By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated December 26, 2009 at 08:19 PM EST
Chestnutt: Sandlin Gaither

To say this is a difficult day for those who knew and cared about Vic Chesnutt, the singer-songwriter who died yesterday at age 45, can only be an understatement. “I miss him more than I’ve missed anybody ever,” Kristin Hersh (of Throwing Muses and solo fame) tells’s The Music Mix today, her voice heavy with emotion. “Fifteen years was not enough time to prepare for this. It’s just hard to imagine a world without Vic.”

Chesnutt became one of Hersh’s dearest friends in the mid-90s, when he was her opening act on a solo acoustic tour of Europe. “It’s hard not to get close with Vic,” she recalls. “He was wonderful. A lot of people don’t know that, because he liked to think of himself as an ornery character, but he wasn’t. He was a sweetheart, and hilarious, absolutely hilarious.” The two went on to collaborate and perform together often in subsequent years, most recently at an R.E.M. tribute concert at NYC’s Carnegie Hall this past March. “Vic and I were very, very much alike, and that’s part of why we were so close,” says Hersh. “I feel like the last of a species after he’s gone.”

Through those years, friends couldn’t help but be aware of Chesnutt’s struggles with depression. “Vic was a real songwriter. Unlike 99 percent of the musicians out there, who suck for money, he was in it, living the songs. That’s a hard way of life….I don’t know how this minute was different from all the other ones, that it took Vic away. But you could see it in his eyes. I didn’t think [a tragic death] was inevitable, but it was definitely always there.”

Up until recently, Hersh and Chesnutt were planning to record a new album and tour together this year. Now that he’s gone, she’s set up a website to raise funds for his widow, Tina. Fans have already donated thousands of dollars. “Vic’s medical bills were astronomical. Like most musicians, he didn’t have insurance for a long time, and then when he got insurance, they wouldn’t pay his bills. I know that he was about 50 grand in debt just for medical bills….[Fans’] generosity is unbelievable.”

Asked about the possibility of a posthumous tribute to Chesnutt’s work, Hersh laughs through the tears. “I imagine he would think that was goofy. He’s also a difficult musician to cover…That’s part of what was so beautiful about his playing, the fluid timing. That’s what was truly inimitable about him. You can’t be Vic. I don’t recommend covering his songs, even though it’s been done before and I’ve done it myself. Vic played his own music, and that’s the way it should have been played, not by us peasants.”

Right now, though, the tragedy of his death is still too fresh for her to listen to his music. “There are hardly any of his songs that were not my favorites,” Hersh says. “All week, I couldn’t take [Chesnutt’s 1998 album] The Salesman and Bernadette off. I had it on repeat over and over and over again. And then when I heard he was gone, I decided I wouldn’t be able to listen to it again.” Hersh pauses for a moment. “I hate the idea of him being in the past, but I don’t see how I can sit through one of his songs. There are so many memories — stupid memories, just hundreds and hundreds all at once. At least right now, I can’t really handle that.”

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Photo credit: Chesnutt: Sandlin Gaither