Strength Beyond Strength: The Jason Statts Story

As Decibel friend Brian Lew (aka Umlaut) says: the metal Gods work in mysterious ways. So there’s no need to tell you how we heard about Jason Statts, a Decibel reader and metal fan confined to a wheelchair after he was robbed and shot leaving his first ever gig about five years ago. The attack — which required an extensive hospitalization and spinal rehabilitation — still leaves him coping with pain that would incapacitate lesser people. Nontheless, Statts continues creating art (see below) with his pinky finger knuckle. His work will be featured on Nate Hall’s new record. Jason also blogs.
Statts agreed to share his story with Decibel. Please join Statts as he writes about his ordeals and how metal helped him stay together on the worst days of his life. He’s not just a survivor but a natural storyteller. –jmn

* * *

This is not a work of fiction. It is my real life. My every day. My “new” normal (a phrase I would come to despise while in recovery).

Recovery? Why? Were you an addict?

Good question. The answer is no. My story is a little more interesting.

Ever seen blood trickle from your best friend’s mouth and throat as he crawled on all fours screaming into a phone – screaming with only one vocal cord because the other was blown to bits by the bullet that first passed through your own neck – as you lay motionless? I have.

Wait. Back up a bit. You must’ve missed something.

Please, let me explain.

Music has always been a part of my life. My parents were both hippies, so there were always classic rock albums around the house. I grew up just south of the Tennessee border in a small town in Georgia. As I got older I started listening to heavy music. I can’t recall the year, but sometime in the ’80s I was introduced to Megadeth. My world changed. I never looked back. As the years passed I played in numerous bands. I played thrash, doom, noise, off-kilter cartoon music and more. Anything really. All I cared about was playing music.

Fast forward to the summer of 2008. I was in a band with two of my best friends, John Collenberger and David Williams. Our band was called sürt {the destroyer}. We played our first and only show on June 28, 2008. Just hours after we unplugged David and I were attacked. I’d never walk again; at least that’s what they say. Dave suffered injuries to his throat and is still down one vocal cord. Other than that he is great. For that I am thankful.

Two young men were convicted based on my testimony at trial. The shooter got life + 80 years, no parole. The other guy testified against the shooter. His sentence was much shorter.

* * *

I woke up in the hospital. I knew exactly where I was and exactly why I was there. I also knew I couldn’t move, not even my arms. I remember who did it, and I remember being pissed off — just a silent rage. I tried my best not to show it. People came to visit. All of them cried. My wife, my parents, family, friends. I’d smile as much as I could smile, tell those people that everything would be o.k. That I would be o.k. I was lying.

“Don’t cry for me, Argentina,” I said to my friend, Jen. She cried even more, sort of a laugh-cry.

Don’t do that anymore, I thought to myself.

The only thought of music at this point was the thought that I would never play it again. I was devastated.

Days passed, strings were pulled, favors called in, newspapers alerted. I was shipped to Atlanta to The Shepherd Center, a spinal cord injury specialization hospital and rehabilitation center. I was put in the ICU. Still no thoughts of music (aside from being angry I wouldn’t be able to play bass any longer). I was moved to a regular room and fitted for a chair. Still miserable; the pain was immense (still is). Days went by; I did my thing, got a bit stronger. Meanwhile, my workplace pitched in and sent me a new iPod containing my entire music library. Great gesture, but I wasn’t ready. Not just yet. I didn’t want to hear music, or even talk about it. I was afraid of hearing something that would take me back to when I was able to walk.

It took about a month for me to want to listen to music again. The first thing I put in my ears was Baroness’ Red Album. Hesitantly, I pressed play. From the first note I started crying. My wife at the time did as well; she watched for a moment and left me to it.

The tears were not from sadness, not entirely. I knew Baroness through the Savannah scene. The record had just come out and I was really proud of them and what they had accomplished. It made me very emotional. Soon the tears dried and a smile appeared. The riffs and harmonies are just great. It’s different from their earlier releases, in a good way. I was hooked on music, again. I relayed this story to John Baizley about a year or so after. He seemed genuinely touched. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.

Baroness broke through the dam I had constructed in my brain. After that I wanted to listen to music all the time. I sat in the dark (after everyone would leave) and listened to my iPod.

Saviours came next. I had almost worn out even the digital copy of Crucifire. The rawness and live feel of that record got to me. It reminded me of driving my vintage Toyota LandCruiser to work over the border in South Carolina, blasting “Rise to Pyramid Form” and “Circle of Servant’s Bodies.” I also played Into Abaddon quite a bit on these trips. I listened to both of these records a lot while in recovery. (Fast-forward a couple of years, and Death’s Procession would become my new favorite Saviours record. Tons of riffs, all of them pretty damn good.)

Two months passed in therapy. I’d moved in with friends who lived very close to The Shepherd Center. My wife and I would go to the center daily. I’m doing well, getting stronger. Listening to more and more music. My brain has an uncanny ability to group certain bands together. The criteria for being in said group is unclear. But it works for me. In this case I’m talking about Watain, Trap Them, and Early Graves.

Watain’s Sworn to the Dark is simply amazing from start to finish. “Legions of the Black Light” and “The Light That Burns the Sun” are two of my personal favorites. They do it the way they want to do it. Plus, they have a sense of humor. At least I hope they do.

I originally judged Trap Them’s Séance Prime by its cover and I’m glad I did. I like nice drawings of skulls. It worked out in my favor. So I knew what I was getting into when I bought Seizures in Barren Praise about four months after the attack. It’s so angry, but so good. Focused. Sloppy-neat. It was just what I needed. I was still dealing with heavy issues and that particular record served its purpose. The guitar tones are like razor blades.

Early Graves’ We:The Guillotine was released around the same time. It was another I bought based solely on the cover. Another hit, in my opinion. Very fast, but very articulate. It’s technical, but not flashy or cheesy. Just… good. Makh Daniels handled the vocals; he later died in a traffic accident in 2010. He was excellent. Even now, I listen to it once every month or so.

As I said, for some reason my brain groups those three bands together. They make a pretty good team. Try listening to all three records one day. It’ll be a good day.

I finally left therapy. My wife and I moved back to Savannah. I had a few reservations, but got over them quickly. Initially, I thought I might be scared, but I wasn’t. A long time had passed and I was ready to be back in my own town.

We’d do our thing, go about the day, eat lunch. I’d sit at night and crank up my iPod. Skeletonwitch was a band I’d seen in Savannah a few times. I owned a couple of records; Beyond the Permafrost was my favorite at the time. They seem to have a very good sense of humor, and you can tell they have a blast on stage. I identify most with them, I think.

I tire more easily now than I did before. When I need an energy boost I like to listen to a band called Children. Hard Times Hanging at the End of the World is a masterpiece, in my opinion. Tons of guitars. There are mountains of riffs spilling out all over the place. Their sound is like getting your brain rewired, or maybe more like getting random new wires thrown in. Again, there’s humor here. I think that is always part of what I like about a particular band or record. Songs like “Power Spirit” and “Time is the Living” keep me coming back to it a lot.

It’s been a couple of years, maybe a little more since the shooting. I’m even stronger, physically and mentally, but my personal life starts to crumble. My wife of 15 years and I decide to go our separate ways, a hard choice for the both of us. We weren’t out of love, but we were out of hope for our marriage. The incident devastated us, and the damage was deep. It changed our world completely. We hugged as she packed her last few items. She left. It killed me, but I knew it was for the best. (Still do. We remain close friends to this day, I’m happy to report).

The next thing I listened to was Motörhead. Every record.

Motörhead is, by far, the coolest band ever. If it’s been done, it’s probably been done by Lemmy. Plus, he plays a Ric bass. Beautiful tones, too. I’ve listened to them since I was a kid. They were probably one of the first bands I ever got into. They encapsulate everything that’s cool about rock ‘n roll and/or metal. Shit, music in general. I’m not going to list a single album or single song here. Basically all that is Motörhead is what I like about Motörhead. I can listen to any song they’ve ever done and be happy. That’s the feeling they give me. Complete happiness. I have a smile from ear to ear when I hear them. They’ve gotten me through quite a bit. Lemmy would be proud. The coolest therapist I can think of.

Last April, a group of my friends known as the “Friends of Statts” planned and played a block party in my honor (and for my benefit). One of the best bands I’ve ever known agreed to get together and headline the festival — Floor. When I found out I was blown away. And then they actually played. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling and the awe and the honor to have them playing for me. Every single good Floor song was played that night. It made me feel like I was made of gold. Hugs were delivered to Steve (Brooks) and we’re friends now, at least on Facebook. Framing of the ultimate set list will happen soon.

It’s been a few months since the benefit. I feel better than I have in a long time. I’m finally getting the hang of this thing. I try to stay positive. I write a blog. I feel that every little thing helps. I try to tell people what good they offer to the world, no matter what. Every single person on this earth is worth something to someone.

I’m doing well. Aside from agonizing pain 24/7 things are great. Seriously. I’m considered a quadriplegic, but have a nice range of movement in my arms. I can’t use my fingers, or make a fist, but I still use my hands. I’ll probably not walk again, but I’m o.k. with that. There are worse things. I will have ongoing medical costs. Who knows what the future holds?

I’ll keep being positive as long as I have Torche’s Harmonicraft in my life. It’s pretty spectacular. Perfect, almost. Music will always be a part of me. My being. It always has been, and I couldn’t see it any other way. It’s like air to me. I need it. And I’m glad there are bands out there nice enough to give it to me. Thank you all for that.

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Images of Jason Statts by Wayne C. Moore