Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Square Room"- The Salesman and Bernadette, 1998 Capricorn

'The Salesman and Bernadette' is my all time favorite Vic album. In fact, I find it nearly perfect. The songwriting is exquisite, the story is fluid and the music, which is supplied by Nashville's avant garde country band Lambchop, has such a layering and texture to it, that the resulting compositions are a perfect compliment to Vic's "lovely story of loss and longing and sloppy satori."

The stories on this album are varied. They were all written during different times in Vic's career. In fact, the song 'Bernadette and her Crowd' dates back to Vic's first recording session back in 1988. 'Old Hotel' is also an older song. Despite that fact, the assemblage of these songs together, to create a motif, works very well, and the resulting album is a masterpiece.

Of all the great songs on this album, 'Square Room' is my favorite. It is, by no means, a happy song, but it has such a strong emotion to it, that the listener can't help but be drawn in. The earliest performances that I have date back to 1996, two years before the album's release. That version, which I've included below, is a little more up tempo and doesn't contain the turn around segment at the end, in which Vic (or in this case 'The Salesman') is questioning the doings of his life.

Lyrically, it revolves around the solitude, alienation and loneliness that encompasses the life of an alcoholic. The protagonist in the song is alone. His separation appears to be not of his own making, and he is depressed, reflective, and pines for his rustic home. His only desire is to drink himself to death, or at least to ponder that idea. It's a very sad tale of despair, dependency and isolation.

I can't help but listen to it and think of it as Vic's tale. He travelled a lot, battled his own alcoholic demons, and being from rural Georgia, it's very likely that he pined for the country side on more than one occasion. Add to that his own personal struggle with success, and talent, he may have just viewed himself as a pathetic drunkard, whose only comfort in life would be to leave it.

Whether this song is just a character study or not, the circumstances that surrounded Vic's life, make it a poignant, albeit difficult song to wrap one's mind around. I choose to embrace it because to me, it feels like a Vic song. Its emotional, well crafted and highlights Vic's uncanny ability at word play.

Further info:

Here's the Studio cut with Lambchop:




Here's the short live version from 1996:



And an a very moving live version from 2003:



EDIT: Here's the version (with Old Hotel) from Rote Fabrick, with Lambchop, that Ivan referenced:


SQUARE ROOM


sitting in a square room
my voice is freezing
and the beams that are bouncing off the moon
are hanging from my window like icicles

just a tired old alcoholic,
waxing bucolic
shivering and homesick
staring at a wooden floor

last night I nearly killed myself
chasing rum with rum
there were crows flying all around my head
and I sure caught and ate me some

it's funny how I alienated
those who I was trying just so
so hard to impress
now half those fuckers hate me
and I'm just a fool to all the rest

why do I insist on drinking myself to the grave?
why do I dream about cozy coffin?
I had all these plans of great things to accomplish
but I end up purely pathetic more than often

8 comments:

  1. Interesting to hear that Salesman is your favourite. I often thought that if the record store guy that introduced me to Vic’s music in 1998 had given me this record, I probably never would have become a fan. Fortunately they didn’t have it in stock and I listened to About To Choke instead. Square Room is OK though, just a bit too much self pity. The lyrics are very uneven too, beautiful in the first verse, too obvious in the last.

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  2. another very moving version is from a concert in zürich (rote fabrik) in 98 with lambchop backing. Always brought tears to my eyes ('why do i ...' with the band joining in) and strangely a feeling of great joy (catharsis?). still does.

    ivan

    thank you for your blog

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  3. Ivan,

    I uploaded the version you referenced above. Definitely is an amazingly emotional version. Thanks for mentioning it.

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  4. this blog is terrific, i'm really enjoying reading it. thank you!

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  5. Salesman is my favourite record of his too. Listened to it in the car again this morning. Heartbreaking. As you said it's damn near perfect. Thanks for this blog.

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  7. I'm so, very glad I stumbled upon this blog and thank you, Mr. Fontaine, for working to keep the legacy and work of one of the best songwriters, ever, alive.
    I've never owned "The Salesman and Bernadette," but right now I am in the process of re-purchasing some of my long-lost Vic Chesnutt records, and I'm ordering this one in the bunch now, for sure. It sounds like a lot of autobiographical lyricism, almost like Vic writing his own autobiographical Southern Gothic bildungsroman, but then again, most all of Vic's best work had that tinge. Thank you, again, for this site and for the recommendation on the record.
    Vic Chesnutt deserves to be remembered and his music will actually withstand the test of time, as opposed to most of the song-actors masquerading as "serious artists" or pop acts around today because of one crucial element: truth.

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