R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe Remembers Vic Chesnutt

michael-stipe-vic-chestnutt.jpg
Michael Stipe / Vic Chesnutt
WRITTEN BY
William Goodman

Vic Chesnutt, a critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter from Athens, GA, died Christmas day after spending two days in a coma, caused by an overdose of muscle relaxers. He was 45.

Chesnutt, confined to a wheelchair since a car accident paralyzed him at age 18, was known for his dark, comical songs about love and death. He was championed by an array of rockers, including Billy Corgan, Madonna, and Garbage, who all covered his songs on the 1998 benefit compilation Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation, which helped provide medical funds to uninsured musicians.

R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, a fellow Athens native, was also a friend and fan of Chesnutt's work, and even produced two of the troubadour's albums.

In an interview with NPR Saturday, just one day after Chesnutt's death, Stipe said the artist "was one of our greatest songwriters, and one of our greatest voices." "[Chesnutt] was able to bring levity to very dark emotions and feelings, and he had a humor that was really quite unusual," Stipe said.

Chesnutt's death is believed to be a suicide, and Stipe said that the musician "was very open about talking about his depression and about suicidal tendencies and thoughts." Stipe added that Chesnutt's tune "Flirted With You All My Life" was the late singer's "break-up song with death."

As news of Chesnutt's death spread over the holiday weekend, musicians took to the web to pay their respects. Patti Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum both wrote to the website of Constellation Records, which released some of Chesnutt's albums.

"He possessed an unearthly energy and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind," wrote Smith. "He was entirely present and entirely somewhere else. A mystical somewhere else. A child and an old guy as he called himself... with his angel voice."

Added Mangum: "In 1991 I moved to Athens in search of god, but what I discovered instead was Vic Chesnutt. Hearing his music completely transformed the way I thought about writing songs, and I will forever be in his debt."

Over his 25-year-long career, Chesnutt released a total of 13 records (including two in 2009) and collaborated with numerous musicians, including Widespread Panic, Elf Power, Cowboy Junkies, and more. He also contributed to Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse, and David Lynch's recent release, Dark Night of the Soul.

Watch footage of Chesnutt performing "Flirted With You All My Life" below, then share your memories in the comment section.

"Flirted With You All My Life"

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