I read last night that Vic Chestnutt passed away on Christmas Day. I met Vic about fifteen years ago, when he played a solo show at the Malcolm Lowry Room (1993-1997), a club I opened in the North Burnaby Inn.
Vic was one of many bookings helped along by Keith Parry from Scratch Records. Demolition Doll Rods, Destroyer, Duotron -- none of these bands would have played the MLR had it not been for Keith.
I had heard Vic Chestnutt’s music prior to his booking, mostly his album Little (1990), which I saw in a Seattle record store and bought because I liked Louis Zukofsky’s book Little (1970), but also the song titles, many of which were people’s names. I was reading Gertrude Stein’s portraits at the time.
The day of the show I asked Keith what Vic might like on his rider, and Keith said no booze – Vic’s on the wagon.
About a hundred people showed up, which was perfect, because that was all we were licensed for. Vic played a fairly long set, made longer because, lo and behold, he was drinking rusty nails. Lots of them. It was a great show, one I will let someone else describe.
At the time of the booking I was told that Vic would not need a hotel room because he would be leaving right after for a stateside gig the following day. But when I went to pay him, at 2 a.m., it was clear that he was in no condition to drive. I offered him a room upstairs, for free, but he said no, and would I help him to his car. I tried to talk him out of it but he was adamant.
Vic’s car was huge, a 1970 Mercury El Gato stuffed with clothes, books and endless bags of chips, with barely enough room for his tiny frame and his wheelchair, which he kept on the rubble behind him.
How far you goin’, Vic?
Yup. He looked at his watch. Show’s in nineteen hours.
Insane, I thought. He’ll never make it. Even if he survived the drive (11 hours), he would still be too drunk to cross the border.
I slept poorly that night, haunted by a super-slow strobe that had Vic in his car intercut with that scene in Dr. Strangelove, where Slim Pickens rides to earth on an atom bomb.
Later, around 9 p.m., I got a call from Keith. He had just spoken to the Boise promoter. Vic was in the middle of his soundcheck, and holy shit if this wasn’t going to be an excellent show!
He made it. Vic made it.