Just before his death, Vic was interviewed for NPR's 'Fresh Air' program, by Terry Gross. In that interview, he addresses this song...and suicide in general...
GROSS: Vic, let's talk about the lyric. The song is about flirting with suicide, but from what I've read, you've done more than flirt with it. It's something you've tried.
Mr. CHESNUTT: Right. Well, this song is a love song. It's a suicide's breakup song with death. You know, I've attempted suicide three or four times. It didn't take. And this is really a breakup song with death. You know, it's talking about flirting with, you know, flirting - I had flirted with death my whole life, you know. Even as a young kid, I was sick and almost died a few times. And then suicide attempts - it's a kind of - you know, it's a breakup song.
GROSS: Did you try to kill yourself even before the accident?
Mr. CHESNUTT: I did, yeah.
GROSS: And after the accident?
Mr. CHESNUTT: I did, yeah.
GROSS: And each time when you came through, when as you put it, death didn't take, were you relieved or sorry?
Mr. CHESNUTT: Well, you know, it's more complex. You can't... I couldn't say either. I mean, you know, sometimes I'd be angry.
GROSS: Angry that...
Mr. CHESNUTT: Angry that they revived me, you know? I'd be like, how dare you? You know, how dare you people interfere in my, you know, what is obviously my life, my wish? But you know, of course, as the hours and days wear on, you realize well, there is joy to be had. I mean, this is how I - I'm sure everybody's different, you know, just how I, how it struck me. You know, when the days would wear on, you know, I would start to, you know, see some joy again in the world and be like whew, I eked - I squeaked that one out.
GROSS: This is such an emotionally heavy album. Is it hard to write a song like this, about flirting with suicide, or is it therapeutic to write it, or you know...?
Mr. CHESNUTT: Well, it occurred to me that I would like to sing this song where at the first half of it, you think I'm singing it about a lover, and then it becomes obvious that I'm singing about death. Death is my lover. And it took a bit of time to get it to fit just right and to work. And when we were actually cutting the track, it was hard to make it through without kind of breaking down emotionally and just crying. You know, it's a heavy song, no doubt about it.
GROSS: Now, one of the heavy lines in it is about your mother. You write, when my mom was cancer sick, she fought but then succumbed to it, but you made her beg for it. Lord Jesus please, I'm ready. How old were you when she died?
Mr. CHESNUTT: I was in my mid-20s. And that's the thing about a suicidal person, I think, is that, you know, I mean, right after my mom died was, like, one of my last suicide attempts. It really destroyed me. My dad had died a year before, and that was the end of my whole close family, who had all died off within two or three years of each other: my grandpa, my grandma, my other grandma, my mom and my dad. They all died off in a couple of years. And so I felt lost, and I was depressed. But also you see - a suicidal person, when you see somebody else die of natural causes or whatever, for me it's also a kind of wakeup call.
GROSS: Tell me more about what, the effect that had?
Mr. CHESNUTT: Well, like when my friends have died or something like that, it made me feel silly. My sorrow seemed silly and that I'm not ready to go. As I said in the song, the sweet relief, I'm not - I don't deserve the sweet relief of death yet, because I haven't accomplished my tasks yet.
Mr. CHESNUTT: But I do want to say one thing, though, about this song.
GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.
Mr. CHESNUTT: This song is a joyous song, though. I mean, it's a heavy song, but it is a joyous song. This is a breakup song with death, you know what I mean?
GROSS: Right, because you're saying clearly, I wasn't ready.
Mr. CHESNUTT: I'm not ready to kill myself, you know. It's a joyous song, so -and it has these very heavy aspects, you know, but it's a joyous song.
I don't feel it's my place to add to Vic's comments, so I won't.
I will always be partial to Vic's original version. Just him, his guitar, and that special intimacy of his relationship with life, albeit broken and strained. I'm sorry that he decided that he was ready after all.
Here is the original version. (This version just cuts me deep..)
And here's the studio cut.
FLIRTED WITH YOU ALL OF MY LIFE
i am a man
i am self aware
and everywhere I go
you're always right there with me
i flirted with you all of my life
even kissed you once or twice
and to this day I swear it was nice
but clearly i was not ready
when you touched a friend of mine
i thought i would lose my mind
but i found out with time
that really, i was not ready
o' death...i'm not ready
o' death you hector me
and decimate those dear to me
and tease me with your sweet relief
you are cruel and you are constant
when my mom was cancer sick
she fought but succumbed to it
but you made her beg for it
"lord jesus, please i'm ready"
o' death....clearly i am not ready