SETH PUTNAM, the Newton native who set out to create music that represented the end of music, and succeeded; and who survived a 2004 drug overdose that landed him in a coma from which his doctors predicted he would not come out of, and returned to the stage less than a year later; died on Saturday morning of a heart attack. He was 43.
Putnam's most recent publicist, Kim Kelly of Catharsis PR, confirmed Putnam's death to the metal-news site blabbermouth.net. "I want to remind everyone that no matter how outrageous and controversial his musical career has been, Seth was still a human being with friends and family that loved him," she said. "I'm hoping that the Internet will remember that."
Putnam, best known as the frontman of the long-running grindcore band ANAL CUNT, was widely reviled in the metal world and elsewhere -- he delighted in being crude, abusive, and intentionally provocative. I first met Seth in 1999, around the time that Earache Records released A.C.'s It Only Gets Worse. I found him to be extraordinarily intelligent, cunning, viciously funny, and fully self-aware. But I was at a loss then, as I am now, to pinpoint where the satire of songs like "Domestic Violence Is Really, Really Funny" ended and Putnam's own deeply troubled and deeply troubling obsessions began.
The fuzziness of that boundary was fully in evidence on the day I first interviewed Putnam back in '99, slugging back cheap liquor from paper bags out behind the Middle East. At the time, critics from SPIN and the Village Voice were just discovering Anal Cunt and suggesting that Putnam was another harmless satiric racconteur -- a teddy bear who didn't mean any of the outrageous things he said. This clearly drove Seth nuts. As I wrote back then:
Just after I
interviewed Putnam last week, he and I literally bumped into Mike Watt (in town
to play T.T. the Bear's Place), who was quick to proclaim his affection for
I Like It When You Die, which Watt claimed to play often on his Internet
radio show. "We have a song," Putnam told him bluntly. "It's called `The
Internet Is Gay.' "
The surrealness of the exchange with Watt . . . [was] still fresh in my mind as we walked down Mass Ave and Putnam, striding boldly
down the middle of a crowded sidewalk, purposefully and with malice and totally
out of nowhere knocked an unsuspecting middle-aged woman flat on her back. It
occurred to me that to the uninitiated bystander, ironic transgression and
transgression of the plain ol' random-violence variety both end up tasting like
Seth always made it very, very difficult to call yourself an Anal Cunt fan -- as time went on and he pursued new boundaries to eviscerate, his satiric mind drove him into songs and lyrics that mocked anti-Semitism and racism, but were so close to being genuinely anti-Semitic and racist that it was often hard to get him to admit they were satire. In interviews, he'd take positions that were often morally indefensible -- although, if you knew Seth, you knew that he was a contrarian by nature and that he would argue the opposite of almost anything. Still, that's about the time I checked out of Putnam's orbit.
But in 2004, I got pulled back into the Anal Cunt story when message boards claimed that Seth was dead or in a coma. It turned out to be the latter. I spent months, off and on, talking to his friends and family and trying to figure out exactly what happened. I'd spoken to close friends who were with him the night he landed in the hospital. I spoke to his mother, who threatened to sue me. It took a year, but one day Putnam called me and told me the whole story: the drugs he'd done, the thoughts of suicide he'd entertained and then discarded, how close he'd been to death, and ultimately how the same contrarian stubborness that had driven him to the fringes of society now conspired to form the sheer force of will he needed to return from near-death to perform again.
Most of us, if we're honest, are walking contradictions. Seth wore his on his sleeve, because he had no choice -- he had no apparent filter. He made more dumb gay jokes than anyone I've ever met, and was fully obsessed with the Village People, who were by far his favorite band of all time. This was not a joke. Seth had devoted friends who endured his legendary tirades and abuses, and rarely divulged the secret that Putnam could be an intensely loyal bandmate. He also left behind a string of enemies who will likely exult in pissing on his grave now that he's gone. Seth once wrote a pretty great Anal Cunt biography, which I told him he ought to try to turn into a book. He thought that idea was unbelievably retarded. I'm no psychiatrist but it wouldn't have surprised me to learn that Seth had been diagnosed as severely bipolar; the only thing that matched the heights of his arrogance was the depth of his insecurity. For months after he came out of his coma, his doctors were convinced he had brain damage, because he seemed incapable of carrying on normal interactions with them. As he told me at the time, "I actually had to change my whole attitude and have normal conversations to fucking prove that I wasn’t fucking retarded."
After his coma, Seth went on to perform and record for another six years
-- just this past March, Anal Cunt kicked off a national tour with a
show at Church, booked by longtime A.C. fan and chronicler Nick Blakey.
(Blakey is penning a remembrance of Putnam that will be published here
in the next day or two.) By 2009, he had a website up that offered "professional services": he'd gone into the consulting business, or at least was not opposed to the idea.
It's a strange thing to say that he will be missed. But he will be. And we'll never see another like him.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Anal Cunt
which I interview Seth, we run into Mike Watt, Seth tells Watt the
internet is gay, Seth randomly knocks a woman down, and I argue that
Anal Cunt are absolutely not as harmless as the Village Voice seems to think
talks about what it was like to be in a coma, and recounts the insanely
fucked-up story of how he smoked a bunch of crack, decided to kill
himself with a heroin hotshot, changed his mind, and then accidentally
OD'd on sleeping pills