Gravity's Rainbow

But in Chesnutt's cosmology, those shards may constitute the only reasonable reason to keep on keeping on. In the 1993 biopic Speed Racer, he told filmmaker Peter Sillen that in essence all his music is about his accident. It's not unusual for artists who have lost full use of their bodies to confront the life of the soul; author Andre Dubus has explored Christian spirituality, while singer Robert Wyatt has advanced a collectivist idealism. Yet in one of his earliest songs, Chesnutt is yelling, "I'm not a victim/I am an atheist." He's always been more existentialist than idealist, despite the fact that his natural mystic pal Victoria Williams got him to cowrite a song called "God Is Good" for Sweet Relief II.

Eisenhower ashtrays and Salvation Army horn charts
Danny Clinch
Eisenhower ashtrays and Salvation Army horn charts


Vic Chesnutt
The Salesman and Bernadette

By the end of The Salesman and Bernadette, after nearly disappearing into a suicidal bender, the Salesman finds a surprising benediction— through the act of memory— on "Old Hotel." Given the name of Chesnutt's first label and his recent parting of ways with Capitol (he's now with his hometown's maxi-indie Capricorn), it isn't hard to read the song's little epiphany as autobiography. Only Vic Chesnutt knows exactly what he found back in that rented Florida room when he decided life was worth living. But he continues to defy the gravity of the situation. Hearing him sing, "Soon I'll be down the hill shopping/Giddy like a tipsy Mary Poppins" like Willie Nelson cribbing Busta Rhymes, you gotta be grateful for it.

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