Just reading about Vic Chesnutt is something that can´t stand alone if you want to fully understand and really get into his songs. Especially the content of the lyrics of this unique singer-songwriter who sadly passed away in 2009 aged 45.
Most of his songs are about how to deal with an adult life of being a quadroplegic meaning being paralyzed from the hip down after a drunk drive car accident in his late teens. But also childhood and youth dreams and -memories are present in his songs.
Before the car accident Vic Chesnutt was playing in local bands but during his long rehabilitation he found his own voice writing songs about what all songwriters do, in fact, their life. Nothing unusual here apart from the fact that in the case of Vic Chesnutt´s it would be a life of dealing with severe disability.
This was excactly what he did and feeling strong enough to perform his songs he started performing at a venue in Athens, Georgia where a well known singer in the most popular Athens band, R.E.M., heard Vic Chesnutt´s performance and persuaded him to make an album of his own songs. Michael Stipe himself would produce.
This started an unusual and uneven career which took Vic Chesnutt from unknown to well known by the stars as his songs were covered on a charity album called "Sweet Relief II" by artists as diverse as Smashing Pumpkins, Live, Garbage, R.E.M. and Madonna.
Normally you don´t need to judge a recording and performing artist by his physical abilities but in this case you´ll have to make an exception because the whole body of work of Vic Chesnutt is full of songs about a life of being a disabled musician and is mirrored in both his composing and indeed in his lack of ability to playing the guitar.
Vic Chesnutt now either performed solo or with a band of friends and family. This is reflected in his albums as uneven as his own career.
I must say that I prefer the albums with a backing band leaving Vic Chesnutt to do what he does best and most heartrending: singing.
Rudimentary as his guitar playing may be yet his voice is strong and full of emotion: regret, anger, sorrow and loss but it also contains a very dry humor and sarcasm.
How simple his songwriting may seem because of his inability to play usual fingering there is always a strong melody to carry his sometimes unbearable lyrics about looking back to his youth, being hospitalized, experiences from his long rehabilitation, but also about how to end a life of misery which in fact was what happened to him in the end: he committed suicide with an overdose of prescribed muscle tranquilizers in 2009.
I recommend listening to "About To Choke" and "Silver Lake" where Vic Chesnutt performs with a backing band "lo-fi"-style and this works very well with his songs.
If you are ready to go deeper into his songwriting then listen to his early solo work "Little" and "Skitter On The Take-Off".
A small personal comment here is that in 2003 Vic Chesnutt visited the venue Dexter in Odense, Denmark as part of an alternative-folk/indie-rock package including Howe Gelb with his Danish band. Vic Chesnutt was wheeled to the stage lifted up on stage and handed his electric guitar.
He then gave a most touching performance for about 40-50 minutes backed by Howe Gelb and band.
A rare opportunity to experience this truly individual and original musician- in fact a performance I´ll never forget!
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