The last time I saw Chelsea Paolini was in the parking lot at WKXL in Concord two summers back. She had just done a performance on Granite State of Mind and was ripping on a bowl of smoke before her ride back to Dover. The video attached to this story is of that performance. And as you can see, Chelsea is on her game, looking strong, tanned and present, belting out an original, as she always did.
And her playing, well, that just speaks for itself. Fingers flying off the neck of the guitar.
Sadly, those fingers fly no more. Chelsea passed away this week. How? Why? Where? Matters none. It’s over. She was maybe 30 years old.
Chelsea had been on my radio show many times in the past. Almost always with her band People Skills, a power trio she had with her brother, Andrew, and a rotating bassist. They were awesome, Joan Jett-like, but current, younger and full of spit. And the band were Skilled indeed, living up to their name, making tasty pop out of crusty salt.
And Chelsea was the entire show. She wrote many of the songs (maybe all?), sang them, and played the guitar better than 99 percent of the players I have seen over the years, male or female. And that’s a hard 99. She seemed to be always dressed in a colorful tutu or a flower print sweater or tank, purple and red socks unmatched, flats worn to the nub with dark mascara blazing up towards her temples.
Chelsea, once she unwound a bit, was easy to talk to. She wasn’t much for making eye contact, that I remember, but she could drop on you a verbal twist wrapped in a lisp that would leave your head spinning for days. Usually, when she showed up to the studio, she would be in good spirits but an all-out frantic romp, ripping wires out of her pocketbook, guitar picks from her torn pantyhose, a capo from her yellow hair. She’d be inside, then she’d be outside. Inside, outside. It was entertainment at its finest because this was how she built up what was yet to come.
Then, Chelsea would explode, diving deep down into her creations, her platform, her born to be wicked ways. She was unleashed when she played, tethered only to the music which sprung from her rambling life, burning with words and worries and an almost desperate need to get it all down and out. And she was great to interview, raw from the grind we all share, aging too quickly, and honest about her troubles with sleeping, with eating, with normalcy, with her place in the world.
Paolini recorded music, pressed CDs, wrote like the wind. She played guitar as if her body was on fire, had some good nights on big stages and entertained hundreds of drunk college bores and soft punks dressed in black. She did it. Did it better than most. But she just couldn’t hold on.
Last time I spoke with Chelsea, I was standing outside the auditorium at NHTI in Concord, getting ready for the Granite State of Mind Music Awards where Chelsea was nominated as “Best Guitarist” in the state. She was a favorite, in the judges’ eyes, having seen her skills matched up against the other king slayers in the competition. And said she was going to perform “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with the other nominees as the last song of the night. Then the phone rang.
I listened as Chelsea asked again what this event was all about. I told her again and pleaded for her to make it to Concord. Think I offered to pay for her gas coming in from the coast. No go.
She said, in not so many words, “It sounds kind of lame. I’m not driving over there for that.” Classic.
I laughed with her, said no worries and I hoped to see her down the road, knowing, kind of, that I wouldn’t.
So, this Friday night on Granite State of Mind (95.3 FM), we will play songs by Chelsea from 6:30 to 7 and pay homage to this rare talent gone too soon.
It doesn’t take long for a star to burn out. Cherish it, people. Please.