Monday, March 22, 2010

"Rips in the Fabric"- Skitter on Take-Off, 2009 Vapor Records

In July of 2003, I make a trek to catch Vic in Columbus, Ohio at a club called Little Brother's. I had caught him a couple of times previously, that year, with the Amorphous Strums, who were touring in support of Silver Lake, and they were great. However, this night was Vic in his element....he was doing a solo show.

I had made arrangements with New West records to get into the show early, so I got the chance to spend some time with Vic before hand. Laura (my girlfriend at the time) and I had become familiar to Vic so he was in a great talkative mood. At one point, he asked us what we wanted to hear? Laura blurted out her favorite track (Steve Willoughby) as well as a couple more. I mentioned Supernatural, New Town and then I said, slyly, that I wanted to hear a new song, not knowing if Vic would oblige or not.
So showtime rolls around and low and behold...each of our requests became audible as Vic proceeded through the set list. It was a great treat, and a testament to Vic's love of his fans. Anyway, as the night was finishing, Vic introduced a 'new' song... and my face got grin on it as big as Robert Mitchum...if you'll pardon the plagiarism. Recently, Vic's tours had been free of new material... he was supporting Silver Lake so the set lists where basically consistent each evening, save for the encore, but those had been pretty consistent as well. Don't get me wrong.. that tour was fantastic, but Vic, by himself, is such a treat. That evening's new composition was an interesting song about mundanity and life. It was entitled Rips in The Fabric and as far as I know, the only time it was ever played live.

Fast forward six years. Vic has released, what I consider, two of his finest efforts... one a energetic, loud, emotional album entitled At The Cut (with Guy Picciotto and Silver Mtn Zion) and the other, a surprisingly stripped down affair, called Skitter on Take-Off, which is essentially, a solo album. He is backed by Tommy Larkins and Jonathan Richman, but their sparseness and subtlety only emphasis Vic's lean arrangements. I really like the album. Vic's songs always had a basic simplicity to them that made them honest, and funny and viable. The big production efforts like At The Cut, Silver Lake and even my favorite The Salesmen and Bernadette are fantastic, and very enjoyable, but the real heart of a Vic song is his ability to pull so much out of sparsity.

Rips in the Fabric feels like an observation about humanity, religion, free will and public opinion. I think Vic's 'moral' is that people just go through their lives, despite their mortality, unaware of their insignificance, in the scheme of the universe. Humans are, essentially, in control of their own existance, even though there are people (preachers, or teachers, or hipsters) who would have the collective conscienceness believe otherwise. Interestingly, in the original version (featured below) Vic only addresses the theological opinions... and not the academic or popular.

Skitter On Take-Off is a release of grave importance, just as Little was in 1990. In fact, Skitter is an appropriate ending to a very storied career. Others may look at At The Cut as more relevant given it's lyrical association with Vic's final days, but I for one find the sparseness and pureness of Skitter comforting. For Vic to come full circle at the end of his 20 year career is amazing. It’s as if he had the foresight to reflect back, on his beginnings, and to harness that creativity to create his ultimate finale. I am glad he did.

Vic and Laura at Little Brother's- July 2003

Here's the studio version:

And the live one from Columbus 2003:


She was walking down the sidewalk
Sniffing swiftly in the wind
Thinking of everything and nothing
Just another flighty human being

And satellites where arcing
Undetected overhead
Her cells were busy splitting
And jettisoning the dead

Beauty is as beauty does
In the eyes of the beholder
Or collectively in all of us

She was waving to a cyclist
As he went coasting by
Through a lazy intersection
Towards the remainder of his life

And a feral cat went diving
Behind a dumpster there
Which displaced a big brown rat
That went fleeing with a comical flair

We are trapped, but we are free
To go through the motions
And be just as happy as we can be.

And later on I held her
In my skinny arms
My chapped lips were whispering
Esoteric alarms

But her warm breath assuaged me
And the music returned
Our dancing continued
While big forest fires burned

Space is spooky
And time is a trip
Don't let the preachers and teachers and hipsters fool you
There ain't no rips in the fabric.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"West of Rome", West of Rome, 1993 New West Records

The title track from one of Vic's most celebrated albums is bittersweet for me today. Mark Linkous, of Sparklehorse fame, committed suicide this past weekend, in Knoxville, TN. Not only was he a fantastic musician, an artistic genius, and one of my favorite all time performers, but he did a amazing cover of West of Rome, for the Sweet Relief 2 compilation.

Ironically, the last time I ever saw Mark, he and Vic and I were chatting about this specific track.

It was in Asheville, NC. I had mentioned to Vic that it was the only song off of the album West Of Rome that I had never heard him perform. He told me that he hadn't played the song in years, but would try and work out an arrangement. At that point, Mark very humbly offered that if I wanted to hear a 'terrible' version that he had one on the Sweet Relief compilation. I sort of laughed and said that it was a fantastic cover and that it was my favorite track on that specific album. Afterwards, Mark and I sat together and watched Vic perform his magic. That was February 2009.

I never saw either of them again after that night.

West of Rome was inspired, but not directly, by the book of the same name by John Fante. The book, which features two novellas, is about a father's reflections on his own life and that of his children. Vic read the book and then wrote the song. The two have only that relation. Also, despite thoughts to the contrary, the song is not about Rome, Georgia, although Vic had mentioned that is could have been because it has some Georgia imagery in the lyrics.

Speaking of lyrics, West of Rome has some of Vic's most narrative lyrics. The scene is set, from the first line, and in just five minutes, Vic has presents an interesting character study of the protagonist, and his environment. Lines like "a childhood of dry goods and wet neglect" and "polishing his boots and pummeling his liver" are so simple yet descriptive. Just another facet of Vic's incredible talent and ability.
I miss him still. In fact, I miss them both.

Further reading:

Here's Vic's version:

And Mark's from the Sweet Relief 2 Tribute


west of Rome, just east of the border

in a static-y ramada inn

polishing his boots and pummeling his liver

steeped in the dark isolation

just what business does he have around here

credentials are wearing out with each little bit of cheer

yes it's a bad scene we're convening

brushing his teeth and milking his ulcer

preparing to waste another wily morning

stroking himself and them phoning up his sister

he tells her their life would make one whale of a movie

yes a childhood full of dry goods and wet neglect

the father they now sponge off they have no absorbing respect

yes he's a glad boy to have such a void

yes he's a martyr crawling accross cobble stones

from his cozy cottages just west of Rome

yes its a sad state for great suffering