I first heard/got into Vic Chesnutt on an R.E.M. tribute album from the first half of the 1990s. "Surprise Your Pig," it was called, and his contribution was a groovy mashup of "It's the End of the World as we Know it (& I Feel Fine)." Being the dilligent music fan, I did my research and got into his work. He'd been writing songs since childhood, came from a musical family. Played a mean guitar from a young age.
I next really got into Vic's music with his 1998 album, "Is the Actor Happy." Vic wrote a mean lyric & did the most interesting things with the basest chord progressions & the most creative & spare arrangements. His "The Gravity of the Situation," from that album, is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.
In the '80s, when Vic was 18, he was paralyzed in a car accident. He re-learned the guitar with his now-limited arm/hand movement, which forced his songwriting hand to the simpler. The simpler, you know, is the more tried and true way, at least in the music I like. This past summer, I had a dinner party and a friend of mine, himself a survivor of a tragic car wreck, confided an anecdote about meeting Vic at a show at Schuba's, requesting a song Vic's band didn't know, sharing his own car wreck story ... Vic played him the song, in spite of his sidepeople being out of the loop. Nice guy, I thought. I know it meant a good lot to my friend.
Vic released a great album, "At the Cut," this year. He recorded it & toured in its support with Fugazi's Guy Picciotto and a number of other fine musicians. In the past, he worked with great bands like R.E.M. and Lambchop. He received accolades from *everyone* who matters. In a town like Athens, Ga., where *everybody* plays in several really good bands, that means a hell of a lot.
I was lucky enough to stumble upon an interview with Vic & Mr. Picciotto a week or so back, on NPR. Vic was as intimate as his songs, honestly and humbly discussing his accident, his addictions, his past suicide attempts (there were many). As had been the case as long as I've known the man's music, I kept liking him more the more I heard.
Vic passed today/yesterday, 24 December. He'd overdosed, intentionally, and left a note, instructed the authorities who found him to contact his friend, Kristen Hersh. The first reports were that he was comatose, but soon enough, his death was confirmed.
All that has ever been cool in music or the arts for that matter lost a very, very good one this holiday season.