Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Onion Soup"- Is The Actor Happy?, 1995 New West

Is The Actor Happy? is Vic's fourth album. It was originally released on Texas Hotel, and by Vic's own description was a "fake concept album." The goal was to amass an album of songs that could be played live...with large guitar solos and whatnot. Is the Actor Happy? is just that album.
'Onion Soup' is lyrically, as Pitchfork once referred to it, "a travelogue-via-epistolary song that crafts perfectly understated tragedy from an unsent letter: 'I wrote you an eloquent postcard once/ About this most exquisite onion soup/ But of course I never mailed it, though/ 'Cause it was your turn in the loop.'"
The wording is so unforced, and the references to varied situations or random observances are again very classic Vic. It just feels natural, at least to me.

I completely love Vic singing style on this song. I love the way he wraps his mouth around words like "cosmopolitan', 'participle' and 'maudlin' and how 'visible' his elongated Southern drawl is. 'Onion Soup' is the quintessential Vic song, lyrically, as well as vocally. This song was a live staple for many, many years. From 1992 to at least 2004.
The studio version below feature the Scared Skiffle Group...which was a group that consisted of Tina Chesnutt on bass, Alex McManus on guitars, and Jimmy Davidson played the drum. The video was shot at Vic's house in Athens, by Peter Sillen, and was included as an add-on to the documentary 'Speed Racer'. It's a long time favorite of mine.
Also, I've included a live version from 1993, with the same band. It gives a good example of the "guitar solo" type song that Vic compiled to tour with.

Live from 1993

EDIT: Here's the Gotenburg version from 1997 that my friend Kathi referenced.

Thanks Kathi!

Onion Soup

Thin and unshaved
Drunk and mysterious
Oh, I must say
Lifestyle is curious

With a little touch of the sniffles
And filthy socks
Gnawed, crumbled fingernails
Never doing tomahawk chops

Flaky head
Dandruff is distinguished
Lacquer is red
Vain is the varnish

"What is at the root of this?"
She'll say "whatcha got?"
"What participle do you possess?"
She'll say "which I have not!"

One blustery day
We rode out to the meadow lands
We saw and were amazed
Then hauled it back into town again

Mississippi is a mess sometimes
And not only when it rains
How come you went back to that malaria island?
'Cause our friendship is strained

Those were the days
When you were so cosmopolitan
These are the days
My letters they're so increasingly maudlin

I wrote you an eloquent postcard once
About this most exquisite onion soup
But, of course I never mailed it though
Cause it was your turn in the loop


  1. For a long time, Onion Soup was my favorite song of Vic's. I really look forward to your posts!

  2. Onion Soup is one of my absolute favourite songs. Personally I always liked the recording from Gothenburg in 1997 best (with slightly different lyrics in the beginning, but that might be the case in other verstion too).
    I find it quite interesting that he calls it a love song in that recording, I never thought of it like that.

  3. My only personal thing about this song is that I've never been able to tolerate onions of any kind - so the words "exquisite" and onion" in the same sentence were never comfortable bedfellows in my book ;-)

  4. For me, this song is nothing less than a work of genius, but what do I know?

    Each verse evokes so many images and feelings. It's a song of nostalgia and of loss and epitomizes that signature Chesnuttian contrast in which the narrator is able to observe beauty through pain. In the midst of hurt, a break-up, an uncertain future and the self-described pathetic appearance of the narrator, there is an 'exquisite onion soup'.

    There's also a happy ending. We know that the postcard was finally delivered, because that's ultimately what this song is- it's a postcard, and that's why its title is 'Onion Soup'.

    In fact, the song is both the postcard and the soup itself. It's a bowl of contrasting flavors, something that's tasty and nourishing, but also based on events that are as acrid and bitter as the taste of an onion.

    "And the Walrus was Paul" (Glass Onion)

  5. incredible work. thank you!

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