Tiny Desk

Vic Chesnutt

I didn't think much of Vic Chesnutt when I first heard his music more than 15 years ago. I was just out of college and living in Athens, Ga. Chesnutt lived there, too, and was making occasional appearances at some of the local clubs. He was often drunk and sometimes belligerent. I walked out of at least one performance.

A friend of mine remained loyal. She caught most of his shows and had the two albums he'd released at that point: 1990's Little and 1991's West of Rome. Though I hadn't noticed at the time, both were filled with the anguish of someone struggling with a lot of (now obvious) inner demons. He suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety. There was the drinking problem. He readily admitted to fairly heavy drug use. I can only speculate that it was at least partially a form of self-medicating, since a horrible car accident years earlier had left him paralyzed from the waist down.

All of this probably made it easy to dismiss Vic Chesnutt's music. He was a challenging guy, and his unpolished, idiosyncratic songs weren't easily digested.

Everything changed for me one rainy autumn night while attending a small party at my friend's house. She put on West of Rome and let it play quietly in the background while everyone chatted in the kitchen. Maybe I was in a less festive mood, but before long, I found myself sitting alone in front of the stereo, absolutely transfixed by Chesnutt's voice as he began one of his heartwrenching stories: "West of Rome / just east of the border / in a static-y Ramada Inn / polishing his boots and pummeling his liver / steeped in dark isolation." I hung on every word.

The music of Vic Chesnutt is deeply intimate and introspective. It requires a little solitude to really take it in. For me, I suddenly saw and felt both the joy and sadness of his world. His music was, and still is, like life itself: crude and elegant, beautiful and gruesome. Chesnutt is a remarkably gifted lyricist: The strength of his songs lies in his Southern-flavored narratives, which capture more in a handful of carefully chosen words than many novels.

So I can't recall when I first heard Vic Chesnutt, but I definitely remember when I first listened. After 15 years, he's sobered up and put out a dozen albums — some better than others, but all of them memorable and moving.

Though he's revered by better-known artists (both Madonna and The Smashing Pumpkins have covered his work), and he has a loyal fan base, Chesnutt doesn't have much of a machine to promote his music. He's posted his personal email address online for anyone to see. That's how I contacted him when I saw that he'd be in D.C. for a show to promote his latest album, North Star Deserter. He wrote back right away to say he'd be happy to give us a Tiny Desk Concert. We couldn't be more thrilled to have him.

Set List

  • "When The Bottom Fell Out"
  • "Very Friendly Lighthouses"
  • "Panic Pure'"
  • "We Were Strolling Hand in Hand"
  • "Glossolalia"
[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Delicate Steve performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Mar. 3, 2017. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR) Marian Carrasquero/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marian Carrasquero/NPR

Tiny Desk

Delicate Steve

This fierce and lyrical guitar player writes playful instrumental music led by hooky vocals — but there is no voice, just the human-like twang of a glass slide on a guitar.

Sampha performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 7, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Sampha

A Tiny Desk Concert as intimate as it gets (that's saying something). Just Sampha, a piano and three heart-wrenching songs that seem to double as coping mechanisms.

Red Baraat performs at Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 8, 2017. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR) Marian Carrasquero/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marian Carrasquero/NPR

Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Special Edition: Red Baraat's Holi Celebration

The Brooklyn bhangra band come to the Tiny Desk in celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of color that welcomes the coming of spring.

Tank And The Bangas perform perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Mar. 6, 2017. (Niki Walker/NPR) Niki Walker/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Niki Walker/NPR

Tiny Desk

Tank And The Bangas

Tank And The Bangas' victory lap around the Tiny Desk was momentous, celebratory and deeply touching, with a flair and alchemy of styles that could come from New Orleans.

Maren Morris performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 16, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Maren Morris

One of the newest Grammy winners stops by the Tiny Desk to share her winking, sometimes tongue-in-cheek songs.

Ninet Tayeb performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 14, 2017. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR) Marian Carrasquero/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marian Carrasquero/NPR

Tiny Desk

Ninet

One of Israel's very popular artists may be walking a similar path to early-career Joan Jett — she brought that same intensity to the Tiny Desk.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 23, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

To celebrate Fat Tuesday, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band brought their euphoric horns to the Tiny Desk for a raucous, joyous set.

Little Simz performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 23, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Little Simz

Little Simz has been compared to Lauryn Hill for her self-reflective wordplay. And though the British lyricist is a relative new-comer, her Tiny Desk performance was poised and confident.

Agnes Obel performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 9, 2016. (Raquel Zaldivar/NPR) Raquel Zaldivar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Raquel Zaldivar/NPR

Tiny Desk

Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel manipulated the Tiny Desk to better suit the deeply alluring and powerful music she brought to us.

Esme Patterson performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 1, 2017. (NPR) NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Esmé Patterson

Esmé Patterson has dropped the banjos and folk from her previous project Paper Bird, and in their place are electric guitars and a backing band worth getting behind.

Back To Top