Saturday, December 26, 2009

West Of Rome

Well-loved Southern singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who, despite living with paralysis most of his life, had a long and distinguished career in the folk/indie-rock scene, died on Christmas Day, while struggling with a lawsuit from a Georgia hospital trying to recoup thousands of dollars worth of medical bills from him. Is this an indictment of our system or what? Will the new, watered down, mandated health care bill do anything to prevent furture tragedies of this kind? In the UK, Robert Wyatt is taken care of and given the respect he deserves. Our homegrown wheelchair-bound geniuses are not so lucky. This is a crime.

I admit I had not followed Chesnutt's career very closely, but I saw him perform and liked his records when I heard them. He was a big favorite of my old editors at Puncture mangazine, and my friends Flavio and Fabrizio Steinbach, later of Barbara Manning's Go-Luckys and their own instrumental combo Crashing Dreams, called their first teenage band West Of Rome after one of his songs. He was a gruff, gravel-voiced little guy with a dark sense of humor, but his songs were full of heart. He deserved better.

Filmmaker Jem Cohen writes on Chesnutt's record label's page this morning:
"The most important story to report now is not Vic’s death but a life and work overflowing with insight, humor, and yes, resilience. This, after all, was the man who wrote: “I thought I had a calling, anyway, I just kept dialing.” Sixteen extraordinary albums, five in the last couple of years; countless live shows so powerful and sublime they deeply altered the lives of those on the stage with Vic and those looking up, yes up, at him. The second most important story here has to do with a broken health care system depriving so many of the help they need to stay around and stay sane, and a society that never balks at providing more money for more wars but fights tooth and nail against decent care for its citizens. Vic’s death, just so you all know, did not come at the end of some cliché downward spiral. He was battling deep depression but also at the peak of his powers, and with the help of friends and family he was in the middle of a desperate search for help. The system failed to provide it. I miss him terribly."
Due to that broken system, Vic's family and friends are stuck with the bill for the death of their loved one that the system failed to save. Ex-Throwing Muses leader Kristin Hersh has put up a website for donations to help them, if anyone has resources and Christmas spirit to spare in these rough times.


Substance McGravitas said...

That is truly awful.

Ian Schultz said...

Roland S. Howard died on the 30th :-(

J Neo Marvin said...

He never did look like the healthiest of boys, but this came as a surprise.

Didn't he just have a new album coming out? Shame he didn't have a chance to enjoy the results.