American Healthcare Killed Riley Gale

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We all deserve much better.

Yesterday, the Blast Beat Network of metal blogs disregarded the wishes of Riley Gale’s family. They’ll tell you, in BREAKING, EXCLUSIVE detail, how Riley died of an overdose. In a rush to publish the intimate details of the biggest-hearted man in American metal and punk, we do a disservice to his life and legacy. We also disregard the insidious motives of capital that prematurely ended Gale’s life, and the lives of countless others.

Back in 2017 I had an opportunity to talk with Riley. It was a joy to hear him speak with so much passion about everything from community support to comic books. But one subject has haunted me in the months since his passing. He told us the story of “Waiting Around to Die” from Nightmare Logic. The song was meant as a response to Townes Van Zandt’s fatalistic song of the same name. Where Townes had resigned himself to a slow death to addiction, Riley saw an opportunity to break the chains that had ensnared so many of his friends. At the same time, he recognized the precarity of his own situation by saying, “I’m in a lot of pain a lot of times and I have to take some pain killers. But it’s never a situation where I’m getting high. I think it’s a scary situation where you can become addicted to something and not even enjoy it. Basically to just maintain it.”

Gale sustained a chronic back injury with an on-stage accident in 2014. If you saw a Power Trip show, you saw Riley Gale performing his heart out despite his constant pain. As a young musician in America, Riley did not have a safety net. His income was minimal and he did not have health insurance. In an interview given during the height of the pandemic, he told the Austin Chronicle, “MusiCares is a joke. If I went to the public marketplace for insurance, I would be paying $250 a month with like a $5,000 deductible. I may as well just throw myself off a building if I wanted to get my money’s worth out of that insurance. It’s the system. I feel like this is a death cult. It is intended to kill people that are older or in extreme poverty, and then what? The people who couldn’t handle a new wave of inflation sink to the bottom, and now it’s their time to starve.”

With no income and no healthcare, Riley self-medicated to relieve his chronic pain. This is a story that is all too-common, not just for musicians, but for a staggering number of Americans. I have lost friends to similar situations. No doubt you have too. If you get hurt and you don’t have insurance, what will you do? Even if you DO have insurance, will your policy even help? If your deductible is sky high but your savings are wiped out, is there even a point to paying monthly premiums?

The profit-driven motives behind American healthcare have caused us to burden the most expensive medical care in the world, the worst maternal mortality rate among industrialized countries, and an endless cycle of misery stemming from the opioid crisis. Right now, US pharma giants are holding COVID vaccines as ransom, demanding that poor countries pay up as their death rates run unchecked. Riley was right. This system is a death cult.

It didn’t have to be this way. Riley should still be here. He deserved a safety net. He deserved to have health care. He deserved better. We all deserve better.

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