Vic Chesnutt died the other day, an apparent suicide. I interviewed the singer/songwriter a few months back, when he appeared on Mountain Stage. He wasn't who I wanted. I wanted Neko Case, but she wasn't talking to the likes of me.
Chesnutt was my clutch, a last minute choice. I fired off an e-mail through his website and was startled when he e-mailed back.
In most cases, nationally known musicians don't do their own e-mail. Even the indie guys like Chesnutt don't do their own e-mail. Somebody else takes care of the calls, the websites and the scheduling. On the lower levels of the game, duties like that are handed off to managers or agents. Higher up, they get web managers, publicists and all kinds of fatty, protective layers who keep the artist snugly secure.
Chesnutt had no layers protecting him. He fired back an e-mail within an hour or so of me sending it. He gave me his home number (another sort of rarity), but told me to speak up and identify myself. He screened his calls.
It was kind of a novelty and maybe speaks to the situation he was in.
Chesnutt was broke. According to reports, he was deeply in debt for medical treatments, many of them linked to a car accident he was involved in when he was still a teenager.
I only got about ten minutes with him over the phone. Our interview sucked. He struck me as lonely and bitter, but smart. We just didn't really gel. Conversation was forced. He was guarded and we couldn't seem to find enough common ground to make it interesting. We couldn't even really talk about his latest project. The album I'd been given was his last album, not his latest. We didn't have a point of reference.
It was just a mess. He deserved better than he got. I just didn't ask the right questions.
Chesnutt seemed like a good guy, someone who deserved better than the hand he was dealt, but who just got tired of trying to play and finally just threw out.