Saturday, 2 January 2010
On Boxing Day I received this text from my friend Dave Varley: "Sad news about Vic Chesnutt". This was the first I'd heard that, at 45, one of my favourite singer-songwriters had died in his hometown of Athens, Georgia.
I knew that Vic had constantly battled depression and suicidal tendencies so wasn't shocked to learn he'd taken his own life. My memories of seeing him play and loving his records still made the news incredibly sad. The tragedy seemed more poignant because that same day my friends John and Anne had arrived back in Athens after spending a week with us in the UK and we'd been talking about Vic just days before.
My first Vic Chesnutt gig was at the Garage, Highbury Corner around the time of his wonderful 1996 LP About to Choke. At the time I was getting into the likes of Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and Vic's raw, witty, angry songs often seemed drawn from the same well of Southern Gothic.
Since then I saw a number of his concerts. At least one was shambolic but two remain among the most memorable I've ever witnessed. In 1998 at The Electric Ballroom in Camden Vic played on the same bill as Calexico and Lambchop. The way I remember it, after Calexico's opening set Kurt Wagner led the dozen or so strong Lambchop through tracks from their new album What Another Man Spills. Vic then joined them to play from the album he'd just recorded with Lambchop, The Salesman and Bernadette. After that we were treated to mesmerising solo renditions of favourites from Vic's earlier records. What made that night so special was the evident joy of the collaborators and experiencing that rare, magical and infectious feeling of mutual goodwill between audience and performers.
Three years later I again experienced something similar when I saw Vic as part of Howe Gelb's tremendous all-star line-up at the Beyond Nashville festival at the Barbican. Reunited with Kurt Wagner as well as sharing a stage with PJ Harvey, John Parish, Evan Dando, Calexico and Mark Linkous Vic excitedly exclaimed, "I'm bustin' my buttons over here!" I was certainly as excited sitting in the audience.
Vic Chesnutt's lyrics have always been personal but listening to Flirted With You All My Life from this year's At The Cut, a song Vic described as his "break-up song" with suicide is now heartbreaking. Here it is as well as a few favourites that might make you smile. One of music's true one-offs, he'll be missed.
MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Flirted With You All My
Buy At The Cut: 7digital | Amazon
MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Replenished
Buy The Salesman and Bernadette: | Amazon
MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Doubting Woman
Buy Is the Actor Happy? Amazon
MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Soft Picasso
Buy Little: Amazon
Erstwhile Throwing Muse Kristin Hersh, one of Vic's closest friends, has set up a webpage to raise money for his family who are now lumbered with huge medical bills. You can donate here.
This is Kristin's cover of Vic's song Panic Pure.
MP3: Kristin Hersh - Panic Pure
Buy Sweet Relief II: Amazon
Elsewhere Boogie Woogie Flu has a lengthy tribute and some great MP3s; Captain's Dead has posted a Vic live show from earlier in the year; Aquarium Drunkard has written a typically spot-on remembrance.
Constellation Records - press releases from Vic's record label
Vic Chesnutt: a tragedy foretold in song - nice blog post in the Guardian
Michael Stipe remembers Vic Chesnutt - NPR interview from Boxing Day