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Singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt gets out of Dodge, suicide at 45

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

He raged and he railed from his wheelchair, guitar pick taped to his limp right hand. But in the end, Vic Chesnutt met death on his own terms.

Vic Chesnutt wheels into the spotlight at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on June 16, 2009. (Photo copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Chesnutt, 45, whom R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe found howling behind a microphone in an Athens, Ga., dive decades ago, went into a coma earlier this week after downing a bunch of muscle relaxants, something he’d done before.

Only this time, he made sure.

Chesnutt was coming off a a trip to Australia and a bunch of local shows and sounded powerful as ever.

He was fascinating, in a disturbing kind of way (or was it the other way around?), his dark and brilliantly humorous songs about life and death honed after he rolled his truck when he was 18, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Legend has it that Stipe caught Chesnutt’s alcohol-stoked act one night and literally wheeled him into the studio the next day to cut his first album. Another helmed by Stipe would follow. Chesnutt also collaborated with the bands Lambchop and Widespread Panic.

Some of his songs were performed by others in a 1996 collection for the Sweet Relief Fund, which offers medical support for musicians. And although he toured now and then, it was difficult to tell whether Vic wasn’t really into it or didn’t have the energy to perform such intense, demanding material.

Ironically, he recently released a kiss-off to death, “Flirted With You All My Life”:

“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.”

More appropriate might be the song “Dodge,” performed in this clip just a few months ago:

“There’s so many ghosts out there on these streets
I always hate to ponder who’s under those sheets
Every little thing is temporary
If I stay here any longer I’ll end up very very scary
It’s just a general freak that is boiling in me
And I’m terrified what it’s gonna dislodge
I done shit everywhere that there is to eat
Guess it’s time for me to get the f*ck out of Dodge.”

ALSO SEE: Gone too soon (from the brilliant blog “ Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? “)

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