Singer and Songwriter Dies at 45: Vic Chesnutt, whose darkly comic songs about mortality, vulnerability and life’s simple joys made him a favorite of critics and fellow musicians, died Friday in a hospital in Athens, Ga., a family spokesman said. He was 45 and lived in Athens.
He had been in a coma after taking an overdose of muscle relaxants earlier this week.
Mr. Chesnutt had a cracked, small voice but sang with disarming candor about a struggle for peace in a life filled with pain. A car crash at age 18 left him partly paralyzed, and he performed in a wheelchair.
The accident, he has said, focused him as a songwriter, and it became the subject of some of his earliest recordings. “I’m not a victim/Oh, I am an atheist,” Mr. Chesnutt sang in “Speed Racer,” from his first album, “Little,” produced by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and released in 1990.
In a recent interview on the public radio show “Fresh Air,” he told Terry Gross: “It was only after I broke my neck and even like maybe a year later that I really started realizing that I had something to say.”
Although he never had blockbuster record sales, Mr. Chesnutt was a prolific songwriter who remained a mainstay on the independent music circuit for two decades, making more than 15 albums.
Musicians flocked to work with him: he recorded with the bands Lambchop, Widespread Panic and Elf Power, as well as the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and in a recent burst of creative activity he made two albums with a band that included Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and members of the Montreal indie-rock group Thee Silver Mt. Zion.
Because of Mr. Chesnutt’s fondness for simple guitar chords — after his accident his fingers could no longer form the jazzier ones, he has said — his work was often described as a variant of folk-rock. But the sound of his albums changed with their revolving collaborators, from stark recordings of Mr. Chesnutt alone to finessed full-band arrangements.
…He sings about suicide in “Flirted With You All My Life,” from his recent album “At the Cut,” describing death as a lover he must break up with because his accomplishments in life are incomplete:
When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind
But I found out with time that really, I was not ready, no no, cold death
Oh death, I’m really not ready.