Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Hot Seat", About To Choke, 1996, Capitol Records

This song, from Vic's 1996 major label debut, got a lot of press at the time of Vic's recent hospitalization, specifically because of the lyric referring to being in a coma. It is, however ironic, a good representation of Vic's ability to musically highlight issues in his life.

The album, which was produced by Bob Mould (from Hüsker Dü), was supposedly Vic's big breakout. It had slick production, a strong marketing campaign and allowed Vic to be heard by a larger audience than his previous, grassroots releases. Titled very 'tongue in cheekily' by Vic, who predicted that the album would fail, or that he would 'choke', it is home to many 'fan favorites.' All of Vic's predominate themes are on the album, including the theme of death..his usual staple.

"Some of this record is a bit obsessed with the premise that through death life is nourished," Vic said, in a press release for the album. "Like when you throw a dead fish next to a plant it grows better." Vic goes on to insist that his work is purely fiction. That said, 'Hot Seat' confront a near death experience with such honesty and candor, that it's hard to believe his statement.

Lyrically, 'Hot Seat' is a relaying an events in which left Vic in a coma, after a drug binge. It's sort of a song to himself, where he's milling the fact that, regardless of his steadfastness, and focus, he will falter...again, to the temptation of addiction. His directness is one of the things that made Vic's writing so desirable to me. I applaud the honesty that he poured out, and his ability to put taboo subjects at the forefront of his writing. That's what I am gonna miss most, I think.

"I didn't want to think that all of my songs deal with this, " Vic continued, in reference to the themes of the album. "But I swing the stick and these are the things that I hit. I reached into my grab bag at the fair and these are the ones that popped out. I'm just trying to do some sleight of hand here, baby. It has some I Ching logic to it."

Further reading:


Ventolin and Vivarin and primatine
secret tequila shots and a patch of morphine
in the morning and in the throes
what a great day to come out of a coma
I've been in the hot seat sweating it out
oh sweating it out
sweating it out
sweating it out

I touch the telephone it falls away
I think they call it empathy
but not this way
I put my lips on the sound hole
my tongue is finally warming
but my brain is charcoal

I've been in the hot seat sweating it out
oh sweating it outsweating it out
sweating it out
not much later, fall out of favor
pretty soon
I know I'll do precisely what I wanted not to do
maybe I slipped up and learned a lesson
to work my proclivity
towards second guessing
I was too naive and enthusiastic
to keep my trap shut
and my monkey in a motherfuckin' basket

I've been in the hot seat sweating it out
oh sweating it out
sweating it out
sweating it out

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Debriefing", North Star Deserter, 2007, Constellation Records

Over the course of his musical career, Vic wrote several songs that revolved around the principles of death. It was just in his nature to focus on the absolutes, I guess. And whether it be from a first person view or otherwise, the results were always chillingly poignant, however sad.

When I decided to name this blog "Debriefing," after this specific song, it wasn't only as a reflection of my love for the song (which I absolutely adore) but more so because I feel that the song conveys accurately Vic's personal journey and a furthermore, the journey that I myself am partaking in as a result of his passing.

A debriefing is a one-time, semi-structured conversation with an individual who has just experienced a stressful or life changing event. The purpose being to reduce any possibility of psychological harm, by allowing the victim to talk or reflect back on the experience.

So, this blog, by definition, is a one-time reflection back on the life and music of a man whom meant so much, to so many.

Unlike some of Vic's other 'mortality' songs, 'Debriefing' seems very matter of fact, and fearless. He has embraced the fact that we are all destined to die, and he addresses that from the very first line...not in a dejected way, but rather boldly. Here it is...this is what will be...just letting you know.
To say that he will be debriefing forever as a result of his life is a sad statement as to his opinion of his time spent here, with us. The very nature of a debriefing is for the victim to express there feelings one time, and as a result, be free of the pain or stress associated with the incident. Vic's anticipation of a forever diatribe is sad. I hope that it was merely being poetic, and not prophetic.

Musically, the song is a tour de force. The earliest recording that I have dates back to 1998, and is a sparse, lonely live version with just Vic and a guitar (and hauntingly, the listener can hear the faint rustlings of a child in the background playing). From that simplicity, came this monumental album cut. That whole album is a sonic wonder, with the guys from Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, the Tra La La Band, Guy Picciotto (from Fugazi) and producer Jem Cohen taking Vic's small-ish arrangements and magnifying them ten fold.

The track starts with whispers and dialogue, as if someone is being surrounded by a group, and the ethereal quality of the production sets an eerie tone. Vic's vocals are clear and direct and the music almost reaches a funeral march type tempo. As much as I love this arrangement, I am torn between the original and the re-worked. Regardless, no matter how sad and foreseeing the words may be, the song is amazing, and I'm glad that Vic committed it to tape.

Both versions are included below.


when I stop breathing
my poor old heart finally gives out
i will spend eternity
debriefing, debriefing, debriefing, debriefing.

when I deplete the funds
and am forced to pull the plug
chisel on my tombstone
debriefing, debriefing, debriefing, debriefing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Isadora Duncan", Little, 1990, New West Records

The first song on Vic's debut album 'Little' is a brilliantly descriptive, hauntingly poetic masterpiece based around ballet dancer, jealous romantic, "modern' Victorian and famed bi-sexual, Isadora Duncan.

The whole first album was recorded in just one day on October 6th, 1988 ("on well juice" as Vic noted in the liner notes) with just basic acoustic guitar, croaking vocals, 'Dylanesque' harmonica, elementary keyboards and sparse overdubs.
The story goes that Michael Stipe would frequent Vic's Tuesday night residencies at the famed 40 Watt Club, in Athens. He was impressed by the quality and sheer volume of material that Vic performed during those shows and decided to commit some songs down on tape. It's doubtful that this was the first song recorded during those sessions, but it undoubtably, a beauty of an opener.

Vic once introduced this song as a 'bummer', but I can't imagine why. The melody is gorgeous, and musically it's a perfect representation of that period in Vic's life. His voice is shredding and unique. Just listen to his Southen gothic drawl on the word 'attitude.' His singing, even that early, was formidable and daunting.

Lyrically, the song is an unusual tet a tete involving love, romance, sarcasm and rejection. It was born out of a dare, from Vic's old La Di Da's bandmate Todd McBride, to write a song with the line "Once I dreamed I was dancing with Isadora Duncan." Vic once mentioned to me, that he hadn't listened to "Little" since the day it was recorded. If that is true, then it is unfortunate. What he crafted from that challenge is sheer poetry, in my opinion, and a song that echoes in my head for days on end. A beauty of an opener for a beauty of an album and worth repeated listening.

Lyrics and link below.

Also check out the fantastic cover, by the band Jolene, from their 1995 album "Hell's Half Acre."

Isadora Duncan

once I dreamed I was dancing with Isadora Duncan
in a silver cafe,
it was a cafe that was not at all near here
she was planning to diversify
and she sang I should do the same
so I whistled to her how I loved her the best

but she sang "I can't believe you own this attitude",
but with some ballet moves,
I removed her shoes
and I painted my lips to hers
and still she sang "I can't believe you own this attitude"
she sang "I can't believe you own this, this attitude"

she needed her beauty sleep
though I didn't want it to sound like that
her mind was occupied,
her hard coffee was cold by then as snow

and she sang "my smile is more than pearly white,
and my dreams are more than you",
she sang "my yellow eyes are more than mirrors,
and my scarf is more, more, more than blue."

and she sang "I can't believe you own this attitude"
yes i sang "I can't believe you own this, this attitude"

she closed her New Directions paperbook
and screamed "there is no shelter in the arts"
she'd been crying all day
but now her eyes they were brighter than the moon

and she sang "my smile is more than pearly white,
and my dreams are more than you",
she sang "my yellow eyes are more than mirrors,
and my scarf is more, more, more, more than blue."

and she sang "I can't believe you own this attitude"
"I can't believe it, I can't believe you own this attitude",
"I can't believe it, I can't believe you own this, this attitude".

Here's the Studio Version:

And a very rare live version from 1987 by The La Di Das:

Monday, December 28, 2009

So it begins...

When Vic died on Christmas, I was overcome with a sense of if the world had come off of its axis. A stabilizing factor in my life had left me, and I felt as if I might never recover my equilibrium. I still feel that way. Vic has been a constant in my world since I first discovered him in 1993. Vic was an inspiration. Here was a man, although crippled and frail, who possessed such a strength and formidity, that his candor and presence belied his tiny frame. He so eloquently embraced the esoteric. Lyrically, he glorified the mundane and shunned the contrived. He nourished a love for language, and personalized it in a way that only Vic could. He accomplished such amazing feats, while all the time battling the demons that he finally succumbed to. I couldn't help but be drawn in and admire him. My relationship with Vic wasn't idol worship or fandom. No, it was admiration and respect, awe and wonder, and later on reassurance and comfort. I am so proud that I got to know Vic on a personal level. It wasn't just fan and artist was a friendship ..and for that I am ever grateful.

I first met Vic the day before Valentine's Day, 2002, at 12th and Porter in Nashville, TN. I had driven 6 hours to see him open for Jonathan Richmond and Tommy Larkin. I didn't know what to expect...just that I was about to see my musical hero on stage...for the first time. Prior to the show, I was sitting there, with Laura, who accomponied me. Out rolled Vic, along with Tina, his wife, and they sat not a mere 10 feet from us. I'm not too sure what I looked like when that happened, but I for certain felt exhilerated, nervous, and "star struck." Laura encouraged me to go over to his table and speak with him. I eventually mustered up the gumption to do just that. Unfortunately, my arrival coincided with the arrival of Vic's meal, so the meeting started of a tad bit akward. I hated to interrupt, but felt like I couldn't just turn away. I politely introduced myself, said I had driven several hours to be there and that I was a huge fan. Vic was charming! He was so amazed that I had made the trek that far, and politely signed my CD. He wrote "Thanks for diggin it.- Vic." The show was fanastic and I was elated for weeks.

Now I won't recount every Vic show that I ever attended, or every moment that I was able spend time with him. There are far too many, and that isn't the point of this endeavor. I may, from time to time, recount little memories or incidents that come to mind. In fact, I can almost promise that. This blog is my form of grieving, if you will. A way of processing my inherent need for understanding and explanation of what made Vic so important and relevant to my life. I will focus on an individual work by Vic everyday for one year...reviewing, relistening, rethinking, reflecting and reacting on each one. My hope is that, during this experiment, I will be enlightened, entertained, inspired, and walk away with a greater love for the man than I had already, and eventually, regain the balance that I lost that day he died.

Even though it is my journey, I hope that you, as the reader, will come along with me..and form your own understanding of this friend and my hero.