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- Posted on Dec 27th 2009 11:00AM by Liz Colville
In an audibly emotional interview, Stipe, who visited Chesnutt in the hospital Friday to pay his respects, said he last spoke to his friend following the songwriter's appearance at an R.E.M. tribute concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City this past March. "I said recently that I thought he was one of our greatest songwriters, and one of our greatest voices," Stipe said, adding that Chesnutt "was in great spirits" at the concert.
Stipe also said that Chesnutt, who suffered from depression and is believed to have overdosed on muscle relaxants earlier this week, "was very open about talking about his depression and about suicidal tendencies and thoughts." Stipe observed that Chesnutt called his song 'Flirted You With All My Life' his "break-up song with death."
Apart from his inner processes, which saw critics liken him to Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor, Chesnutt also devoted his music to causes, including the charity Sweet Relief, which helps musicians in need obtain health coverage. In 1996, musicians including R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage released an album of Chesnutt covers, 'Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation,' to raise money for the charity.
Chesnutt recently spoke out about the health care system, telling Spinner that despite having health insurance, he was in debt some $35,000 from hospital bills. Chesnutt had been in a wheelchair since a car crash at age 18 left him paralyzed. He said he was in favor of a public health option, but at that point was skeptical of President Obama's plan.
Michael Stipe joined other musicians, including Patti Smith and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, in paying tribute to Chesnutt on the website of Constellation Records, which released some of Chesnutt's work.
Patti Smith quoted from his song 'Supernatural': "I flew around a little room once. A line from Supernatural. He was just that. He possessed an unearthly energy and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind. He was entirely present and entirely somewhere else. A mystical somewhere else. A child and an old guy as he called himself. Before he made an album he said he was a bum. Now he is in flight bumming round beyond the little room. With his angel voice."
Mangum said he moved to Athens, GA, Chesnutt's hometown, in 1991 "in search of god, but what I discovered instead was Vic Chesnutt. [H]earing his music completely transformed the way i thought about writing songs, and i will forever be in his debt."
When asked what he would remember most about Chesnutt, Stipe said, "his laugh and his ability to take a very kind of dark moment and twist it and make everyone laugh at themselves. He had a brilliant way of doing that, and I will miss that for the rest of my life."