours was what’s called a loaded question. So, are most NBA stars rapists? Very hard to say in white men terms probably.