I feel remiss not to have weighed in earlier on the death of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt earlier; he died at age 45 this Christmas Day after lapsing into a coma on December 24th. There is no question that Chesnutt was a big influence on me, both in terms of his music & his words; I’ve written here in the past how much I listened to music while writing poetry in the 90s, & it was an oversight not to mention Vic Chesnutt then, because albums like Little, Drunk, & Is the Actor Happy were a big part of my life’s soundtrack at that time, both poetical & otherwise.
For those of you who don’t know—& that may be a number of folks, since Chesnutt was always a cult figure & never a star—Vic Chesnutt was paralyzed from the waist down following a car accident in 1983. He had been a musician, but something about the accident galvanized his talents—amazingly enough, since the accident certainly affected his guitar playing skills, forcing him to rely mostly on simple, open chord shapes. But as folk song has proved countless times thru the years, simplicity, when followed all the thru, is no liability but rather a great strength; & Chesnutt combined compelling music with moving & literate lyrics. To say his voice was able to communicate deep & complex emotion is an understatement.
Chesnutt's death may or may not have been suicide; the cause was an overdose, & he apparently had some history of suicide attempts. There already has been much written about Chesnutt’s medical situation, & the amount of debt he owed for medical expenses, despite being insured. According to Rolling Stone:
It’s unclear whether Chesnutt’s overdose was accidental or intentional. His close friend Kristin Hersh tweeted, “No one knows much: another suicide attempt, looks bad, coma,” on December 24th. Chesnutt’s persistent medical problems had made him a harsh critic of American health care. Earlier this year he told Spinner that he was $35,000 in debt to a hospital despite the fact that he was insured.
I am no fan of a system in which insurance companies dictate health care, because it strikes me as an inherent conflict of interest—how can a business be responsible both to its shareholders & to its insured? But having said that, I’m not in a mood to rail against the machine, & I'd rather not politicize this post. As an artist, Chesnutt was about music & words, & that's how he'll be remembered in the long run. I debated whether or not to post a video of Mr Chesnutt performing one of his songs, or whether to “cover” one of his songs myself. I’ll be posting about Vic Chesnutt's song "Rabbit Box" on Just a Song a bit later this morning, so I decided I’d record one of my favorites, “Independence Day,”for this post.
Now, hoping I do the song justice….