Sunday, January 10, 2010
R.I.P. Vic Chesnutt
I'm a music fan. I've got a bunch of records. I've been going to shows for many years but I would say that I haven't seen as many live performances as I would have liked to, considering my interest.
For a time in the 90s I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer as an usher for the Arts at St. Ann's, then still housed at the historic St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn Heights. I saw many shows there during that time. But I was blessed to have been in the audience (rather than working that night) for a performance by Vic Chesnutt, playing with his "skiffle band" which included his wife, Tina, on bass guitar.
Back then I had not heard any of Vic's music yet. I'd heard about him, and I think I might even have heard a snippet or two in record stores or on radio, but those left little palpable impression. I simply didn't get it. He was a singer-songwriter, clearly southern in drawl and attitude and what so different about that?
When Vic began to sing, in that usually underheated and slightly decrepit church, on that particular night, however, the impression was enormous, awesome, life-affirming. I cannot say that I've ever been as attentive at any concert as I was at that one. Every pore of my skin seemed to be open and waiting; I was like a baby bird, only more silently so, ears as wide as those chickadee's beaks can stretch, hearing a profound performance given by a brilliant performer.
What was it about that moment that caught me so powerfully? On hearing the album that he was promoting at the time, the magnificent "About To Choke," I realized that Vic had been performing the songs at about half-speed at St. Ann's. He really took his time with them. Perhaps, and one could guess this about a lot of what he did, it was because he was so badly crippled that he poured the kind of grace that a solo flamenco dancer displays into his vocals, simply because that was all he could still control to the degree that he clearly needed in order to express the depth of his convictions. He was spell-binding, blood-curdling, breath-taking and hilarious.
I miss him, never met him and wish you all could have seen him that night. It must have been a hell of a lot of pain to bring him to the point of taking his own life, a life that has so generously contributed to my own.