It's not entirely clear what happened, but it sounds like a suicide. The guy had made previous attempts in the past, but it appears there hadn't been any in over a decade. What makes the timing of this news particularly upsetting is that he'd just released an album, At the Cut, where he directly addresses these suicide attempts in a song called "Flirted With You All My Life." The song treats suicide like a would-be lover with whom Chesnutt has had a series of near-misses. In the lyrics, he comes to the conclusion that for all of suicide's appeals, it isn't right for him...
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 deathOh death, I’m really not ready
But Chesnutt's death is not as simple as a routine suicide (as if there was such a thing). The other issue at hand is-- get ready-- America's totally Fucked Up health care system. The quick back-story is that for the past several years, Vic Chesnutt couldn't pay his obscenely scary hospital bills, and that this may have driven him over the edge. He'd been paralyzed at age 18 after a drunk driving accident, suffering from medical complications ever since. It recently had reached a point beyond anything he could control. From his obit:
However, Chesnutt had recently struggled with a lawsuit filed by a Georgia hospital after he racked up surgery bills totaling some $70,000, the Athens newspaper reported. He said he couldn't afford more than hospitalization insurance and couldn't keep up with the payments.
The problems baffled his Canadian bandmates, Chesnutt said.
"There's nowhere else in the world that I'd be facing the situation I'm in right now. They cannot understand what kind of society would inflict that on their population," he said. "It's terrifying."
This entire ordeal was documented on an episode of "Fresh Air" with Terri Gross that aired at the beginning of this very month. Vic talked about his medical bills, overcoming his suicidal depression and the new record. It's crazy that this all came to a head so soon after that interview was taped. Listen to the full episode if you get the chance. It's long but it's great radio, and it's so revealing in the wake of all this. (It also features Chesnutt's collaborator, Guy Picciotto, who is best known as the lead guitarist of Fugazi. All the more reason for a certain Drischord to love the album.)
To be succinct, this is really sad news. A huge loss for American folk music. I'd like to write more at a later date, but for now I'm going to re-post a track that I included in a blog entry a few months back. It's called "Aunt Avis", and it shows Vic Chesnutt at his most penetrating and haunting. Listen to this in a dark room on a good stereo and you'll shudder.
This is an insufficient tribute to a great musician and a casualty of our awful, awful healthcare system. The world is better for the 15 albums Vic Chesnutt gave it but worse off for being a place where people like him die way before their time.