Cover of the Week 60 Florida (Vic Chesnutt)

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 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.


7 thoughts on “Cover of the Week 60 Florida (Vic Chesnutt)”

  1. Touching stuff: I listened to your track and then got lost youtubing the Vic version, and some interviews- this was an anxious and troubled guy- the eyes of an addictive personality were clearly evident. Its obvious from the interview that he was most at peace playing music, and that the camaraderie he got from the "bands" that played with him was a special thing.

    Strangely, the audience in the live performance of his version starts out laughing at the "redneck riviera" line, but then it just gets poignantly sad. Perhaps this reinforces the fact that fantastic art comes often times from painful life experiences, and the "muse" is not always a "helen of troy" beauty, but many times a Siren leading your ship to the rocks.

  2. Heard about Vic's passing yesterday, and it was harrowing news indeed.

    A legend in his own time.

    His latest bout (?) of depression was apparently brought on by heaps of unpaid medical bills, and maybe getting sued for not paying 'em.
    Although I am aware that he didn't become a multi-millionaire from his record sales, I still can't see how some of his famous semi-rich friends failed to pick up the §40'000 tab — a lot of money for some, peanuts for some.

  3. Another thing, his name was "Chesnutt", not "ChesTnutt" as in the first paragraph and the label of your (Bill's) post.

  4. Such a sad, sad story. I was fortunate enough to spend one memorable night with Vic and Lambchop right after they played Conan O'Brien. It was tremndous night of laughs, drinks and lots of great storytelling.

    By the way Bill, when I attempt to download the MP3, it only comes up as 8 seconds of sound. It might just be on my end, I'm not sure.

  5. Another nice tribute.

    I was also saddened by the news, which I first read on twitter when he was in a coma. Reading @kristinhersh's thoughts are heartbreaking. Give her a hug if you see her at First Night.

    I can't say that I followed Vic closely, but I knew that he was well respected and I did pay attention. However, I recently heard the NPR Fresh Air interview with him and it was riveting. He talked very candidly about death/suicide "I flirted with you all my life", his accident, his medical bills and of course, his music.

    Listen at

    Maybe the best complement I could give any artist or their art is that it's honest. And Vic certainly was that.

    Another way to help might be to buy and spread Vic's music. I think I'll do that myself.

  6. Vic was a stunning talent. So sad that such otherworldly abilities are so often accompanied by immeasurable darkness. Your cover of "Florida" is a lovely and fitting tribute to Vic's greatness and turmoil.

  7. There are few musical acts more entwined with my own coming of age than Vic Chesnutt and Buffalo Tom. The great ones seem to find each other… at least most of the time. Therefore, I'm not surprised to hear you'd played together in the past. Only sorry to have missed it.

    And Bill, if you get a chance, pick up some of his later work. His last 2 records– North Star Deserter and At the Cut– which he recorded with Silver Mount Zion and Guy Piciotto (Fugazi's another iconic one for me), are among his very best work.

    Vic, you will be dearly, sorely missed.

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