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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vic Chesnutt's Life Was A Life Marked By Tragedy


In the last year there were many important people who passed away as a result of their addictions. Sadly, one of those people went relatively unnoticed; for whatever reason the name Vic Chesnutt and his death went undetected by many in the media. When it came to high profile deaths in 2009, Jackson, DJ AM, Murphy, and Johnson seemed to get all the attention. Vic Chesnutt is not a name that many people know, he was not some mainstream music star; he had yet to win any Grammys at the time of his death and he never invented any dance moves that would end up going down in history. He did, however, touch the lives of many people throughout the music community - singing songs of sadness and inspiration. Vic Chesnutt's life was a life marked by tragedy, creating an uphill battle for Vic's entire life. Not many paid attention to Vic when he was alive, perhaps more will find comfort in his lyricism now that he has passed on.

Chesnutt, a songwriter known for his dark folk music with a touch comedic relief, died on Christmas day in Athens, Georgia. Vic spent several days in a coma that was caused by an overdose of muscle relaxers. When one looks at the surface of this story it does not seem like anything new, another musician loses the battle against drugs and alcohol or they end up taking their own life for a number of emotional reasons. Vic's story is a little bit different and makes one ask the question, "Was Vic Chesnutt overlooked by society?". Vic Chesnutt was born in 1964 in Georgia, at the age of 18 he was involved in a car accident that ended up placing Chesnutt in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Although he was paralyzed from the neck down, he found that he could move his hands enough to play simple cords on his guitar; he invested all of his energy into songwriting. The first two albums Chesnutt ever created were produced by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. "Chesnutt gained national prominence thanks to 1996's Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, which featured Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., Garbage and more bands covering his songs to raise money for the Sweet Relief charity, which aids musicians in need of health care", according to Rolling Stone.

At the end of the day, Health Care is what this story is really about. At the time of Chesnutt's death, his medical problems ended up making him a critic of the American health care system. Chesnutt was one of the fortunate Americans to have health insurance; but, he still found himself with $35,000 in medical bills which weighed on the singer heavily. Despite releasing 17 records in his career, Vic was not a rich musician; there is very little money and even less respect in the indie-music scene. It is believed by many that Vic deliberately overdosed because he could no longer deal with the health care system that he was bound to and the insurmountable debt that came along with that system.

He was certainly passed over by Insurance companies, my peers, and even myself; the music industry kept Chesnutt alive and ultimately played a part in his death. I hope that you will take the time to listen to the power of just one of Vic's songs.

"I guess the very emotional nature of my songs attracts emotional people, and they become quite, um, emotional. They come up to me after the shows, and I don't know what to say to them. I dont want to be an asshole or anything, but I think I do my best communicating alone in my room, when I'm writing songs. But I do appreciate them very much. If it wasn't for them, I would've killed myself a long time ago."

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