The Last Waltz: Vic Chesnutt
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
James Victor “Vic” Chesnutt
Singer-songwriter (born Jacksonville, Fla. on Nov 12, 1964), aged 45.
Earlier this year, Nashville alt country act Lambchop released their eleventh studio album ‘Mr M’ dedicated to the memory of Vic Chesnutt. The deeply personal songs on ‘Mr M’, written by Kurt Wagner, are each a tribute to a close and special friend and fellow artist. Love, loss, anger, anguish and pain thread deeply through the intimate creations. On ‘If Not I’ll Just Die’ Wagner sings ‘Uh, I adore you, and I represent you crying cause/We were born, we were born to rule’ over the ‘psych-Sinatra’ sound of Tony Crow’s piano and majestic strings. The aching ballad ‘Mr Met’ describes the flow of emotions following Chesnutt’s passing, ‘You made me spare/Like used software/It will not bring you.’ The album ‘Mr. M’ is deeply moving, personal and a fitting tribute to Wagner’s close friend and mentor. Kurt Wagner has said how the ghost of Chesnutt still lingers over his music. They first met in the early nineties and later in ’98, Lambchop themselves were the backing band for Vic Chesnutt’s ‘The Salesman and Bernadette’. I was fortunate to see Lambchop in Vicar Street, Dublin during their Mr. M tour earlier this year. The songs of Mr. M were performed from start to finish and was an utterly special and beautiful moment in time to witness.
Vic Chesnutt had many close friends and collaborators over the years, not least Michael Stipe who produced his first two albums. Michael Stipe was an early fan of Chesnutt and produced both ‘Little’ (1990) and ‘West of Rome’ (1991). The albums are dark folk masterpieces filled with a vivid realness that casts both light and dark shades of human emotion. ‘Flirted With You All My Life’ is a profoundly sad and haunting song Chesnutt wrote about his close relationship with death which deals with suicide, ‘And everywhere I go/You are always right there with me/I flirted with you all my life/Even kissed you once or twice.’ Songs can rarely strike such an emotional core like those of Vic Chesnutt’s proud songbook. His last two albums, ‘North Star Deserter’ and ‘At The Cut’ were released on Constellation Records and received unanimous critical praise. Chesnutt’s final album ‘In The Cut’ is as raw and honest as an album can get. The opener ‘Coward’ is an anthemic tour de force with crashing drums and violent strings pouring with deep emotion. Chesnutt’s refrain of ‘I am a coward’ is as powerful as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or Tom Waits at their best. The sparse ballad ‘When the Bottom Fell Out’ is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. The final verse resonates powerfully:-‘So long, it’s been good to know you/But when I finally smash into that vertin grass/I will say it’s been pretty great going.’
Vic Chesnutt was paralysed from the waist down following a car accident in 1983, at the age of 18. In a recent interview, Chesnutt said ‘It was only after I broke my neck and even like maybe a year later that I really started realizing that I had something to say.’ Chesnutt wrote about a struggle for peace in a life filled with pain and on Christmas Day 2009, he tragically passed away by an overdose of muscle relaxants. Vic Chesnutt made a huge impact on so many people’s lives and his memory will forever burn brightly.