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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Vic Chesnutt: 1964 - 2009

Vic Chesnutt: 1964 - 2009

We first met Vic Chesnutt back in 1995. Encountered, really.

We had just parked our car under the Whitehurst Freeway across the street from the Bayou Club in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Next to us was an Econoline van where some folks were loading up various pieces of equipment to haul across the street.

Our car doors were open as they were trying to squeeze by so we were trying to hurry up so the roadies could be on their way. Someone in a wheelchair was waiting for us and said "Take all the time you need".

We made our way into the Bayou Club and it wasn't until Vic Chesnutt wheeled onstage did we realize who we had parked next to outside. You see, we didn't know Vic was in a wheelchair or really much else about him. As best we can recall, we had read about Vic's music on back in '95 and thought we'd check him out.

We guess the thing we remember about seeing him perform was that here was a guy trying to make the best of a situation in which he struggled with but verged on overwhelming him. And it made his music palpable in that it really drew in to the point it was something you weren't sure whether to look or look away.

And -- sadly -- most did look away. We did. Even though we had encountered him, literally -- in a van down by the river -- by the Potomac under a freeway where it appeared the band was living between gigs.

From Indie folk musician was known for dark, humorous songs -
Vic Chesnutt, 45, a singer-songwriter of spare, idiosyncratic folk tunes tinged with melancholy, died Christmas day in Athens, Ga., after an intentional overdose of prescription muscle relaxants, a family spokesman said.

Paralyzed after a 1983 single-car accident when he was driving drunk at age 18, Mr. Chesnutt had limited use of his arms and hands but nonetheless carved out a career in music, which included being a guitarist. He was discovered in the late 1980s by REM frontman Michael Stipe, who championed his early recordings, and he gained the respect of music critics and fellow musicians who were struck by his darkly humorous songs.

Mr. Chesnutt tackled death and mortality head-on in his lyrics, as in "It Is What It Is," from his new album "At the Cut":

"I don't worship anything, not gods that don't exist
I love my ancestors, but not ritually
I don't need stone altars to hedge my bet against the looming blackness
that is what it is."

In recent interviews he contemplated the challenges he faced as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic with inadequate health insurance and mounting medical bills of over $70,000.

"I'm not too eloquent talking about these things," Mr. Chesnutt told the Los Angeles Times this month. "I was making payments, but I can't anymore and I really have no idea what I'm going to do. It seems absurd they can charge this much. When I think about all this, it gets me so furious. I could die tomorrow because of other operations I need that I can't afford. I could die any day now, but I don't want to pay them another nickel."

A prolific musician with a high, plaintive voice who recorded raw, intensely poetic albums in quick succession and maintained a rigorous performance schedule, Mr. Chesnutt had appeared Dec. 1 at the Echoplex in Los Angeles's Echo Park in support of "At the Cut." In the Times interview he called "Flirted With You All My Life," a song on the new album, "a suicide's breakup song with death."

Born Nov. 11, 1964, in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Chesnutt grew up in Zebulon, Ga., where his grandfather taught him to play the guitar. After moving to Athens, Mr. Chesnutt began performing in clubs there and attracted the attention of Stipe, who produced his debut album, "Little," in 1988. The albums "West of Rome" and "Drunk" followed, paving the way for his major label debut "About to Choke" in 1996.

That same year REM, the Smashing Pumpkins, Hootie and the Blowfish, and others covered Mr. Chesnutt's songs for "Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation," a tribute album that benefited the foundation that raises money to help pay uninsured musicians' medical bills.

Mr. Chesnutt's survivors include his wife, Tina Whatley Chesnutt, who played bass with him, and a sister.

Frequent musical collaborator Kristin Hersh blogged on Vic:
I never saw the wheelchair—it was invisible to me—but he did. When our dressing room was up a flight of stairs, he'd casually tell me that he'd meet me in the bar. When we both contracted the same illness, I told him it was the worst pain I'd ever felt. "I don't feel pain," he said. Of course. I'd forgotten. When I asked him to take a walk down the rain spattered sidewalk with me, he said his hands would get wet. Sitting on stage with him, I would request a song and he'd flip me off, which meant, "This finger won't work today." I saw him as unassailable—huge and wonderful, but I think Vic saw Vic as small, broken. And sad.

From Remembering Vic Chesnutt | by Chris Riemenschneider:
"I have to admit it: Vic scared me. I was too young and too vanilla to get the ocean-deep context and river-rapid outpouring of symbolism and poetry in his songs. So all Vic was to me back then was a guy in a battered physical state with a thick, backwoods Georgia drawl and a surly demeanor.

He was damn intimidating."

The following song "Flirted With You All My Life," is unbelievably heartbreaking as Chesnutt sings about ending his life. "I've been a suicidal person all my life, and that song is me finally being 'Screw you, death,' " Chesnutt said. 

Vic Chesnutt--Flirted With You All My Life
The second song of his set at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Ohio, where Vic appeared with Jonathan Richman on Saturday, June 27, 2009; a track from his upcoming release, At The Cut.

Vic Chestnutt is not the only musician who passed away this year while struggling with medical bills. Earlier this year, former Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett: 1963-2009 succumbed to the battle and again demonstrating the desperate need for health care reform.

Official Vic Chesnutt website. And support Vic Chestnutt's music and family.


At 12/27/2009 03:54:00 PM, Blogger doc said...

Ya know, I've never heard of Vic or his music..but one cannot imagine just how many "Vics" are out there.
He obviously lived his life through his music.. it was his release from the torture within.

Music has that ability to soothe the soul, to connect, to reflect. and to sometimes heal.

Like Neil's music,songs can take you to a place in that moment, that only you can relate or fathom.

I just can't imagine a world without music..even in the corridors of the wards I walk, I would love to have Neil or whoever piped to every room.

I truly see music as a "healer" but sadly, in Vic's eyes he used it as a vehicle to end his pain

His legacy is that he would of touched the hearts of so many who could relate to his pain, his joy ,his humour be it ever so black
but, sadly like so many great musicians, they have left us before their time.

As Neil said (and I'm using this as an analogy metaphorically to all Addicts, depressives and junkies,

"I've seen the needle and the damage done

A little part of it in everyone"

but evey junky's like a setting sun"


At 12/27/2009 06:20:00 PM, Anonymous paul said...

Thank you for the music Vic. It always meant a lot to me...

maybe a red man

(Sorry, but it seems to me that the quote of "the needle" is not really appropriate here.)

At 12/27/2009 09:12:00 PM, Blogger doc said...

Paul, I wasn't inferring that Vic was some sort of "junkie". I just remember Neil "rapping" about lost musicians on Massey Hall before he
broke into "The needle and the damage done".
He was referring how some great musicians have been lost too early.

As I said, I didn't know Vic or his music whatsoever, but, from reading the intro to this topic I could see some parallels, only in the pain and suffering he was enduring.
Please Forgive me and to Vic's family if I gave that impression of inference.I was in no way categorising Vic as some sort of drug addict but merely using Neil's lines from the "needle
and the damage done' as an analogy of lost hope.
If this is an inappropriate analogy I apologise.


At 12/28/2009 06:01:00 AM, Blogger Shamrock said...

I'm very sad after hearing this about Vic!

I encountered him one time in Gothenburg, Sweden when I interviewed him for the school magazine during the day and saw him perform in the evening. It was my 23rd birthday that day so I asked Vic if he could play my favorite song "One of many" which he dedicated to me. I will never forget Vic's warmth and kindness, and of course not his incredible talent for composing, playing the guitarr and singing!


Don't forget his connection to Neil due to the fact that he was signed by Vapor records!

At 12/29/2009 07:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The need for health care reform is real indeed. But looking at reality the last people we want reforming health care is the very folks who will reform it. The same folks who continue to escalate American Imperialism-you know-Congress. We could not nor can not fire another gun without them approving a budget to do so. Get smart and stop believing anything Congress says or does, unless of course you like them paying off their financiers. RE-Elect NOBODY!

At 1/07/2010 05:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer Doc...

i know how many Vic's are out there. None. He was one of a kind. A Southern Gothic Songwriter. He will be missed

At 1/09/2010 03:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Thrash for thid. I'm a big fan of Vic. RIP, ol dude.


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