Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt

When I first started to read this, something was out of whack, not right. I was stumbling on Hersh’s writing style, not digging it. Then I fired up West of Rome, letting Vic’s music soundtrack my reading for the next hour. Much better, Vic’s plaintive wail easing my initial distaste of the choppy delivery, but the writing was perfect for the story, written directly AT Vic, to him, and we just spectate. It’s Kirstin and Vic on tour around the world, with their respective spouses (Billy & Tina), not feeling comfortable anywhere but rundown motels, gallivanting around Europe and the U.S. Hersh alludes to their connection around car accidents: “That car accident left you with exactly — and only– what you needed. What you need to do this, to play songs that were just a little bit too much. Oddly a car accident was what made me play music, too. Not a lifetime in a wheelchair, but as you used to say: ‘time spent on your ass is time invested.'” If Vic’s two-finger playing wasn’t up to a particular song on tour, he’d flip her off, code for “my left middle finger ain’t working right todya, so I can’t play that song.” Fair warning, this is a tear jerker, since Vic offs himself at the end, on Christmas in 2009, and Kirstin gathers her thoughts, calling him “super human… brilliant, hilarious, and necessary.”
Updated to include:
On a personal level, I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chesnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their total incomes fall in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.
Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.