Vic Chesnutt (1964-2009)

We lost another wonderful one.  Vic Chesnutt died over the holiday.  Like a lot of people, he was a songwriter who meant a lot to me and made me understand how songs could be art.  He also made me see how the South and its language was an endlessly viable and malleable artistic medium.  As a displaced Southerner who has spent over a decade in the Northeast, this is an important thing to remember.  When I first saw Vic perform at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, I went to the show with my future wife.  It was around Halloween, I think, and we stopped to buy a dia de los muertos statuette of a skeletal bride and groom.  When we got to the show, the beautiful space of St. Ann’s church darkened and Vic rolled up to the piano to start his show.  He slowly picked his way across the keys with the opening to “Myrtle,” from About to Choke, using one hand occasionally to pick the other one up and move it to a different note.  It seemed painstaking, but it produced a methodical and gorgeous movement across the notes that held the song together in a drawn-out structure.  It was a really moving performance, and it was one of the few times I’ve been moved to tears at a show (blissful tears, though).  I still have the skeleton couple souvenir of the evening, and it represents both permanence and impermanence of love, marriage, life.  It reminds me that embracing the wonderfulness of what you have means understanding it as temporary and imperfect.  Looking back today, there is a link in that and Vic’s song for me.  His songs always made me feel happy, even joyous, but in a way that fully understood how beautifully sad and corrupted such happiness is.  Now that he has died, I feel even more that theme and I am both terribly sad that he is gone, but also somehow satisfied that his music still tells the truth about our lives, hard as they can be.  Rest well, Vic.  And my kindest thoughts and hope go out to your wife and family.

If you’d like to do something to help, Kristin Hersh has set up this site to defray the family’s medical costs.

All best.


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