Friday, February 12, 2010

"It is What It Is"- At The Cut, 2009 Constellation

Throughout Vic's career, he often composed songs that where relative to his situation, or revolved around circumstances that where part of his life. These songs often felt inspired and deeply personal, even if they were non-specific or unclear. No song, however, felt as honest and as autobiographical to me as "It is What It Is."

Lyrically, it's so detailed and poetic, while at the same time, vague and ominous. There are references to his physical disability, his adoption, his career, his disposition, his beliefs, his heritage and his death. In his poetic verses, Vic created a beautiful 'self portrait.'

The song was first performed in Newcastle Upon Tyne, in England in May of 2005, and then dropped from set lists by the end of that year. It could have been forgotten... another lost Vic masterpiece. Thankfully, it was resurrected and formulated for release on At The Cut.

In an introduction to this song at the Tribeca in New York in 2005 (featured below), Vic said the following. "You know how in hip hop, these days,'s, um, a very popular form of music. I don’t know if you've ever heard it....but they, um, often like to brag about themselves. This song is not like that."

There are numerous references to “hideous” characters like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the ‘speckled monster’ Caliban (from Shakespeare's The Tempest), and the Phantom of The Opera. As unfortunate as it is, it appears that Vic did see himself as some sort of deformity, or creature.
His reference to Henry Darger suggests that Vic considered himself in the same light. Both were adopted, both were sarcastic and sharp witted, both were outsider artists, and both suffered from mental disorders (Darger from paranoid schitzophrenia and Vic, of course, from clinical depression.) He also highlights (lyrically) W.H. Auden, one of his favorite poets, and someone whom I believe he tried to emulate on several occasions.

All in all, this song feels like a reflection back on a life that was not as the writer had once envisioned. It’s sad and aware, while at the same time being nostalgic and confused. I do enjoy this song, but it’s also a very hard listen, knowing what happened in the ‘looming blackness.’
The fact that he uses the word obsolescence saddens me most. For Vic to think that he was was no longer viable hurts my spirit. There are so many people who would have disagreed with him, and I hope it was just a lyrical turn of phrase, and not a dogmatic principle in his life.

Vic was what he was…and what he was was great.
Further info:
Here's the album cut:

And a live version:


I am a monster

Like Quasimodo

Or Caliban the natural man

Giving wild ripostes to my reflection

One ugly morning

In a rage

Father threw an apple

Into my carapace

And like the invisible man

Directing traffic

I’d be ineffective

No matter how enthusiastic

Amid the masses’ frenzy


In this massive


Appearance is everything

Nothing is how it seems

And civilized society

Is calm civility

I’m the phantom of the opera

Singing beauty and at ease

Or Henry Darger’s


And that is curt clues to my essence

Planned obsolescence

Appearance is everything

Nothing is how it seems

In a market economy

It’s called marketing

And not exactly clawing my way to glory

Nor whimpering in the wind

But once positively

I’m teetering on the brink

Of an all-out breakthrough

But sometimes clear headed

Sometimes a doofus

Sometimes very cordial

And sometimes aloof

I am syrupy optimistic one moment

Then gravely pessimistic the next

Irritable as a hornet sometimes

Then agreeable as it gets

I’m not a pagan

I don’t worship anything

Not gods that don’t exist

Nor the sun which is oblivious

I love my ancestors

But not ritually

I don’t blame them or praise them

For anything that they passed along to me

I don't need stone altars to help me hedge my bet

Against the looming blackness

It is what it is


  1. Speed Racer, Aunt Avis, Wet Lungs, Panic Pure etc etc all in one, but pessimistic without any hope or nostalgia. One of the songs I really can’t listen to now. The parts about his career are sad, but close to reality as far as I can see. I never quite understood why, but in the last few years audiences at his concerts seem to get smaller. I don’t know about record sales, but over here his records weren’t reviewed a lot in magazines, far less than in the 90s and weren't in stock in most record stores. So I think his career was going downwards more than anything (not from the artistic point of view of course). Most probably a marketing problem really, since when he played at the local film festival in 2007 and the concert was properly promoted, several hundred people came. The day after, at a "normal" concert in Munich, maybe 50....

  2. Though lyrically this is a little hard to listen to, I really love the way he sings this live version.

  3. Hey Charles,

    Thanks for doing this - I really look forward to each new post :-)

    Hope to get the Newcastle show you mentioned remastered and up on DIME at some point...


  4. I love this song! it is what it is, marathon, mr. reilly, debriefing and when the bottom fell out have been addictive to my ears in the past few weeks. it is disheartening that vic will be the only person who isn't at the 40 watt this weekend. be well...

  5. a lot of this dogmatic nihlism was funnier and more endearing prior to him swallowing a shitload of muscle relaxants. the triumph factor has been erased. i have been trying really hard to seperate the music from the death, so as not to have this music that has been the soundtrack of my life for so long tainted by anger and equally disgusting pity. but, hey, kid, grow up, the songs tell me, because that's all that's left to tell me anything now. you can't take the death out of the songs any more than you can take the death out of Vic. still, it makes me sad to think of all the people that will come to his music on a posthumous level, with that final act looming over it all. they'll miss so much of the joy and humor. also, it's arguable that if you never saw him live, you never really heard his music.

  6. I think that's an accurate assement, Jason. Vic live was such a different experience than Vic on record. Both were amazing, but only seeing Vic live left you with a sense of understanding, in my opinion.

  7. i always felt like the definitive record was ahead of him, that omehow, even through all these beautiful records, the depth of what he was capable of wasnever completely captured. that's also part of what was so unique about Vic. because he wrote songs all the time and, quite generously estimating, recorded about a tenth of them, pulling out songs often over a decade old like new gleaming gems, he was never an artist defined by periods. i never really had much of an inclination to tape shows except when it came to Vic, and whenever i didn't, i felt like i was derelicting a very important duty. to think that i will never again have the experience of watching him perform, the joy of hearing him bust out something new, or old, or both, is almost impossible to get my mind around.

  8. @Jason I totally agree with you. After Vic’s death a friend tried to comfort me by telling me that I could always listen to his records, but what she didn’t understand was that actually not being able to see Vic live again is the worst part. I just loved that feeling of excitement, eagerly waiting for the show to begin and then sometimes falling in some kind of trance during the concert, listening with eyes half closed if it was a good night and he was really into it. All the power he could put into his songs... I am so glad to have spent all that time and effort (and money..) to travel around to see him perform

  9. I've spent a long time obsessing about this song, and I'd just like to make a few comments on it.

    First is that the phrase "planned obsolescence" I take to mean his willful act of suicide. The fact that it comes after the "curt clues" reference to Henry Darger's diary, the last line of which states how Darger had never had a good Christmas just blows my mind.

    Second is that I hear the last line as "looming brightness" not blackness -- which for me is a very positive take on his imminent death.

    The song is an auto-biography and an epitaph. It is Vic at his absolutely most raw, which is saying a lot, and no, it isn't pretty -- but I think it is how Vic wants to be remembered.

  10. it is what it is, not what you hear it to be.