Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vic Chesnutt, 1964-2009

What cave have I been in? I just learned today (HT Paste magazine) that Athens, Georgia, musician Vic Chesnutt died on Christmas Day. Paste have posted a memorial playlist, which I would encourage Flyover Country readers to listen to, but let me post two more which I would consider glaring omissions:

"Degenerate", from 1996 major-label release About to Choke. Great lyrics, but it was the layered guitar that first induced me to put this song on single-track repeat.

A live performance of "Rabbit Box", originally released on Vic's first (1990) album, Little. This is a field-sports song, sort of: as he explains in the liner notes...

Rabbit Box is an illegal (in Georgia) live trap
very unsportsman-like
I don't do the hunties anymore
Truly Pike County nostalgia
you don't hunt doves with a 20 gauge
single shotgun and you don't aim shotguns
and you don't shoot birds off powerlines
but I was a stupid little kid

Vic's paralysis, the result of a drunk-driving car crash, is often cited as an influence in his music. Certainly it affected his guitar playing; he has been quoted as saying that while he could play simple chords, the "jazzier stuff" eluded him after the accident. It may also have contributed to his lyrical style, as many of his songs ("Tarragon", for example, or "Soft Picasso") are written from the perspective of an observer of relationships—and confinement to a wheelchair might certainly afford opportunities for in-depth people-watching. His music may not have been everyone's cup of tea—my wife could never get past the mock-Spanish accent he adopted for his rendition of "White Christmas" (on Flagpole magazine's Christmas album)—but he always reminded me a bit of Neil Young: insightful "outsider's" lyrics, sung in a reedy voice, often with stripped-down arrangements, very different from most "commercial" music. Or maybe Vincent van Gogh would be a better comparison: troubled but brilliant, far ahead of his time and gone far too soon.

I never met Vic, but I have always enjoyed his music, and I extend my sympathies to all his family and friends in Athens.

Okay, maybe one more: the appropriately funereal "Threads", again from About to Choke.

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