Michael Stipe, Patti Smith and Jeff Mangum Remember Vic Chesnutt After Tragic Passing

BY Josiah HughesPublished Dec 28, 2009

As we reported last week, celebrated singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt passed away on Christmas Day after an apparent suicide attempt. Chesnutt, who was 45, allegedly overdosed on muscle relaxants, which put him into a coma.

Chesnutt leaves a long legacy behind him, with a career that includes over 17 releases. Throughout that discography, he developed quite an impressive list of collaborators. Most recently, he was connected to Montreal's Silver Mt. Zion, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and Jonathan Richman, who produced his most recent album.

Many of Chesnutt's friends have spent their holidays in mourning after this sudden loss, and have offered their condolences. R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, who produced Chesnutt's first two albums, spoke highly of the fallen musician to NPR. "He was able to bring levity to very dark emotions and feelings, and he had a humour that was really quite unusual," Stipe said. "I said recently that I thought he was one of our greatest songwriters, and one of our greatest voices."

Elusive Neutral Milk Hotel front-man Jeff Mangum, writing on R.E.M's website, said, "In 1991, I moved to Athens, Georgia 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."

Patti Smith also wrote in to the R.E.M. site. "'I flew around a little room once.' A line from Supernatural. He was just that," she wrote. "He possessed an unearthly energy and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind. He was entirely present and entirely somewhere else. A mystical somewhere else. A child and an old guy as he called himself. Before he made an album he said he was a bum. Now he is in flight bumming round beyond the little room. With his angel voice."

Close friend and collaborator Kristin Hersh set up a donation page for Chesnutt's family. There, she writes, "What this man was capable of was superhuman. Vic was brilliant, hilarious and necessary; his songs messages from the ether, uncensored. He developed a guitar style that allowed him to play bass, rhythm and lead in the same song - this with the movement of only two fingers. His fluid timing was inimitable, his poetry untainted by influences. He was my best friend."

Fans of Chesnutt's work should make an effort to visit that donation page. As we reported earlier this year, Chesnutt was plagued by $70,000 in hospital bills thanks to unreliable health insurance. In October, he told Spinner, "Right now, I'm in huge trouble, in that the hospital is suing me for $35,000, which is terrifying, and the rub is that I have health insurance."

It's unknown whether the stress of these bills led to what may have been suicide.

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