Vic Chesnutt was a folk-rock singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia. Growing up in rural Georgia, he started writing songs at the age of five. When he was 18, he was involved in a drunk driving accident that left him quadriplegic and wheelchair-bound. He had very limited use of his arms, and could still play guitar, but he could only play basic chords. That didn’t stop him from recording 13 proper albums between 1990 and 2009. His last album was recorded in the autumn of 2009 and released posthumously in 2010.
In addition to his quadriplegia, Chesnutt had other medical problems and insufficient health care to pay for his treatment. He had kidney stones which he couldn’t pass, and he needed surgery. He also suffered from depression. Unfortunately, the hospitals were already on him about his inability to pay for other treatment, and they were trying to seize his house to cover his medical debts, which were in the area of $50,000. EVen though he was getting assistance from fans and from some of his musician friends, he still wasn’t able to make the payments.
On December 23, 2009, Chesnutt intentionally overdosed on painkillers and fell into a coma. He died on Christmas Day.
Chesnutt had attempted suicide a couple of times prior to that, but as he said “it didn’t take”. He wrote about it in his fantastic song “Flirted With You All My Life”.
Even if you don’t know Chesnutt’s music, you’ve seen him before. He was the wheelchair-bound guy in the rock band from the movie “Slingblade”.
I was always aware of Vic Chesnutt, and for a long time I knew that he was Kristin Hersh‘s best friend. However, I only recently started listening to Vic’s albums. If you know me at all, you know that I’m a very big fan of all of Kristin Hersh’s projects (Throwing Muses, her solo stuff, and 50 Foot Wave). They played together a lot, wrote songs about each other, and were best friends. There’s a song on the 1992 Throwing Muses album Red Heaven called “Vic”. It’s a one-minute instrumental song, but it’s absolutely about Vic Chesnutt. By the way, I’ll post about a song from that album on August 11, which will be its 20th birthday. Anyway, there’s that. There was a Vic Chesnutt song “Very Friendly Lighthouses” from his 2001 rarities and outtakes album Left to His Own Devices. Kristin Hersh accused him of writing that song about her, and he always denied it.
Between Throwing Muses and Kristin Hersh solo, I’ve seen Hersh perform dozens of times, and one of my favorites was in 2002. It was a seated show at the Cat’s Cradle with Kristin Hersh, Vic Chesnutt and John Doe. They each played acoustically, and they each played at least one of each other’s songs. Usually, only one of them played at a time, but there were a few times when all three played. This video, below, is from a different stop on the same tour. It’s Kristin and Vic together, playing Vic’s song “Panic Pure”
First, here’s the album version:
“Panic Pure” by Vic Chesnutt”
There’s something that I really like about this:
At times I might could be accused of being
But as of late I’m looking forward to the future
Though I’ve never been much of a planner
Then, enjoy the two best friends playing together. It’s difficult for me to watch, but it’s lovely, nonetheless.
On the live version, I like Kristin’s playing much more than the studio musician’s guitar work on the album version. However, when she sings that first verse, her timing is a little more deliberate, and not quite like Vic’s. In that respect, I prefer the album version. When all the things are weighed out, that live version is pretty spectacular, and I love it. Even if I can nitpick at Kristin’s timing.
Kristin Hersh also recorded a cover of “Panic Pure” for the Sweet Relief II tribute album. Some well-known musicians, including Madonna, contributed to the tribute album, which is obviously part of the Sweet Relief series. That series was an effort to raise money for musicians in need of health care. Sadly, it was the last of the series. The Sweet Relief Fund is still going, but the tribute albums aren’t.
West of Rome was Chesnutt’s second album, and it was produced by Michael Stipe. He would work with many other well-known musicians in his two decade career. By the end, he was branching out into a bit of a strange territory. North Star Deserter (2007) and At the Cut (2009) were both recorded with the members of the Montréal post-rock collective Thee Silver Mount Zion Orchestra. Dark Developments was recorded with the Athens indie-rock collective Elf Power.
Some of the records have fallen out of print and are a bit hard to come by. West of Rome is available on CD or as a digital download from the amazon store here.