after last week’s breakthrough to the brighter side, i was excited to keep my eye on the positive and deliver some more upbeat music. but when i heard that vic chestnutt had committed suicide, i just couldn’t get it off my mind, and figured i should pay tribute.
i only have a single album of his, “about to choke,” and it comes out at the strangest times. i feel like i’ve rediscovered the guy a dozen times. if you haven’t heard him, it’s something like elliott smith consoling willie nelson in a disjointed voice with a twist of cat stevens in there. at once achingly sincere, and unflinchingly spare. he calls himself a subrealist on “choke.” who am i to disagree?
my wife and i caught him on “fresh air” a few weeks back, as we were driving to see richard price tell interesting stories, and terry gross was not shying away from his past suicide attempts. he talked at length about a new song that celebrated his letting go of the urge to kill himself. less than a month later, it seems he changed his mind.
struck me similarly to elliott smith in that after a lifetime of music that stared into the abyss, it seemed a sad but not surprising end. and both sealed the deal when they seemed to be on the upswing. perhaps we are most vulnerable when we are not looking over our shoulder.
the song is not meant to be an homage, but there are plenty of nods: the country styling, the uncomplicated melody, and some experimentation with free verse. but his music is all about the broken beauty of his voice, and i’m not much at impersonation. it felt good to sing quietly. also fun to play a guitar for a change. i believe it marks the first non-piano monday song.
suicide is something i’ve thought about a lot, partly out of a deep morbid streak, partly out of a tendency toward angry sadness. i usually shy away from it as a musical subject, as it’s so easy to fall into a kind sophomoric self-pity, that works only with loud guitars.