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Something About “Vic Chesnutt”

Updated: May 30, 2020


Vic Chesnutt from The Neighbors Dog TV

Vic Chesnutt was a songwriter born in Jacksonville, Florida (US). He died on 2009 at the age of 45. His grandfather taught him to play guitar and started writing songs when he was only five years old. As he got older and began buying records, his first favorites were Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Daniel Johnston. At the age of 18, while drunk, he had a car crash, when he woke up from a coma, he discovered he became paraplegic and he started to shape his new life as a wheelchair stranded person.


Jem Cohen (film maker)

“This is not a story of a rock star being on heroin or even drinking themselves down”

Music then was his only occupation and even with one hand paralized he was still capable to play some simple chords. Things started to change for the best when he attracted Michal Stipe’s (R.E.M.) attention that decided to produce his first album “Little” recorded in 1988. The album was a good kick starter for his career but was constantly going in and out of hospitals because of his condition. Healthcare in the US is horrific and without proper insurance due to the economical crash he returned back having his old drinking problems. This never stopped Chesnutt was a prolific musician with a high plaintive voice who recorded raw, intensely poetic albums in quick succession and maintained a rigorous performance schedule.


Columbia Records put together “Sweet Relief II: Gravity Of The Situation – The Songs of Vic Chesnutt”, a benefit album to assist musicians with medical and financial hardship. It featured Vics songs covered by the likes of Madonna, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Red Red Meat. The compilation also got him popularity and thanks to that he had the chance to continue and collaborate with Sparklehorse, Elf Power, Fugazi, Silver Mt. Zion, Howe Gelb (Giants Sand), Bob Mould (Husker Du) and many others.


Vic Chesnutt committed suicide on the 25 of December 2009 by an intentional overdose of muscle relaxants. Even if he was having a brilliant career he repentantly was not able to afford the medical expenses and therapies necessary for his condiction. During one of his latest interviews he described his situation with these words “And, I mean, I could die only because I cannot afford to go in there again. I don’t want to die, especially just because I don’t have enough money to go in the hospital”. I had the chance of listening to his music only a few years before his death but only when I did research about him, listening to his interviews for this article I realized how beautiful he was as a human being; always ready for a laugh- and I got sad as the day I read about his death-. What happened to him never changed anything about the medical system in the US and these episodes keeo on happening every day… what a shame for a country that self proclamate the saviours of the world when instead, profit, is at the centre of every activity.


In the playlist I included short cuts of Interviews I had listened to and taken from the two documentaries I found about his life:

“Speed Racers: Welcome to the world of Vic Chesnutt” (https://youtu.be/25QQGsprqf0) “What Doesn’t Kill Me” (https://youtu.be/QI_wIZdy4Rs)

Interview by Jochen Heyden in Amsterdam (https://youtu.be/YvYj07B8TyA).


Playlist: 01. Vic Chesnutt with Michal Stipe – Injured Bird (End of Violence Soundtrack) 02. Vic Chesnutt – Speed Racer 03. Vic Chesnutt with Bob Mould – Hickory Wind (Gram Parson Cover) 04. Vic Chesnutt – Like A Monkey In The Zoo (Daniel Johnston Cover) 05. Joe Hanry with Madonna – Guilty by Association (Vic Chesnutt Cover) 06. Smashing Pumpkins with Red Red Meat – Sad Peter Pan (Vic Chesnutt Cover) 07. Elf Power – Why Can’t I Touch It 08. Sparklehorse – Sunshine 09. Vic Chesnutt With Silver Mt. Zion and Fugazi – Coward


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