Vic Chesnutt died on Christmas Day. And if he had to go so damn early, so damn cruelly, and so damn needlessly, there may have been no better day for him to do so. Dying while much of the world was celebrating the birth of a prophet could not have been more poetic. And Vic Chesnutt was sheer poetry.
Naturally, there’s nothing poetic about the facts behind Chesnutt’s death. A 45-year-old man at the height of his career, he was so in despair over ever-mounting medical bills that he opted for an overdose of prescription pills rather than face even one more day battling the healthcare industry. And despite the reported passing of some so-called reform, it’s unlikely he’d ever have been spared. Nor will many of the millions of others who face catastrophic illness, whether they have insurance or not.
But that’s another sad story, and Chesnutt, though he probed some of the darkest, most hurtful places a soul can go, never was one for sad stories. Or for that matter, sad songs. Sure, many of his tunes came soaked in melancholy, but Chesnutt wasn’t pouring on the tears and feeling sorry for himself. He was merely stating the facts as he came across them, and as they crushed him beyond hope.
The accolades have already begun accumulating; or, should we say, they continue to. Michael Stipe insists, “We have lost one of our great ones.” Patti Smith notes, “He possessed an unearthly energy, and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind.” Jeff Mangum reveals, “Hearing his music completely transformed the way I thought about writing songs, and I will forever be in his debt.”
But it was in life where the accolades really counted: Stipe “discovered” Chesnutt at Athens’s 40 Watt Club back in the late ’80s and would produce his first two LPs. Widespread Panic, who would also record two LPs with Chesnutt, as would the band that included Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto and members of Montreal’s Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, all of whom backed up Chesnutt on both 2007’s North Star Deserter and 2009’s At the Cut, arguably his best LP. Lambchop, too, got in on the praising, backing up Chesnutt for 1998’s The Salesman and Bernadette.
Then there were the bold-faced names that assembled for 1996’s Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, among them Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, and Kristin Hersh, another long-time friend of Chesnutt’s. It was that LP that brought Chesnutt to light, and it was the proceeds of that LP that helped that light continue to shine for another 13 years.
“Gravity of the Situation”
“Kick My Ass,” Garbage
“The Saturday Option,” Lambchop with Vic Chesnutt
“God Is Good,” Victoria Williams & Vic Chesnutt
“Grim Augery,” Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse featuring Vic Chesnutt