December 25, 2009
I was saddened to hear of the passing of the great American singer/songwriter, Vic Chesnutt, who passed away last night or early today.
Vic’s records had a huge impact on me. I brought out all of the following CDs while we were touring back in the mid-‘90s:
West of Rome
About to Choke
And I picked up some later ones, like Left to His Own Devices. But it was Little and West of Rome which really killed me.
Perhaps it is a cliché by now, but I am at a loss at how else to explain Vic’s gifts other than we know some artists go out to the outer reaches or hidden depths and report back to us. Vic plunged deep and quietly brought back versions of what other artist-seekers have sought. But he told it to his fans in ways that only he could. Like all great poets, his voice was intensely personal and his language specific and profoundly evocative.
We sought out Vic when we reached Athens, GA and were thrilled to play with him at the second iteration of the famous 40 Watt club. We got to play other gigs with him over the years. He was a great person to get to know back then but I had not seen him in many years by the time Tom Maginnis and I bumped into him with Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, in a hotel elevator in Utrecht in 2007 or ’08 when we were playing the same festival. I felt like I was again meeting a legend. He was gentle man but his presence and talents awed me.
Vic’s song, “Florida,” was specifically influential on my song of the same name. They both approach deaths in that state. But that’s where the similarities end; mine is a raging wail about a relative growing old and dying surrounded by the flimsy trashiness that abounds there, while Vic’s is a plaintive meditation on the suicide of a friend. I wrote about it here on Allmusic.com about 10 years ago.
So, I could not think of a more apt cover this week. Vic took his own life, it appears. And I have just spent three weeks in Miami picking up the pieces of a senseless and obscene tragedy in Miami, written in older posts.
Sorry to be the bearer of such sadness on Christmas night.
Donations for Vic’s family can be made via this link, thanks to his friend, Kristin Hersh.