Don't Suck, Don't Die

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Don't Suck, Don't Die

Giving Up Vic Chesnutt

By Kristin Hersh, Foreword by Amanda Petrusich

A haunting ode to a lost friend, this memoir by the acclaimed author of Rat Girl offers the most personal, empathetic look at the creative genius and often-tormented life of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt that is ever likely to be written.

"Don't Suck, Don't Die is not only one of the best books of the year, it's one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written.”
—Michael Schaub, NPR's Best Books of 2015

Peter Blackstock and David Menconi, Editors

October 2015


33% website discount price


4.75 x 7 | 200 pp. | 10 b&w photos

ISBN: 978-0-292-75947-3


33% website discount price


4.75 x 7 | 200 pp. | 10 b&w photos

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1136-3

Look Inside

“Friend, asshole, angel, mutant,” singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt “came along and made us gross and broken people seem . . . I dunno, cooler, I guess.” A quadriplegic who could play only simple chords on his guitar, Chesnutt recorded seventeen critically acclaimed albums before his death in 2009, including About to Choke, North Star Deserter, and At the Cut. In 2006, NPR placed him in the top five of the ten best living songwriters, along with Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen. Chesnutt’s songs have also been covered by many prominent artists, including Madonna, the Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., Sparklehorse, Fugazi, and Neutral Milk Hotel.

Kristin Hersh toured with Chesnutt for nearly a decade and they became close friends, bonding over a love of songwriting and mutual struggles with mental health. In Don’t Suck, Don’t Die, she describes many seemingly small moments they shared, their free-ranging conversations, and his tragic death. More memoir than biography, Hersh’s book plumbs the sources of Chesnutt’s pain and creativity more deeply than any conventional account of his life and recordings ever could. Chesnutt was difficult to understand and frequently difficult to be with, but, as Hersh reveals him, he was also wickedly funny and painfully perceptive. This intimate memoir is essential reading for anyone interested in the music or the artist.

  • Foreword by Amanda Petrusich
  • Author's Note
  • I. Eat Candy
  • II. Thickety Time
  • III. Go Outside and Look at the Moon
  • IV. First, Give
  • V. See You in My Dreams
  • Selected Discography


Author’s Note


Vic Chesnutt wasn’t destined to enjoy the success many of his fans enjoyed. He influenced many and died too soon . . . an old story, but in this case the story of one of the best songwriters of our generation. He and I toured together on and off for about a decade or so and I’d say we were close, though nobody was ever close enough to Vic to cart him out of his valleys and push him up into the peaks where we all wished he’d just set up camp and send more songs rolling down that mountain into our waiting ears.

The car accident that left him a quadriplegic at age eighteen was probably his most gaping, obvious wound, but there were others. Vic was not gonna stick around, in other words, unless you believed his stories of Old Man Vic, parked on his porch in Athens, Georgia, with a shotgun aimed at all comers. I definitely believed that story, because I wanted to, and because when he was alive, he was so alive. I mean, every day . . . until he wasn’t anymore.

K.H., Rhode Island, May 2015

Kristin Hersh
New Orleans, Louisiana

Hersh is a founding member of the bands Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave. Her memoir Rat Girl was widely praised by publications from the New York Times to Rolling Stone, which named it one of the top ten best rock memoirs ever written.

Amanda Petrusich
Brooklyn, New York

Petrusich is the author of several books about music, including Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 rpm Records. Her criticism and reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Pitchfork, Spin, BuzzFeed, and the Oxford American, where she is a contributing editor. She teaches music writing at New York University.

"Storyteller tells storyteller. This is a stunning, difficult, and beautiful chronicle of why and how we breathe to create. It all loops back around. The true Vic comes alive in Kristin's words."
—Michael Stipe

"The music made by the late Vic Chesnutt was evocative, haunting and often heartbreaking. Kristin Hersh's book about the singer-songwriter shares all of these qualities . . . It's a book that gives a tremendous sense of what friendship with such a person was like, for good and for bad, and leaves the reader feeling his absence even more once the book has ended."
Rolling Stone 10 Best Music Books of 2015

"A raw, poetic memoir . . . a last, wonderful example of Chesnutt at his most charismatically mischievous."
The Guardian

"Don't Suck, Don't Die is not only one of the best books of the year, it's one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written. Hersh is as stunningly talented an author as she is a musician, and her portrayal of Chesnutt is perfectly done."
—Michael Shaub, NPR's Best Books of 2015

"Hersh’s language is vivid and conversational, as descriptive and elliptical as her own music."

"[Hersh’s] observations . . .  always ring with a harsh lyrical truth . . . an eloquent, heartbreaking testament."

"In under 200 little pages, it paints a more honest, insightful picture of the late singer-songwriter than any biography could . . . Beautifully, poetically told."

"A powerful and moving insight . . . A book that will move anyone who’s loved and lost, regardless of whether they’re a fan of the author of Chesnutt."

". . . a loving but raw, funny but grim memoir of her time working with or indeed just hanging out with a man that could be, sometimes in the space of only minutes, both inspirational and funny but also witheringly sarcastic and flat out unkind. A terrific read about a much missed talent."
Total Music Magazine

"The book's great sadness is matched by the skill and vitality of Hersh's writing; it will make treasured and troubled reading for fans of Chesnutt and the author alike."
Kirkus Reviews

"An intimate, complicated portrait of the artist as road warrior . . . a beautiful but often dark, heartbreaking read."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"An ode, an elegy and an examination of the physics of friendship."
—WABE 90.1 Atlanta

"Through beautifully phrased, dark, honest prose, [Hersh] paints a poetic portrait of earnest struggle, friendship as significant savior, and learned empathy."
The Austin Chronicle


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