I don’t think it’s set in on a real level yet, but I just found out that Vic Chesnutt, surely one of the most creative, startlingly honest, human songwriters, had died yesterday from an overdose of muscle relaxers. Chessnutt killed himself at the age of 45; put himself into a coma two days before Christmas, and died yesterday.
Surely, there are better people to be giving Chesnutt the eulogies and elegies he so desperately deserves, but my two cents are as follows.
Chesnutt was careless in a way that suited him well. About a third of the way through his recording career, he closed an album singing “I was never much one for the niceties,” and that’s fitting. Chesnutt’s words were only rarely beautiful, they were only occasionally blossoming or splendid. They were, instead, dirty and mangled, and bruised. I hesitate to use words like “bruised” because they hint at Chesnutt’s physical disability, and without meaning to, suggest that Chesnutt’s entire life, or at least his reason for creating art revolved around a car accident when he was 16 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. I have no doubt that the accident changed Chesnutt’s life entirely, but it was Chenutt’s mind that conjured up stories and images and songs as enrapturing as Chesnutt did, not his motionless limbs.
There are a few things that must be said about Chesnutt if you’re new to the game. First, dude was mutable and eclectic. He had albums of stripped down folk that put his monotone, soothing, grandfatherly, wise (I said it before and I’ll state it in capitals now, VIC CHESNUTT WAS ABOVE ALL ELSE, WISE.) voice upfront. He created fishtank-dunked soap operas with the backing band Lambchop on his album “The Salesman and Bernadette”. He recorded raucious southern rock with the jamband Widespread Panic under the name brute. He recorded playful psychedelic pop with the band Elf Power on last year’s Dark Developments. He recorded somber albums filled with negative space on his recent collaboration with Jonathan Richman, Skitter on the Take-Off. And, in perhaps the biggest sonic shift of his almost manically eclectic career, he recorded two album backed by members of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Fugazi, and A Silver Mount Zion, which shot his voice through a pinball machine that was as big as a catherdral. He could, and would work with anyone. And, in case it somehow doesn’t go without saying, he always made it work.
Second, Chesnutt could be gloomy. The isolation he captures on some of his songs is, to my mind, terrifying, because it has such truth and such anger behind it.
Third, Chesnutt could be joyous. You can’t say that he didn’t have one of the best, deepest, most goosebumpy senses of humor in rock and roll.
Fourth, I took Vic Chesnutt, and all his bear hugging beer drunking eye rubbing gut clenching songs for granted. Fuck if I didn’t think that he would be around forever. It kind slaps me across the face the degree to which I was able to divorce what I’m sure was a difficult struggle of a life from Chesnutt’s songs which talked about a difficult struggle of a life.
It goes without saying that I will miss all the art that Vic Chesnutt has created, and for allthe art he had left to make. What we must remember is exactly how much wonder Chesnutt injected into the shit and dust and pain of life- his, mine, ours.