Chesnutt talks to PopMatters 20 Questions about his upcoming work with Jonathan Richman, taking advice from Michael Stipe, and how his copy of Number One Hits of the Sixties is still the greatest album of all time.
Southern folk troubadour Vic Chesnutt is fresh off the September 22 release of his umpteenth album At The Cut, which continues his collaboration with Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and Silver Mt. Zion. Intimate and always engaging Chesnutt’s self deprecation lends to a heartbreakingly honest record. Chesnutt talks to PopMatters 20 Questions about his upcoming work with Jonathan Richman, taking advice from Michael Stipe, and how his copy of Number One Hits of the Sixties is still the greatest album of all time.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I tend to cry on airplanes. I was flying back from Australia, or New Zealand I should say. Damn. Either one of those works because I flew from Australia and touched down in New Zealand and then flew home from there. So it’s really New Zealand but, any fucking way. Let me think. I don’t even know what movie it was because I was watching somebody else’s monitor. I didn’t want to be watching a movie because I had taken a couple of Xanax to sleep and so I was watching my neighbor’s monitor and damn, I don’t even know what the movie was, but it had Philip Seymour Hoffman in it. It was just so touching, the scene, that it made me cry.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Wow. I'd like to think Gregor Samsa in “The Metamorphosis.”
3. The greatest album, ever?
Well. I think the greatest album ever is my…I bought it off of TV when I was a kid. What’s the name of that company that makes those? Number One Hits of the Sixties. I bought it when I was a kid of the TV and I still think it’s the greatest album ever. It has every great song ever. I bought it when I was 13 or something.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
To tell you the truth I don’t know either one of them that good. I’m going to have to go with Star Trek.
5. Your ideal brain food?
It’s going to be Kalamata Olive hummus.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Well, I don’t know if I’m proud of anything. I don’t think I am proud of anything. I’m ashamed of everything I’ve ever done. I’ve never done anything worthwhile in my life.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
I haven’t done it yet. I want to be remembered for something amazing and that I can be proud of [laughs]. I haven’t done it yet but I’m about to. I feel I’m on the brink of doing it, and then I will be known for that thing. Maybe I’m going to change politics as we know it by a great philosophical breakthrough. But more likely it will be something mundane like Rock-n-Roll.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I’ve had so many mentors through my life. That would be Jonathan Richman. For the past 20 years he’s taken me under his wing. He let me go out on tour opening for him and he’s given me lots of advice over the years and just watching him. Recently he produced an album for me, it’s not out yet but it’s coming out soon. He’s somebody that’s been a huge inspiration on me over 20 years as a songwriter and a person.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
I wish I was a mathematician. So I wish it was something like E=MC2 or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
10. Your hidden talents…?
I’m a really excellent souvenir.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Michael Stipe gave me this piece of advice in like 1985. My band was playing at the 40 Watt, downtown Athens on Broad Street and he came up to me after the show, we were just a local band, we didn’t have any records or anything, it’s only like our 10th or 15th time playing and Michael Stipe comes up to me and he says, “Good show Vic.” And I was like no, “I sucked, I sucked.” And he said, “Just say thank you!” So I’ve taken that advice to heart so that’s what I do know. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I ever got.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I’ve often said this before but that copy of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry that I lifted in 1984 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee has had the biggest impact on my life. That’s probably the thing that’s had the greatest influence of anything almost.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I would really like to go back to see the Library of Alexandria. And that’s pretty obvious right. It holds all of the secrets of the ancient world. That’s what I’d like to know; the secrets of the ancient world.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Vacation. I don’t like the other two things. I find that no matter how much I want to kill my enemies I realize that the unintended consequences outweigh the temporary emotional benefits.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
I remember in the '80s, I used to say that the only thing that keeps me going, even though I didn’t have a TV, was David Letterman. I don’t know why. I do love peanut butter bumpers.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
If I was rich enough I’d live in New York City. So city, New York.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
YOU’RE FUCKING UP!
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’ve got many plates in the air as they say.