Marijuana Memorium: RIP Vic Chesnutt

The day before Christmas songwriter and musician Vic Chesnutt took his own life. I was hesitant to write a memorial to him because I was so disappointed and hurt that he’d decided, again, to try to commit suicide. CelebStoner editor and Hempilation I/II producer Steve Bloom brought Vic’s death to my attention during the last week of 2009 and he wrote a nice memorial to Vic here.

Vic was one of dozens of major musicians who volunteered and lent their talent to creating Hempilation I and II (benefit compilation albums), two separate CDs of great cannabis-related music. Vic Chesnutt had been confined to a wheelchair as a partial quadriplegic since a 1983 car accident. He suffered terribly at times from never-ending chronic pain, infections, failed surgeries and bouts with pain medication addiction. He was a regular user of medical cannabis to help control his chronic pain, spasticity and inability to sleep through a night.
Vic’s contribution to Hempilation II was a little pro-medical cannabis diddy called ‘Weed To The Rescue‘.
The reason why I say that I’m disappointed and upset with Vic taking his own life is that, by many accounts from his friends, co-collaborators and his last CD (released late this past fall), he’d finally gotten over his dark desire to prematurely end his life. Many of the songs on At The Cut, including the haunting ‘Flirting With You All My Life‘, seemed to strongly signal that Vic wanted to live, more than he wanted to die.
In my view, one the best interviewers in the media is WHYY’s Terri Gross, host of the NPR-carried show ‘Fresh Air’. I was fortunate enough to catch her interview with Vic in early December, talking in detail with him about his difficult life, muses, multiple suicide attempts and the redemptive nature of his latest album, notably the amazingly personal song X.
After listening to the interview, I was happy to hear what I thought was the resolution in Vic’s voice that any more suicide attempts were things of a difficult past that he had finally gotten beyond the day in/day out pain of his physically limited existence.
When I received the email from Steve indicating that Vic tried suicide again, and it unfortunately took this time, again, I became confused, disappointed and even a bit angry with Vic. I was not sure that I wanted to publicly acknowledge his passing.
But, then I listened on Thursday to Terri Gross’s ‘tribute’ show to Vic, featuring many of his fellow collaborators, and like me, they’re still equally confused and stinging from Vic’s death.
The last time I saw Vic was at a performance in Washington, DC a few years ago. He’d called me a few hours before the show and asked if I wanted to ‘hang out’ (our code for smoking a couple of joints before he went on stage to perform). When I arrived at the venue’s VIP dressing room area, Vic fired up a joint that smelled like burning human hair and ‘harshed’ my throat seriously. I suggested we try one of mine…after Vic’s first inhalation he coughed like he was going to collapse a lung…then he looked up at me, with his eyes watering and a huge grin creeping up his elfish face, he exclaimed “Holy shit…that must be NORML executive director-quality weed!”
After the warm-up act ended the venue’s staff came into the haze to inform Vic that he was up next, but they’d arranged for him to sit in a chair to perform on stage, rather than bring him up there in his more comfortable wheelchair. He asked me if I could pick him up and bring up on stage.
I’m not a terribly strong person, and I wondered whether I could actually lift him out of the wheelchair and bring him up onstage. I was amazed at how light he was and as I started to put him down into the chair at center stage and I said something to him like “Man, you weigh next to nothing!’
A roadie handed him his little guitar, and as he plugged into the sound system and pedals he looked up at me, smiling, and said “I guess I’m only made of blood, sweat, tears…and THC.’ Then, this little, totally frail, meek body started to create a wall of noise, sounds and electronic distortion that filled the entire concert hall.
I always marveled at how much life and enthusiasm seem to explode from Vic’s voice and guitar, considering his severe physical limitations, and it always gave me a strong degree of hope regarding the resilience of the human spirit.
I still believe in the power of one’s own existence to touch the lives of others in positive ways, but Vic’s death presents for me a new and challenging way to view life.

0 thoughts

  1. WELL russ this is a sad day for all of us and the talent this man had will be missed and some people cant be saved so dont blame your self for you know you tried
    burn one for him in memorium

  2. If you would like to download the Hempilation CDs, I have found a torrent for each of them. I’ll now list the torrent URL so that we can all enjoy these great CDs! I am also downloading them both, and will enjoy them soon. =) Enjoy!
    Hempilation – Volume 1:
    Hempilation – Volume 2:
    These are safe links, I guarantee it, if you don’t believe me, use LinkScanner to scan them.You can find the LinkScanner by Googling it, or going here:
    Please enjoy these great disks! I know I shall. ^.^
    Support the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2010! Check out Oregon NORML’s new site, it’s got a new look!
    Oregon NORML:

  3. Noone wants to take their own life, it’s something that happens when the pain becomes unbearable. It’s rarely a rational decision, except perhaps when someone suffers over time. In any case I believe this should be up to the individual to decide, and I believe euthanasia should be legal. It’s your body.

  4. Allen,
    I feel your pain man. Sometimes this life doesn’t and will never make sense. The decision to take one’s life is very personal, and a lot of times impossible for even the closest of friends to notice. Don’t blame yourself, you did what you were supposed to do, be a good friend. I’ll light a fattie for Vic and pray for his family and friends.

  5. Allen St. Pierre: Grieve for a day or two, then ask yourself what would Vic want me to do?
    This was a precious statement, draw on that Allen.
    “Holy shit…that must be NORML executive director-quality weed!”
    Thanks for sharing this touching story.

  6. As one who can identify with someone suffering with relentless chronic pain, I understand how a person can fluctuate between a desire to end it all and a hope that the future holds the potential for some form of living relief. For me, the frustration flows from a realization that the perpetual battle between simple desire for genuine medication and the ignorance of believers in “reefer madness” is one which forces folks like myself to choose between relief and the constant threat of criminal prosecution. We all know the reasons for prohibition, yet even the most sensible arguments fall on stubbornly deaf ears. Years of study and research are just not enough. Proof of the lack of negative impact on society by over 12 years of medical cannabis access for a limited number of patients is patently ignored. Fears by polititians that supporting medical access is somehow viewed as being “soft on crime” results in turning backs on the needy citizens in favor of protecting political careers. Wealthy business interests make sure their bottom lines are protected by continuing prohibition. A fear-loving public embraces every hint of threat suggested by those opposed to cannabis legalization, and refuses to be educated about the truth.
    Today, I don’t want to commit suicide, as I view the “other side” as one of nothingness, and nothingness has no room for relief.
    As every day presents the opportunity for reevaluation, I can’t predict how I’ll feel about things tomorrow.
    So I think I understand where Vic was coming from.

  7. My heart felt sympathy to the family. I struggle with many of the same issues from a physical disability from severe injury as well, and have my days of wondering why I continue and for who, then I try and find the sweet leaf and it reminds me of all the smokers who desire to smoke free, and so it gives me the life needed to continue to fight my anti life state for medicinal marijuana.

  8. thank you allen….an, im sorry he could not hold on to things. life is different for everybody. sometimes, it is too much..damm that….too bad ganja could not have helped his lows…it has mine and, im thankful for it. hopin his family will find peace an comfort some how and a strength to carry on for the cause.sounds like that is what he would have wanted. this should make us all a little more determined huh?

  9. Allen, thanks for sharing. I was not familiar with Vic’s work, but I will definitely check it out tonight.
    I defend everyone’s personal rights, even when it comes to taking their own life. It is the ultimate personal choice. Unfortunately, that choice can leave many people reeling in the aftermath. Stay strong my friend, and keep Vic’s memory alive by continuing to share stories such as this.

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