Ashes to Ashes

A collection of tales by Christopher Rigsbee that are a more fact than fiction.


Story by Nick Will
Photo by Chris Rigsbee

It’s not every day that struggling musicians decide to release a book, but sometimes they just decide to try their hand at some creative or biographical writing. Generally, these works seem to fail miserably. They end up getting thrown into closets, trash bins, or storage never to be seen again. “Ashes with Sprinkles on Top” seems to fare a bit better.

I first stumbled upon “Ashes with Sprinkles on Top” a few months ago, when I was interviewing Chris Rigsbee. I had asked him if he had ever written any type of poetry that wasn’t used in his music. He shot back that he had written a terrible collection of short stories and poems that he would be releasing at the beginning of April. After about two solid months of pestering phone calls and annoying run-ins at Champlain Centre in Plattsburgh, Rigsbee finally sent me a digital copy of the small, fan zine-like book.

what's this pic about?

Rigsbee, with an all-too-usual look on his face.

“I started writing poetry in the summer of 2007,” comments Rigsbee. “That’s when I started trying to conceive a book of poetry and short stories. Some of the works are autobiographical; others are based on dreams and hallucinations I have had.” Rigsbee says that his biggest influences in literature were Richard Brautigan, Dr. Seuss, and “the guy that wrote ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’.”

“Ashes with Sprinkles on Top” is a 30-page publication that looks like it was printed out in someone’s basement. There is no overall design quality to the book itself, other than a black and white photo thrown on the cover with a solid black backdrop behind it. Even though the appearance is a little unsettling, the actual writings make up for the publication’s design flaws.

The anthology captures Chris Rigsbee as I see him. He has a very simple sense of humor, though he rarely employs it. The pain that is easily visible on the pages mirrors the strife that is so apparent in his eyes. A perfect example of this is the short story “Stacks of Adventure,” the tale of a decrepit, disheveled man who lives like a pack rat, and seems to have no life outside of his home full of rotting literature and the small diner that he walks to daily to get an egg salad sandwich and continue a seemingly endless job hunt. Rigsbee told me that this story was somewhat autobiographical and that he had written it in February of this year. I felt the story was well written, though there is no hidden meaning. The tale simply talks about another day in the life of a lonely old hermit.

“‘Stacks of Adventure’ definitely captures the uselessness and loneliness that I was feeling at that time,” Rigsbee comments, while choking down the remains of a Wendy’s value meal in my campus dorm’s common room. Rigsbee says that the diner featured in “Stacks of Adventure” is actually a reference to Campus Corner, located on Bridge Street in downtown Plattsburgh. “They have terrible egg salad,” Rigsbee adds with a laugh.

Another example is the short story titled “Heavy Summer 2008,” which starts out as a self-realization of Rigsbee’s return home from Texas.  Rigsbee told me that he had gone on a road trip during this time, visiting people in Rhode Island, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. “I was really trying to reconnect with old friendsm,” Rigsbee says. The story starts out with his plans and current state, and then slowly becomes a rant about his father and other people who had caused problems for him in 2008. The rant flows like it would out of a mouth: all run-on sentences and emphatic capital letters that seem never ending. The run-on sentences make this piece seem poorly written, but Rigsbee calls this style of writing “emotionally explosive,” a theme that Rigsbee constantly does in all of his work.

“I walk through graveyards to cash paychecks, just so that I can be reminded that in the end, Money is meaningless.”

Rigsbee employs this rant-like style again in his poem “I Walk Through Graveyards to Cash Paychecks,” which is also featured in “Ashes with Sprinkles on Top.” This poem starts out like some sort of liberal attack on the government with the lines “I walk through graveyards to cash paychecks, just so that I can be reminded that in the end, Money is meaningless.” It quickly becomes an attack on Rigsbee’s father a few lines down with “and hold your tongue about foolishness, because I am well aware of the years soaked in bitterness, that lay before me.” This “emotional explosion” shows exactly how Chris feels deep down.

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Cover art....I guess?

Then there is is “List of Personal Faults.” This piece was originally tagged as poetry when I received it in my email, and it reads that way. The entire list is started out with the word “My,” and the work reads melodically. I liked that, even though Rigsbee isn’t that well known, he went through with this and published this list along with his work.

“I wrote this piece before I turned 23, because I wanted to remember that my year of the Gemini, at age 22, was not what I was told it would be,” says Rigsbee. “I wanted to expose my insecurities: I think more people should be upfront with their faults.”

Rigsbee and his girlfriend, Darcel Downing, joined me the night after I had read “Ashes with Sprinkles on Top” to enjoy some Wendy’s in my suite's common room and talk about the collection of Rigsbee’s works. The two were constantly bickering in between kisses, and Downing was constantly berating Rigsbee about how unprofessional he was being during his interview.

Downing comments that “Chris’s work is surprisingly skillful; I didn’t think that he could write that well. I didn’t, however, enjoy the lack of happiness throughout the entire book.”

I interject at this point, agreeing whole heartedly with Downing’s sentiment about the emotions in the work.  I ask Rigsbee, “I noticed that none of your work seems very happy, even if there are a few fart jokes. Why is that?”

Rigsbee replies quickly, “Life sucks. I tried to add humor, but you can’t disguise the misery of day-to-day life.”

One last thing I notice about the release of this book is its timing. The short stories and poems were printed just two days before Rigsbee’s final week performing solo. Rigsbee told me that he was never performing alone again. The short stories, in a way, symbolize the end of a period of self-loathing and reflection. All of the stories and songs the Rigsbee plays are about experiences that are in the past, some of which he would like to forget. It seems as if Rigsbee is just putting them out to get rid of them, signifying the rebirth of an artist.

Have you read Ashes with Sprinkles on Top?

 

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