I was going to talk more about memoir and creative nonfiction today, but I'm incredibly sad. Vic Chesnutt died on Christmas. He was just 45. Chesnutt had been in a coma from an apparent overdose of muscle relaxers which may or may not have been a suicide attempt. In an NPR interview he said he'd attempted suicide before, but it "didn't take." He'd been in a wheelchair since a car accident when he was 18. In 27 years, he released 17 albums.
My best friend Casey introduced me to Vic's music when I was 18. Casey lived two doors down in Dayton Hall. His roommate, Damien, always seemed to be lying in the top bunk of their stacked beds. They had measured wrong and the top mattress was too close to the ceiling; you couldn't sit up without smashing your head. But Damien didn't care. Like he was sleeping in a coffin, he hardly moved. Just sang Tom Waits songs and, now and again, talked about ideas he had for plays.
I stole About to Choke from Casey's room a week or so after he'd played it for me. The music, the real poetry of it, was so strange, so unnerving to me at the time, that, after a few listens, I shelved it.
When my world started unraveling, my days spinning with sickness and backdropped with depression and substances, I found it again. I listened to it daily, and though it was raw-throated, hurt-voiced music, it comforted me.
In the following years, I saw Vic play at First Avenue a number of times. I listened to his albums on buses and road trips. Casey and I talked about music and art and Vic's albums as we built snow forts on Macalester College's Shaw Field, and we'd fuck around, throwing snowballs at strangers or just sitting there bullshitting until he drifted away, and later those nights, long after my girlfriend went to bed, my insomnia would take me out to the fort where I'd lie in the bright white darkness. I listened to Vic Chesnutt's albums as I peeled oranges in the freezing cold. I listened to his tunes on airplanes. I listened on the beach in Miami, two days before I was supposed to have brain surgery.
On December 4, I had planned to go see Vic Chesnutt play at Hailey's in Denton, Texas. Two days before that, I realized I couldn't go.