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Coma chameleon
Seth Putnamís near-death experience
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Seth Putnam's Web site

Seth Putnam should be dead, and he knows it. On October 12, 2004, several heavy-metal message boards posted the news that Putnam ó the leader of Bostonís notorious grindcore band Anal Cunt ó had been hospitalized and had lapsed into a coma. Some thought it was a joke; those who didnít suspected an attack of karma. ACís 1997 album I Like It When You Die (Earache) included the song "Youíre In a Coma": "Youíre a fucking vegetable, we tried to pull the plug/but you still wouldnít die, youíre a dumb stupid fag/you shit in a bag, you piss in a tube/you canít walk, you canít move." Itís not even a contender for the most tasteless AC song. "I hope a big black Jew split his skull open," read one Web-board post, referencing two groups Putnamís baited in songs.

The next day, a message appeared on the singerís official site acknowledging that heíd been hospitalized. Hours later, it disappeared. A family member contacted by the Phoenix declined comment. Rumor had it heíd been found unconscious in a hotel room. The natural suspicion was an OD: Putnam made no secret of shooting heroin. Months passed. A friend of Putnamís contacted the Phoenix and offered an account of the night Putnam disappeared ó pimps, prostitutes, crack, heroin, and lots of alcohol were on the menu. The source said Putnam was in such bad shape that his doctors, fearing irreparable brain damage, discussed pulling the plug.

Now it was December. Friends said Putnam was in rehab, bedridden and on dialysis. Contacted for comment, Putnamís mother said her son had a seizure, passed out, and contracted an antibiotic-resistant strain of pneumonia. She claimed there had been no alcohol or heroin in his toxicology reports. During our talk, she became so enraged she accidentally locked her keys in her car. The eyewitness called back the next day and said the family had threatened to hand him to the cops if he didnít recant. A day later, he retracted his retraction.

In June, somewhat miraculously, Putnam and Anal Cunt showed up at Great Scott, asked their friends Eyehategod to borrow some set time, and played their first show since Putnamís coma. He used a walker and sang sitting down. It was the first time heíd performed sober in 11 years. In August he posted a message on his site admitting the cause of his coma was an OD. He explained away the earlier evasions by saying there had been a drug-possession case against him that had recently been dropped. A couple weeks before the one-year anniversary of his overdose, I called to see how he was doing.

I asked him how it felt to be in a coma. "Actually, it turned out it was just as gay as the song I wrote nine years ago ó being in a coma was just as fuckiní stupid as I wrote it was. We did a show on August 27 in Albany and we played ĎYouíre in a Comaí for the first time ever live. I donít want people to think Iím a hypocrite. I donít want people to think that I canít make fun of myself."

In other words, if people want to know if heís still going to be an asshole . . . "Definitely. I wouldnít want to be a hypocrite and say, ĎOoh, you shouldnít talk about that kind of shit.í Thatís not the way I am, you know?"

Putnamís naturally reticent around strangers; for months this was interpreted by doctors as a sign of brain damage. "I actually had to change my whole attitude and have normal conversations to fucking prove that I wasnít fucking retarded."

Putnam was indeed in a coma for several days, and in intensive care for a month. He says it wasnít a heroin OD: "I have a really high drug and alcohol tolerance." He says he bought $200 worth of crack, then smoked and drank on his way to a friendís birthday party. When he got there, one of the guests, whoíd recently gotten out of jail, was fucking a $12 prostitute in the back of a van. Seth smoked his crack, shot heroin, and drank a fifth of whiskey. The next day he felt fine. "I was like normal. And then I started getting really depressed and stuff like that, and basically this guy asked for a ride home and I said no." Why? "Because I think I was going to go to a hotel room and kill myself."

Putnam bought a gram of heroin with the intention of ending his life. He rented a hotel room and "made up this monster shot that would have easily killed me." In 1998 Putnam ODíd and was dead for 10 minutes; the paramedics who revived him told him heíd have permanent brain damage. When he arrived at the hospital he felt fine, so he walked home.

This time, he sat in the room and decided not to kill himself. He switched rooms and spent another day at the hotel. When he couldnít get to sleep, he took some Ambien sleeping pills. "I took all two monthsí worth. I guess that was what knocked me out." He woke up days later in Spaulding Hospital, unable to move.

He sustained severe nerve damage. He had a tube in his throat. Even after months of physical therapy, his right hand and his left leg donít work properly. In February, he moved to a Newton nursing home, where he had only an hour of therapy a day. "I just started walking around the grounds by myself, like 15 minutes a day. And I would basically lift weights every day. I kinda got back into shape by myself." He now has a membership at the YMCA, and works out regularly. He is making plans to record and hopes to play again, this time standing up, as early as December.

"I live in a foster home for cripples," he says of his new life, but he is grateful to be in a state-run program that allows him a degree of freedom, even when he relapses. "I got to drinking in July. I went out and got fucked up and I fell on the back of my head and split my head open, so they said they wouldnít let me go out anymore for a while. I basically worked my time back so I can go out and do whatever I want now."

I asked him if he was trying to stay clean. "What do you want?" he asked. "The real answer or the one people are reading?

"I think itís kinda maybe a good thing for me," he says of the overdose, "because my life was kind of going downhill. Like I was smoking crack all the time and being a real mess and shit like that. I donít want to be a suicidal mess anymore."

Issue Date: October 14 - 20, 2005
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