The song was written after Vic attended an Augusta workshop in Elkins, West Virginia. The workshop focused on folk arts and artists. He had been nominated, by some of his friends, to partake in the songwriting part of the workshop. One night after a session, Vic rolled down a large hill, got drunk, and then proceeded to crawl back up the hill to his van, which was parked on the street. The song apparently was formed during that "Sisyphus-ian" journey. Vic ended up sleeping in his wheelchair, in the van, on it's hydraulic lift, and when he awoke the next morning, he had this song.
I absolutely adore every aspect of this song...the atmosphere, the tone, the low drone of the cello, the lyrics and the vocals (which are superb.) Apparently, Vic recorded them in one take, surrounded by candlelight, after a long day in the studio. Jem Cohen (who was present filming the documentary "Speed Racer...Welcome to the World of Vic Chesnutt") described it as "hearing dusk itself turn into sound." I concur.
The first person narrative of the lyric focuses on Vic's personality..reckless, naive, reflective and scarred. However unapologetic the words may be, Vic's statement feels comfortable and familiar to me, and perhaps is why I am drawn to it.
During a recent NPR special, Terri Gross asked Michael Stipe, Jem Cohen and Guy Picciotto (from Fugazi) about what their favorite Vic songs were. Both Michael and Jem listed "Panic Pure." Here's a transcript:
One evening, while listening to the album on repeat, I felt inspired to create my first 'real' painting, as an artist.... not a student. It was entitled 'Panic Pure' and was directly influenced by that song. Several years later, I had the desire to give that painting to Vic, as a thank you for inspiring me. He graciously accepted it and hung it over his fireplace, where it still hangs. I've always been proud of the fact that he was enjoyed it enough to displayed it in such a place of honor. The painting is below.
This song will forever epitomize Vic's personality, his talent and his musical ability, for me. Even after the countless number of times I listen to it, something fresh and new always reveals itself to me. That is what makes a good song.
"Panic Pure", 32"x48", Mixed Media on Canvas, 1996
And on display in Vic's home.
Here's the studio cut:
A live version by Kristin Hersh (w/ Vic):
And a solo live version by Vic: