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Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt

2 November 2015

Kristin Hersh
University of Texas Press

That car accident left you with exactly-and only-what you needed. What you needed to this, to play songs that were just a little bit too much.

One generally reads a memoir to learn a stylized version of the truth- stylized by the author, time, and the benefit of hindsight. Ex-Throwing Muse Kristin Hersh didn’t write of her time with Vic Chesnutt in that way. Her remembrance instead is an old band-aid of a book, so old it has become one with the wound beneath, and the reading is akin to pulling it away-slowly- until that last, painful stab signifies it’s over.

Hersh toured with Chesnutt, and called him her best friend. He called himself a dickhead, as a statement of fact. He was temperamental, petty, abusive, and seemed to harbor a deep well of self-loathing that led him, in Hersh’s word, to his suicidal “comas”, the last of which, of course, on Christmas Day in 2009 was successful.

You remembered the line that haunted me most. I used to wake up in motel rooms, still sweaty from last night’s show, burning with pre-hangover, hoping against hope that there was such a thing as hope. And that’s what I would hear: you singing, “Pretty soon I know I’ll do/Precisely what I wanted not to do.” You remembered. I stared at you, stunned.

Hersh only calls him “Vic” a few times, rather she refers to him as “you”, giving the book such a degree of intimacy that you feel as if you are eavesdropping on a private, painful conversation. It is without a doubt the most searing memoir I’ve ever read, blunt at times, cryptic at others. You come away torn by Vic Chesnutt. On the one hand, he comes across as one possessed with a giant strength of will, crafting his songs from his wheelchair, raising above his limited circumstance to create art. The other side was less noble- his sudden mood swings, his abusive manner, his selfishness.

You’ll never read a book with such emotional impact as Don’t suck, Don’t Die. When asked about writing about their time together, Hersh originally responded “Too painful.” One suspects that that feeling never lessened while she wrote it, but one hopes that by giving such a heartfelt eulogy to her best friend, she was able to make something of her anguish. The same way Vic Chesnutt did every time he played his music with painful fingers, in spite of it all. A music that was just a little bit too much.