12/09/2014 05:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Of Suicide & Sublimity

Note: The content of this post may be sensitive for some readers.

To understand this session, you should first know this: In July of 2013, I drove to the Walmart Super Center in Sault Ste. Marie, MI and purchased a $550 Mossberg tactical shotgun with the intention of ending my life. As is their (failsafe) policy, I was chaperoned out of the store by a fledgling cashier with the gun's blue and yellow-striped box under my arm. It was early evening, the sun a butterscotch in slow dissolve above the Kewadin Casino, the Taco Bell, and the few gulls picking at paper cabbages in the store's lot. I loaded the package into my car and drove MI-129 south to Hessel, MI past flagging pinewood barns and the Pickford high football field, then stowed it in my boat and drove to my parent's island cottage where I had been staying alone. I have always despised guns, and up until unpacking it in the cottage that evening, had never laid a finger on one in my life. The implement was stout, matte black--un-glossed and heavy like the oblivion that ushered its purchase. I took it down to the dock, the sky a pastel ambivalence over Lake Huron, sat in a chair, fumbled with it, cried, called my mother, emailed my psychologist, and finally, fell asleep on the couch eating SmartPop. In the morning, I nailed an old pizza box to a cedar out back and, for the first time, shot a firearm. I was weak; sick with an anguish that would lead me to another similar incident, a clinic, and subsequently my parent's couch.


I emerged from this, all said, 22-month hell this May vowing to refuse the darkness and press on with my mission of making and proliferating art. Though this may all sound like self-indulgent, confessionalist tripe--it is--there is a point. This summer, I invited eight musicians and one very talented filmmaker named Christopher DeSanty up to the same cottage--where I had, a year prior, flirted with forever--in order to film a documentary and four "Les Cheneaux Sessions" in an attempt to explore imagination, landscape, and the act of creation in one triumphal stab at redemption. It worked--the weekend turned out to be the most sublime and affirming experience of my life, one well worth sticking around for. The first of these four Les Cheneaux sessions was released today (see below), and I am compelled to say a word about the band it features.

Two albums were instrumental in my recovery: Bill Callahan's 2009 record Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle and The Hand in the Ocean's 2013 offering Trees/Forts. I don't know Callahan, so I invited The Hand in the Ocean up north as a very formidable second option. This trio from Detroit is pure, untainted; they play because they love it, and they're damn good. Lead singer Nate Tapling's tremulous, urgent vocals initiated my obsession with the album, an obsession that has since been sustained by the intricate, nuanced banjo and guitar work, the band's mercurial tonal shifts, and lyrics that deal very much with coaxing beauty from the blackness. To watch these guys play in the sun-striped cedar forest near my cottage was distinctively blissful for me. I sat with my back against that same shot-up cedar drinking a Cotes du Rhone straight from the bottle and just got lost in the clean truth that they were. It was a kind of heaven. It was life. I'm glad to be here, and to be able to share this first Les Cheneaux session with you here.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.