Kristin Hersh is that rare breed of musician who is also a fantastic writer. Though most people would know her from her solo career or her bands Throwing Muses or 50 Foot Wave, her first memoir, Rat Girl
, described her life as an 18-year-old songwriter, newly diagnosed with mental illness and pregnant. Mary Gaitskill called it "awestruck — by music, feeling, perception, wild animals, mystery, dreams….It is an original beauty." Her most recent book, Don't Suck, Don't Die
, is about her deep and long-lasting friendship with Vic Chesnutt, another extraordinarily gifted musician who committed suicide in 2009. Hersh seems to write and live where magic does — her combination of unsettling honesty, intuition, and eerily poetic language creates an impressionistic portrait of a loving, conflicted friendship between two unusual people, their relationship to art, and their marriages. Michael Schaub of NPR raves, "Don't Suck, Don't Die
is not only one of the best books of the year, it's one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written," and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. writes, "A stunning, difficult, and beautiful chronicle. The true Vic comes alive." Funny, heartbreaking, gorgeous, and raw, Don't Suck, Don't Die
is a powerful work and a fitting tribute that will stay with you for a long, long time.
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Jill Owens: When I talked to you about Rat Girl
, it sounded like you were reluctant to write that book at first — and I heard you were reluctant to write this one, too. How is it that people keep talking you into writing books?
] I don't know! I wish they'd stop, because obviously I'm a reluctant individual.
I was honored to be asked to write an article about Vic because it seemed like, well, better me than someone else. But when I said, "sure," what I meant was "probably not." [Laughter
] I'm a musician, and I figured people think I'm a fuck-up, and I'm always gone, and so it's not gonna happen.
But then six months later, the University of Texas Press called asking how it was going. I said, "Oh. Well… How many words did you want again?" And when they told me, I said, "That's a really
long article!" [Laughter
] They said, "Yeah, we're a publishing company. You told us you'd write a book, so you'd better get on that."
I realized I was going to have to warn them that there would be nothing definitive or biographical or even typical about what I was going to deliver. It'd be more like dreams and memories combined. All true — this is nonfiction — but sense perceptions, perceptions like sense memories, are fuzzy and dreamlike. And so is a storyline when you're talking about a human being who is somewhat shocking every time you see them, unpredictable, like Vic.
Every time I told them this, every time I gave them an excuse, they would say, "That's what we're looking for." So I couldn't get out of it.