Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images The sad news came across late Wednesday afternoon…
- Posted on Dec 25th 2009 6:15PM by Benjy Eisen
Entrenched in the Athens, Ga. music scene, Chesnutt was a songwriter's songwriter; he first earned the admiration of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe in the late '80s and since then was praised by countless other notable songwriters and musicians, many of which eventually collaborated with him. His most recent band included members of Fugazi, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, but over the years he collaborated with members of Widespread Panic, Cracker, Lambchop, Throwing Muses, M. Ward, Cowboy Junkies and many more.
Chesnutt's national profile was elevated in 1996 when his songs were covered by an impressive list of contributors -- including Madonna, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage -- for a Sweet Relief compilation album that benefited musicians without health insurance. Ironically and tragically, Chesnutt had health insurance and wasn't personally eligible for financial help from Sweet Relief, despite struggling to cover his significant health care costs. A car accident at the age of 18 left Chesnutt in a wheelchair, with a lifetime of complications.
He told Spinner earlier this year that "right now, I am in huge trouble in that the hospital is suing me for $35,000 for payment, which is terrifying -- and the rub is that I have health insurance." His heath care debt reportedly totaled more than $50,000 and his struggles with suicide and substance abuse have been well documented.
Chesnutt's catalog features 13 studio albums, including this year's critically acclaimed 'At the Cut,' which he was recently out on the road supporting. In a live review of one of those shows, the New York Times noted that Chesnutt's songs were contemplations on "not just mortality but also the broader inevitability of collapse and decay."
In an interview with Spinner this past September, Chesnutt admitted that, as an artist, he was difficult to pigeonhole into one specific genre. "I was labeled as alt-country for years but I never saw that at all," he said. "I like it when you're confused by an artist for a minute. I like it when everything popping out of your iPod from a band is not the same crap over and over. That makes me happy."
Vic Chesnutt -- both the man and his music -- made many people happy. We will remember him for that, and his songs will continue to give us moments of catharsis and release.