Vic Chesnutt Talks Life, Death, and ‘At The Cut’ on NPR (MP3)

Vic Chesnutt - At the CutAt age eighteen, Vic Chesnutt went from a reckless young man to a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. All of his close family died off by the time he hit 25. He’s struggled with substance abuse. He owes $50,000 in medical bills. And yesterday, the 45-year old songwriter confessed to NPR’s Terry Gross (stream) that he’s tried—unsuccessfully—to kill himself at least four times.

It should be no surprise that he’s an introspective writer, but needless to say, it’s not the kind of overwrought introspection made famous by guys like Jackson Browne or Dan Fogelberg. Chesnutt sees himself and the world in ways that break your heart (and his own). Consistently. West of Rome, his darkly comedic 1991 release, is one of my favorite albums of all time—especially the bonus track-laden remaster from 2004.

His latest album, At the Cut, is another in a long line of masterpieces. Produced by Arcade Fire’s Howard Bilerman, the album features contributions from Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and A Silver Mt. Zion, and it’s been positively reviewed by the LA Times, the New York Times, Pitchfork, the AV Club, and many others.

According to the AV Club, the “A”-rated  At the Cut is Chesnutt’s most intense effort yet, and it peaks with his breakup song “Flirted With You All My Life” (MP3):

[“Flirted”] finds a fresh trail to the emotional brink. With one shockingly simple lyrical twist, the song implodes the barriers of cynical crankiness Chesnutt so often sets up. It’s at once among his sweetest and most crushing songs.

To find out who (or what) he’s breaking up with, you’ll have to listen for yourself. If the song piques your interest (and it should), be sure to check out the above NPR stream. The fascinating conversation features both Chesnutt and Picciotto, and ranges from the story of the drunk driving accident that took away his mobility, to family, life, death, debt, and the state of health care in America from the perspective of someone who desperately needs it.

Chesnutt is also scheduled to play a few shows in early December. If you’re near any of the cities listed below, be sure to check him out.

Vic Chesnutt tour dates
12/2/09 – Club Congress – Tucson, AZ
12/4/09 – Hailey’s – Denton, TX
12/5/09 – Central Presbyterian Church – Austin, TX

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