What to say about the loss of one of the great singer songwriters of our times?
I first saw Vic Chesnutt in the early 1990's, opening for Bob Mould at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI. I loved his his dark, twisted and deeply self-depricating sense of humor and the poetry he used to embody it in song. I still have the vinyl copy of his debut album Little which I bought from him at that show, and the subsequent records have been very important to me down the years. Seeing him live was always a treat, and the desire of other artists to work with him-- from Kristin Hersh to M. Ward (who I saw for the first time opening for Vic at Southpaw in Brooklyn) to Grandaddy to Elf Power and countless others who contributed to the Sweet Relief II compilation of his songs-- proves nothing more than the fact that behind his disarming, gruff and tender exterior was the beating heart of a great artist.
About 10 years ago, when our lives were in the orbit of mutual friends, I attended a small birthday dinner for Vic's at a friend's apartment in New York, and talked to Vic and Tina Chesnutt a little bit, got to know them ever so briefly and chuckled to myself at his reaction when he opened his big gift; a first iPod (Vic: "An iPod? Fuck! Thanks!"). After that, I never felt afraid to give a small hello when I saw him in a club or with friends, always greeted with a little bit of time and generous conversation. All this did was endear him more and more to me as an artist, and the obvious disappointment and pain that lurks in his music was not broached in such casual conversation. The fact that it was always there, though, made the news of his death yesterday less of a shock than a huge disappointment, not at Vic himself, but at life. Those you wish would live forever seem to always discover something unendurable about their own suffering in the world; I refuse to feel anything but compassion for Vic in the wake of this news and while I know the world will miss his howls growls and hushed tenderness, I also think his own relief is important to consider. And while that is small consolation to me, I will never know what it means to him. Which is all that matters.
Kristin Hersh, another of the great singer-songwriters of our time and one of Vic's close friends, has set up a place where donations can be made to help Tina and Vic's family pay for the expenses of this loss. I hope you will join me in making a contribution. May he rest in peace and may his records find ears forever.
Vic performing Panic Pure, a personal favorite of mine