RIP: Vic Chesnutt Killed By Death

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EW: A statement on Constellation Records’ official site reads in full: “Surrounded by family and friends, Vic Chesnutt died in Athens Georgia this afternoon, Friday 25 December at 14:59. In the few short years that we knew him personally, Vic transformed our sense of what true character, grace and determination are all about. Our grief is inexpressible and Vic’s absence unfathomable. We will make more information available according to the wishes of Vic’s family and friends.” It’s an unspeakably tragic end to Chesnutt’s story. Left in a wheelchair by a car accident at age 18, Chesnutt went on to build a devoted following with his folk-rock songs, many of which dealt eloquently with themes of pain and mortality. That following included many fellow artists: Fans including Madonna, R.E.M., and Smashing Pumpkins covered his work for Sweet Relief II, a 1996 compilation that raised funds for musicians’ health care. Chesnutt spoke openly about his own death in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross that aired earlier this month. “You know, I’ve attempted suicide three or four times. It didn’t take,” Chesnutt said then. “I’ve flirted with death my whole life. Even as a young kid I was sick and almost died a few times.” Pressed by Gross on the subject of his suicide attempts, he added, “Sometimes I’d be angry that they revived me. I’d be like, ‘How dare you?’…But of course as the hours and days wear on, you realize, well, there is joy to be had.” MORE

JEFF MANGUM, NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL: “In 1991, I moved to Athens, Georgia in search of God, but vic_pic_300.jpgwhat I discovered instead was Vic Chesnutt. Hearing his music completely transformed the way I thought about writing songs, and I will forever be in his debt.”

PATTI SMITH: “‘I flew around a little room once.’ A line from [Chesnutt’s song] ‘Supernatural.’ He was just that. He possessed an unearthly energy and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind. He was entirely present and entirely somewhere else. A mystical somewhere else. A child and an old guy as he called himself. Before he made an album he said he was a bum. Now he is in flight bumming round beyond the little room. With his angel voice.”

RELATED: “The most important story to report now is not Vic’s death but a life and work overflowing with insight, humor, and yes, resilience. This, after all, was the man who wrote: ‘I thought I had a calling, anyway, I just kept dialing.’ Sixteen extraordinary albums, five in the last couple of years; countless live shows so powerful and sublime they deeply altered the lives of those on the stage with Vic and those looking up, yes up, at him. The second most important story here has to do with a broken health care system depriving so many of the help they need to stay around and stay sane, and a society that never balks at providing more money for more wars but fights tooth and nail against decent care for its citizens. Vic’s death, just so you all know, did not come at the end of some cliché downward spiral. He was battling deep depression but also at the peak of his powers, and with the help of friends and family he was in the middle of a desperate search for help. The system failed to provide it. I miss him terribly.” MORE

VIC CHESNUTT: Virginia

Featuring the photographs of Elliott Erwitt.

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