The Time I Met Chuck Schuldiner


Back in June of 1995, I was lucky enough to have met and spoken with Chuck Schuldiner. Myself and several friends were at a Death concert at The Roxy in Long Island and through a bizarre series of events we ended up on their tour bus.

Meeting Death was, for me, the equivalent of what I imagine Christians might feel having been in the presence of Christ. Seriously. For me, Death albums were transcendental experiences that explained most of the mysteries of the universe. Chuck was a mystic to me, Gautama with a guitar, The Great One sent down the mountain to help us see the invisible boundaries that we have created to lock away the most creative, life-affirming aspects of our being.

I’m sure I made a total fool of myself. I was your average 13-year-old girl getting backstage to meet Justin Beiber. I was stumbling around for words. Saying anything that came to mind to try to prolong the time we were in the man’s presence.

It was actually an uncomfortable feeling in retrospect. I didn’t want to mess up my one shot at actually asking the man the questions that had plagued me for the entirety of my being. This man had answers. No one could create like he did and not hold the key within him.

Finally, I worked up to asking him the meaning of the song “Vacant Planets” off of the album “Human”. I had somehow worked up a theory in my mind that this song was a comment on the nature of reality and life itself. I had pondered this song for hours and hours. Understanding its meaning consumed me.

There was something to the urgency of this song. It demanded to be understood. There was something deeper to it. Beyond meaning. Beyond rational thought. If he could just explain it to me, I’d have found the missing piece that explained this demented jigsaw puzzle I was living in.

I ambushed him out of nowhere with a rambling, semi-incoherent question about the song. “Chuck…I need to know about the song Vacant Planets. I mean, that song…that song. There is something within that song, you know. The planets around us are so empty. But, ‘in a realm so vast, we sit among the Vacant Planets’. They are vacant and without life. So is our planet, you know.”

“There is nothing to us. We are empty vessels. We eat, we sleep, we decay, we die. Over and over. And it all amounts to nothing. We want endless life, but for no reason. We don’t want to discover the universe around us, we simply want to not die. There is so much possibility wasted.  This place is a void.  No different than the emptiness on Mars or Mercury. We are a Vacant Planet! There is no meaning to any of it.”

During this whole disjointed explanation he regarded me with a great deal of kindness. He had a very empathetic expression. He was listening. He understood.

“Chuck, I need to know, am I right? Is this it? Is this what Vacant Planets means?”

He looked composed his thoughts for a second and looked away. I felt embarrassed. Had I said too much? Had I wasted my moment?

Then, he looked back at me. Stared directly into my eyes with a half smile on his face.

“Man…the song is about outer space.”

If there ever was a testimony to his genius, it was that answer.

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  1. #1 by Dave on June 8, 2014 - 1:28 PM

    This was such an amazing show. Nevermore opening for Death? Are you kidding me??? Unbelievable.

    • #2 by Keith Spillett on June 8, 2014 - 1:30 PM

      Ha! I know it! Amazing show!

      • #3 by Dave on June 8, 2014 - 1:37 PM

        I’m hoping that next we can hear about your ununsual encounter with one of the guys from Crowbar in Cohoes, NY.

  2. #4 by Keith Spillett on June 8, 2014 - 2:42 PM

    I think I put that in an earlier one somewhere! If I haven’t that is going in for sure!

    • #5 by Keith Spillett on June 8, 2014 - 2:42 PM

      Onstage with Phil Rind!

      • #6 by Dave on June 8, 2014 - 2:46 PM

        Yes! That show had a couple of memorable moments.

  3. #7 by Fat Mike on July 11, 2014 - 4:58 PM

    I remember that show. I wasn’t lucky enough to get on the bus, but I did get to speak with Jim Sheppard from Nevermore as he wrote out their playlist. Death helped me shake off the teen angst of my high school years. Up to that point in my life I was so deluded I thought of Trent Reznor as the Bob Dylan of my generation.

    • #8 by Keith Spillett on July 11, 2014 - 5:09 PM

      MIKE!!!! I’ve wanted to talk to you forever!!!! How are you and how do I get in touch?!?!

    • #9 by Keith Spillett on July 11, 2014 - 5:11 PM

      My email is! I really want to catch up. Lot to talk about over the last 20 years or so!

    • #10 by Keith Spillett on July 11, 2014 - 5:13 PM

      And…sadly…I think Reznor might have been the Bob Dylan of our generation.

      For me, it was Greg Graffin and Jeff Walker, but I’m aware that this is not a commonly shared point of view.

  4. #11 by VicSnaggletooth on December 15, 2015 - 3:46 AM

    Pleasure to read this article. It’s full of passion and emotion. And it’s really great to read your inner questioning about the thoughts behind the song Vacant places. Magnificant.

  5. #12 by VicSnaggletooth on December 15, 2015 - 3:48 AM

    Pleasure to read this article. It’s full of passion and emotion. And it’s really great to read your inner questioning about the thoughts behind the song Vacant places. True passionate and Magnificent.

    • #13 by Keith Spillett on December 15, 2015 - 1:17 PM

      Thanks!!! It was an amazing experience that I think of fondly as a carom headlong into old age.

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