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
Series: American Music Series
“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
- 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
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
“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. ”
“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.”
“A raw, poetic memoir . . . a last, wonderful example of Chesnutt at his most charismatically mischievous”
“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. Hersh’s language is vivid and conversational, as descriptive and elliptical as her own music.”
“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.”
“An intimate, complicated portrait of the artist as road warrior . . . a beautiful but often dark, heartbreaking read.”
“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
“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.
“It’s messy and spiky and unforgiving, crushingly sad, sometimes funny, and humane . . . I couldn’t speak for a while after finishing Hersh’s book.”
Inside Higher Ed
“[I]n this haunting, poetic, musical road show memoir, singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh takes us inside her friendship with Chesnutt. Her experience is as insightful to a musician's life as it is to the human existence—constantly probing and reevaluating self-understanding along with her footing on the planet. . . . There are lines you'll never forget, and you can't help but love the adorable, self-sabotaging, curmudgeon Chesnutt revealed in these pages. You'll wish you'd been there to absorb his flak backstage or in the southern sun. On balance, this book stands as a testament to the sincerity of his songwriting.”
The US Review of Books