“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.
“This pocket-sized book is a curious mix of memoir, letter, and shattered elegy. Yet in under 200 little pages, it paints a more honest, insightful picture of the late singer-songwriter than any biography could…. [Hersh’s] descriptions (“his little pointy sneakered goat feet”) and remembered conversations, the intimacies and the road tales – some happy (the Robin Hood hat), some not (the methadone on the airport toilet floor) – are beautifully, poetically told. And the ending is haunting – for him and for her”—Sylvie Simmons, MOJO, November 2015
“[Chesnutt’s] contradictions are perfectly captured by the writing, which is at once oblique yet vivid with detail and word play (at one point the disembodied coice of a lighting engineer is described as ‘Wizard-of-Ozing’). Alive with Southern vernacular, Don’t Suck, Don’t Die captures the warmth of ‘gross and broken’ soul mates, the selfishness of friendship (‘I didn’t care that you hurt’), and the heartache as marriages and then lives are lost. As such it’s a book that will move anyone who’s loved and lost, regardless of whether they’re a fan of the author or Chesnutt.”—Susan Darlington, R2, October 2015
"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, Lead singer of REM
“I did give up on him,” she says. “Not for the standard reasons. I wanted more; I was frustrate. I find old stories like striving for success, holding grudges or reaching for drugs just… boring. I wanted Vic to be better than that, because he was better than that. Pain almost always wins, though. His shining was rarely rewarded, while his pain was fed constantly. We need to do better by people like Vic on this planet. The shallow have many outlets, many rewards. Aching hearts suffer in private."—Uncut Magazine, August 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