The Top Whatever, an Aside: Vic Chesnutt

(beautiful photo by Jem Cohen, of Constellation Records)

Vic Chesnutt wasn’t a phenomenon of the last decade – he was indeed the highlight, musically, of my 1990s – but he was a major part of my musical life from the first moment until yesterday’s last. I saw him everytime I could, picked up every record, and chewed on every line of his incredible lyrics. The Info Pusher and I found him together, sought out his harder-to-find records all over the place together, loved him together. If I were to have a piece of music inscribed on my headstone, it would be his music. I wrote about his music more than anyone else’s, and wanting to have my say about him was a big part of starting Bad MonkeyX, the site that preceded this blog. So I’m taking the liberty of sticking him into this Top Whatever series.

I’m still reeling a bit – I had the moment this morning where I’d forgotten he was gone and had to re-realize it. But I’m also sort of sadly not that surprised; like another artistic hero, Kurt Vonnegut, Vic Chesnutt had let us know long ago that he was ready to go. He wrote so many songs about it over the years, including on this last record, where he sang “Ohhhh, death! Ohhh, death!” (Flirted With You All My Life, from At the Cut). With both men, however, I always took the occasional hints that they were over their sadness as the more true messages; that’s called wishful thinking, I guess. The funny question: after years of threatening suicide, Vonnegut died an old, angry bitter man who fell and hit his head. Which is a better death? More importantly, who’s to judge?

It’s baffling, and revealing – like it was with Cobain, with Elliott Smith – that having this incredible talent, this amazing way to let your soul out, and this clear evidence that you are important to people – how is that not enough? It makes me think that there is no thing that makes life bearable; I’ve always known that money and fame weren’t the answer, but it is sad to find out that neither are genius, community, marriage, or music. Sad people are sad people.

And who knows what it was like to live in his busted body? For us it was always the incredible voice that flew from it that mattered, but watching him on stage, his endless trying to get comfortable in his chair, the work he put into trying to get into a good position for the mic, his treacherous arms interfering with his guitar playing… for him that must have been equal in impact on his day.

Of course, in both hypotheses, I’m only guessing. I suppose, really, I don’t want to know. Not knowing why he died when he died will fit in just fine with his musical legacy, with his poetry, and with his dark, earthy sense of humour. He wouldn’t have said, I think: just look at those crazy biographies he’d write, in point form: in between something like “discovered leonard cohen” and “learned trumpet”, a four letter explanation of something huge: “coma”.  It occurs four or five times in the list, which is otherwise mostly full of wonderful things.

I’m not sure why I’m writing all this. I guess so I can think about it. I’m full of sadness that he’s gone, and I’m shattered for his wife, and I wish we could have had more of his music – but that was not a thing I would ever have wished to stop. I’m glad we got to see the stunning, incredible last show in Toronto, and I’ll never forget that. I’m glad we got to hear him at all, ever.

I wrote about almost everything he did, here and at Bad MonkeyX; I was just looking it over and remembering, listening. The one I’d like to share a link to is the piece I wrote about About to Choke, the very best record of its decade. If you’re not familiar with it, you should check it out. If you are already familiar, here’s a song to help you if you’re having trouble crying. If you’d rather laugh your sad ass off, listen to the song below it. Both is fine, too.


See You Around – from About to Choke

Good Morning, Mr. Hard On – from Nine High A Pallet

[ADDENDUM: Kristin Hersh has put up a donation site for Tina Chesnutt and the rest of Vic’s family; Vic Chesnutt was carrying large medical bills when he died. I’m donating, and think you should too. It’s Paypal, so it’s easy and small amounts are doable. Here’s the place to do it: ]


4 Responses to “The Top Whatever, an Aside: Vic Chesnutt”

  1. 1 traci December 26, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    great writing here. i’ve been a fan of vic’s since the early 90s and have been poking around online, i guess just trying to make sense of it, or get context, or feel community, or something. your piece here is the first thing that’s gotten close to making that happen for me (well, and the thing that kristin hirsch wrote on that donate-money website). so thanks for writing. i want to write my own thing but i don’t even know how to find a way IN. for a long time i used to dream about vic. i have all these dreams written down different places. dreams of getting in bed with him back-to-back, feeling shy but having great conversations. dreams of him wearing a king’s crown and me crawling towards him in a renaissance faire-esque boob squisher dress (??!). dreams of him sitting in a cherry picker playing a show while moving the hydraulics around. i brought my dad to that one, in my dream.
    i am tired and sad and make no sense. just thanks, is all.

  1. 1 study program Trackback on December 9, 2018 at 12:39 pm

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