By YIFA YAAKOV
Celebrated musician James Victor "Vic" Chesnutt (1964-2009) died on Friday afternoon - Christmas day - at a Georgia hospital after suffering an overdose of muscle relaxants.
While a serious car accident left Chesnutt partially paralyzed at the age of 18, his condition did not stop him from writing songs. Fellow musicians were quick to discover his sometimes jarring, wholly personal Americana music, and two of his albums - Little and West of Rome - were subsequently produced by REM's Michael Stipe.
Throughout his career, which spanned two decades, Chesnutt recorded with such bands as Widespread Panic, Lambchop, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Elf Power, Cowboy Junkies and Figazi's Guy Piccioto.
Chesnutt also contributed to Dark Night of the SoulÂ¸ a groundbreaking musical project on which producer Danger Mouse collaborated with band Sparklehorse, filmmaker David Lynch and various artists to create an eerie, resonating collection of songs.
Chesnutt's lyrics may have strayed far from death, but they never stopped courting it. "I flirted with you all my life," he sang in his grating voice on one of the most chilling tracks on the recently released At The Cut. "I even kissed you once or twice."
Another outstanding track from Chesnutt's newest album - 'Granny' - is a haunting depiction of the generation gap between grandparents and grandchildren. Had it been released a few decades earlier, it would have served as the perfect musical accompaniment to David Lynch's early short film The Grandmother.
Many musicians expressed deep sorrow at the news of Chesnutt's death. Rocker Patti Smith said he was "entirely present and entirely â€¦ a mystical somewhere else," while Stipe stated that the music industry had lost one of its "great ones."
"In 1991 I moved to Athens, Georgia in search of God, but what I discovered instead was Vic Chesnutt. Hearing his music completely transformed the way I thought about writing songs, and I will forever be in his debt," said Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum in a message posted on Constellation Records' Web site.
Chesnutt's memorial service will be held in his hometown of Athens, Georgia on Sunday afternoon.
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