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When Chad Clark first had symptoms of a rare heart virus, he thought it was just the flu. A routine visit to his doctor ended in an emergency room diagnosis, and to this day, no one on his medical team knows where or how he contracted it. But it meant he had to get a heart replacement — in his 30s.
“If you get a viral infection in your lung, kidney, liver, on your skin, or maybe even in your bones, that’s a trauma that the body has a defense for,” Clark tells The Wildest. “As important as the heart is, it has no defense against bacteria or virus.”
Clark is best known as the singer/guitarist for and creative force behind his Washington, D.C.-based band, Beauty Pill. He’s also the engineer on several legendary records from D.C.’s Dischord Records, including Fugazi’s The Argument and Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I. He’s also known as the guy who’s on his third heart (more on that later).
These days, a big portion of Clark’s heart belongs to his pup, Stanley, who’s named after the late jazz critic, Stanley Crouch, and is — at best guess — a black Lab. Their love story started in a shelter in 2020. Like the rest of the world, Clark got lonely during the pandemic and looked at dog rescues that would have a friend for him. But none were available. The shelters had been cleared by the rest of the suddenly isolated people who were desperate for company. So, Clark posted on Twitter that he was interested in adopting. Then, along came Stanley: “I fell in love with him, and I left with him. That’s our story,” Clark says.
Their story hardly ended there. In 2010, 10 years before he met Stanley, Clark had to have his chest cracked open “like a crab.” Since then, the manufacturer recalled the particular artificial heart he’d received, and the company that made the heart advised him to “seek alternative therapies.” Last summer, that heart finally gave up. On his way into his studio, he collapsed at home, lost consciousness, and fell to the floor.
Later, the hospital confirmed the bad news: Clark had to have another heart transplant. “I’m extremely grateful to be alive,” he says. “But yes, it was very challenging. I’m immunocompromised for the rest of my life. I was in the hospital all summer for three months, and it was miserable and scary.” His friends took care of Stanley, and Clark says every time he got a photo of the pup looking content or happy, he felt a pang of jealousy.
“I don’t know what Stanley has understood about what has happened,” Clark says. “I don’t know how dog cognition works exactly. I do know that I missed him.”
Soon, though, the two would spend a lot of quality time together; this time, they’d both be in recovery. As Clark was slowly learning to live with the limitations that come with a heart transplant — including being forever immunocompromised during an ongoing pandemic — Stanley suffered a crisis as well. He injured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on his right lower leg, which required surgery. Expensive surgery. And Clark had just had a $1 million heart transplant, much of which was — thankfully — covered by his health insurance. Stanley, however, did not have that benefit.
“I encourage everyone, even owners of young dogs, to get pet insurance,” Clark says. “I did not have pet insurance for Stanley at that time. Because I thought I would get it later when he was a little bit older. I just never expected catastrophic medical expenses to start this early.”
This first surgery was followed by a second injury to Stanley’s ACL in his left leg, which they’re dealing with now. This has put a strain on the pup; Clark says Stanley, a frequent star on his Instagram grid, has started to get a little gray hair around his mouth already. The pair have had to become content with staying home. As much as Stanley loves the dog park, his doctor says his ACL needs rest. And Clark is unable to socialize with people easily, given that catching a simple bug could cause significant damage to his health. Happily, Stanley enjoys listening to music with Clark, including the music he makes, and, thankfully, they should have playdates in their near future.
“I feel like there’s a weird, spiritual thing between an injured man and an injured dog,” Clark muses. “I think we have a thing, where I understand how frustrated he is with his leg. I understand that he wishes he could do what he used to do.”
What’s more, the dog dad has felt challenged by Stanley’s pricey medical bills, not to mention his own, which were still pretty steep after insurance. But the pair are getting by in the way Clark always has: by turning to a creative outlet and fans of his band, who buy vinyl albums and digital downloads. At the beginning of 2023, Beauty Pill released an anthology called Blue Period, taken from the early days when the band was far less popular. For Record Store Day on April 22, they will re-release their 2015 album, Beauty Pill Describes Things as They Are. Clark and the band are also putting together a limited-release Beauty Pill art project connected to that reissue that Clark says will be very expensive and aimed at collectors.
“I’m doing this partially because I f*cking believe in the art and believe in music, but I also need money,” Clark says. “Streaming and Spotify, those things do not pay. I encourage people to use it to check my music out, but there is no remuneration. I find that insulting...People know that we’re serious, and that we’re not f*cking around. So, I’m doing this.”
And Clark is not effing around. After all, his end goal — paying down medical debt, getting pet insurance, and maybe even getting Stanley a sibling — is to make their continued story together an even happier ever after.
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The model, activist, and musician on his activism philosophy: “I’ve always been drawn to those who have been left behind, forgotten, misunderstood. I relate to them on a very deep, personal level. No matter how different you are, everyone deserves a chance.”
With a special nod to Barack Obama, too.
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“He’s my support system when I’m making a beat. He’s kind of like my A&R — he listens to all my music and tells me if it’s good or not.”
Turn those barks and meows into namastes.
Courtney E. Smith
Courtney is a freelance writer and podcaster whose work has appeared in Esquire, Pitchfork, Eater, and more. Her prior work includes working as an editor and music critic for Refinery29 and CBS Radio. And she's the author of the essay collection Record Collecting for Girls. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her rescue dog, Casey, where they volunteer together with the SPCA’s foster program.