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The Rock Memoir Goes Literary

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Start with a generous dollop of sex, drugs and—of course—rock and roll.

Now add the trashed hotel room in Cleveland. Sprinkle in the corrupt manager. Toss in an addled first wife, and a redemptive third one. (Just edit out the second.)

Voilà—you’ve got yourself all the elements of the usual rock star bio.

Thankfully, Kristin Hersh is no usual rock star. And neither is her new book.

The singer, probably best known as former frontwoman of alt-rock’s Throwing Muses, has just published Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt. It’s a stark memoir of her time with her friend, the critically lauded but troubled singer Vic Chesnutt. A quadriplegic, Chesnutt committed suicide in 2005.

Her book may help bring him to new audiences. NPR called it one of the best books of the year and “one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written.”

Hersh is currently on a book and performance tour. We asked her a little bit about Chesnutt, her creative process and her early days touring alongside the Pixies.

On the motivation behind the book
I agreed to write an article in a very half-assed way. When they called me a few months later and they told me how many words they wanted, I thought, that’s a really long article. But I told them: it’s not going to be definitive. It’s not going to be autobiographical. All I know about Vic is the time I spent with him.

On Chesnutt’s genius
A lot of people will water down their inspiration and create listenable material that people like. Vic did a bit of that. He very much wanted to be loved, and a part of being loved is being palatable. But he was taxed with a complexity that was very strange. And brilliant. He heard something magic. He was good at translating it to these rubbery tones.

On their shared bond
I thought we were sort of aliens together.

On her creative process
I believe in working in a vacuum. Otherwise you come out with something clever. And clever is just crap. So once I delete all the clever and begin to work un-self-consciously... what you’re left with is viscera.

On her early days touring with Throwing Muses
The Pixies were our opening band when we were teenagers. We were children and would go tour Europe and sing folk songs on the bus and be homesick together. We were babies.

On her old record label
Yeah, Warner Brothers was annoying. There was this unspoken—and sometimes spoken—assertion that I should be more of a bimbo, and radio-friendly.

On Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads
I met [her] on an airplane and she said, “Oh you’re the other person that tours pregnant. Isn’t it wonderful?” Oh, yeah, I thought, but you’re rich. I was setting up amps every night.

— Chris LaMorte

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