Seeing Black

Lucinda Williams can be hard to listen to sometimes. She writes about real life, life so real it doesn’t belong in the world of entertainment. There are things that even songwriters, novelists and poets have a hard time confronting head-on, and those are people whose business is to confront the human condition. It’s also their job to make the human condition bearable, and some things just can’t ever be made bearable. Suicide is one of those things. Sure, there’s a lot of songs and poetry about suicide, books and Netflix shows about it, paintings of Ophelia looking luminous in her watery grave. Which just goes to show that there is literally nothing in the world too ugly to be turned into an Instagram aesthetic. But that’s just posturing, not real life. Real life tragedy burns a ragged hole in the people who experience it, right down to the soul. That’s something we like to avert our eyes from, not seek to be entertained by. It’s something only the most fearless artists dare to confront, and what they come up with isn’t really ‘entertainment’. More like collective therapy, personal catharsis, a lesson of some kind, a moment of empathy and recognition. The real experience of grief makes art that can’t be mistaken for exploitation or romanticized posturing. Lucinda wrote this song for the singer-songwriter Vic Chestnutt, who died by suicide partly because (and it will always be partly and it’s always conjecture, and we’ll never truly ever know these things) he could not, even as a relatively well-known and successful musician, afford the medical care he needed as a disabled person.

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