Gah! I made an unfortunate discovery today. Quite a few years ago, 1997 I think, I was introduced to a wonderfully eccentric young lad called Cris Bruce via a girlfriend I had at the time. They both lived in the states, having come from Virginia. They were good friends and decided to do a trip over to this side of the pond. When introduced, I immediately warmed to Cris, he was very bright, engaging and naturally funny.
Cris had a great talent for words, he loved writing poetry and keeping an illustrated travelogue of his adventures. I think one of the things that originally made me start to like him was that he told me he came from a town called Mechanicsville, It made me laugh and I really thought that he was pulling my leg. He wasn’t. There really is a place called Mechanicsville, which in itself was brilliant introduction, for a young man like Cris.
I didn’t know him for very long but never forgot him, some people can just make that kind of lasting impression. My flatmate and I gave him a place to stay during the Bristol leg of his UK travels. He was an excellent guest, never short of conversation about his observations of life and the bits of the world he had explored. Looking back now from an older perspective,I think Cris was one of those people who liked to grab life by the proverbial balls and give them a good squeeze, to see what would happen. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and immerse himself in strange and new locations, even if there was a reasonable degree of risk involved in doing so. After we parted company and he went on his adventuring, he wrote me a letter a few months later, talking about one of his adventures, which had involved being back in the U.S. He’d been invited to an acquaintances house for a social meeting, while their parents were away. The small do, partly involved being offered Morphine and hanging out in a jacuzzi in the back yard. In Cris’s altered state, and in a moment of poetic intensity, he found a kitchen cupboard, crawled partly inside it and wrote something on the slate wall at the back of it, he couldn’t remember exactly what, but it was along the lines of:
“As long as you live in this house and as long as my words remain undiscovered, this house will never be entirely yours, there will always be a little piece of me, hidden away, occupying your space without being noticed”
Except, I’m certain Cris phrased his hidden words far more eloquently. Cris was a bit of a concern, in that brief time that I knew him, he told me stories about his experimentation with getting high. In the UK, when a kid wants to do that, they just connect with a friend of a friend and buy a bag of weed or some pills, or just buy some alcohol. In Cris’s world at the time, it seemed to be about getting loaded by drinking cough meds in non recommended doses or worse, raiding some poor sod’s stash of legitimate pain killers or other meds. It seemed a bit mad and I advised him against this as a future behaviour, though it struck me at the time, that it wouldn’t be advice he’d heed. He seemed very much a free thinking spirit, if not just a little misguided.
The letter he sent was hand typed, it seems a page has gone missing forever somewhere along my own life path. I guess, he would have liked the thought of that, a page of his words going on its own travels, not content to remain in one place. Cris kindly enclosed a photocopied reproduction of his self penned poetry book, called ‘Some Kind of Strange English’
In the advent of information age, I’d tried looking him up online on a handful of occasions. Usually when prompted by either hearing something by Lou Reed or Risingson by Massive Attack. He’d liked both, he loved the Lou Reed track that appeared on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ and I remember a brief call I had with him when he’d travelled to New York, we both gushed enthusiastically about the Massive attack song.
I recall at the time, I was kind of amused that Cris was into Lou Reed, there was something about him that reminded me of Lou. Since then, I’ve seen things about Lou that reminded me of Cris. Maybe it was how they spoke, they seemed to share a similar energy to each other.
Anyway, looking Cris up always wound up a fruitless task, part of me thought ‘He’s probably not wired to the net because he’s still out there adventuring’. After a few years though, when he occasionally popped into my mind and I found no reference anywhere to collections of his work like the one mentioned above, I started to imagine that life had perhaps taken a bad turn for him. It seemed it could have gone two ways, he was either going to reappear into the world as a new kind of guitar-free Lou Reed character or he was going to turn up dead.
I could slap my own face now, I’d been looking online for Chris Bruce, not the correctly spelt Cris Bruce. I keep his book of poems in my little work space, today I pulled it out and noticed my grammatical error, I was listening to Risingson at the time. I Googled Cris Bruce for the first time, got nothing. Refined the search to Cris Bruce+Mechanicsville. I got a result, but not the one I’d hoped for. Cris died on May 17th 2008, age 30, of a heart problem. Although he’d been taken to hospital, the nurses were unable to revive him. His blood toxicology was clean, its just that his ticker had decided to pack up on him.
My discovery was a bit of a blow, having considered the fate of Cris for so many years and hoping for only the best outcome, to think that his wonderful quirky character is no more is a final answer to that lingering question. The full stop on the last page of his poetry book. For that, I am truly sad.
Apparently there was a gathering somewhere in Mechanicsville, to remember and celebrate his ‘Vibrant’ thirty years on Earth. Had time, knowledge and more convenient geography been more favourable, I would have gladly attended. Now I just consider the strange kind of irony on page one of his 1996 poetry journal, a picture of anatomical hearts.
These song’s are for you Cris.
“…starving in his own sentence, the poet crosses himself,
there were words etched where he rested, and only those
who laid paper birds on his chest could read those words, none but those.
Sudden, is the life
and death, of the few who strive.
Under covers, in the dark, feeling around for whatever’s gone out.
There must be a light switch”
Cris Bruce 1996