Almost Ready to Hear Vic Chesnutt Again

Some musicians are easy choices for the noise-canceling headphones when I travel. Peter Case is such a player….“Full Service, No Waiting” was an easy choice to begin my flight to Hawaii. Vic Chesnutt used to be a go-to choice, but I haven’t been able to listen to him since his death a couple of Christmases ago. I only met him once when he played a show with my friend William Tonks at the High Hat Blues Club.
The High Hat was a great Athens, GA bar, and William used to play there as half of “Hot Burritos” every Tuesday circa 1994-95. They would play a set on their own and then they would play one with a guest. The year I lived there the guests included Mike Mantione from Five-Eight, Jack Logan, Ben Reynolds of Chickasaw Mudpuppies, Kevn Kinney from Drivin n’ Cryin, Mike Mills from REM, and…Vic Chesnutt.
Embarrassingly, I almost fell back over Vic as the bar was so crowded, and I didn’t know he was behind me in his wheelchair as the crush of people moved us both backward. When I turned, he rolled his eyes generously…patiently. When I made it back to William who had kept a seat for me on the bar near the stage, he introduced me to Vic. A ten second exchange took place..that was it.
At that point I was not yet a fan. In fact it was only when we moved to Cleveland almost fifteen years later that I got hooked. Though I had seen him once in Asheville at The Grey Eagle, it was when “North Star Deserter” came out that I really paid attention. Others have written better and more knowledgeably than I ever could about his stunning talent as a song-writer. Prolific, ironic, funny, mercurial, and honest are the adjectives that come to mind this morning.
When the news came that he had taken his own life, winter had already arrived to Northeast Ohio, hiding the sun away for days on end, and I just couldn’t shake the image of our one meeting. Nylon string guitar resting on his lap and laying across his shoulder, wool cap on his head,  he was so slight.
I had found “North Star Deserter” completely compelling as a whole (the songs “Marathon” and “Debriefing”  were the ones I listened to the most). Until his death, I played them often in the truck as I drove out through the lake effect to school from Lyndhurst to Gates Mills and back. By the fall of 2009, I had moved onto his final three recordings, “At The Cut,” which is great, “Dark Developments,” which is good though inconsistently so, and “Skitter Upon Take Off,” which is largely unimpressive. Interestingly, between the end of 2007 and 2009 four records came out. Apparently he was in a hurry.
The world must have been so hard that, even armed with genius, with devoted friends, and with the insulation of an endlessly dry wit, he just couldn’t make it further down the road.
Having just written briefly about the passing of Doc Watson, I don’t have any answers or insight about the loss of such remarkable and talented people. I simply know that we should always be in the business of appreciating and supporting them while they are here.
I keep waiting for the day when I am ready to listen to Vic again. I think it will be pretty soon. I’ll let you know.

4 thoughts on “Almost Ready to Hear Vic Chesnutt Again

  1. Chad Laney June 11, 2012 / 7:02 pm

    Hope the early days of Summer are treating you well! When you are ready to listen to Vic again, check out “Westport Ferry” by Brute… It is him at his finest and most “slight.”

    Safe travels and take care,


    • J Ross Peters June 11, 2012 / 8:11 pm

      Thanks for this, Chad. I have heard those Brute discs, but never listened carefully. I’ll definitely take your recommendation. Have a great summer (I hope it includes some shows!).

  2. admiral17 June 13, 2012 / 6:45 am

    I am always pleased when you share your thoughts on music. I have no answers about the “world so hard”. My ongoing hypothesis is that “the curse of the gods” is very real. We get no great talent without a (usually) hidden or deferred cost. Enjoy the sun and salt air. I stongly recommend Jeff Beck’s album celebrating Les Paul at the Palladium.

    • J Ross Peters June 14, 2012 / 2:42 am

      After another beautiful day here, it is hard to believe in the curse of the Gods this week, but I am inclined to agree with you. I will definitely check out the Jeff Beck.

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