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.


  1. Thanks Charles, keep going strong...

  2. Thanks. I love At The Cut, but I've been playing Skitter on Take Off more often. And I particularly like this song. It's interesting that he added the teachers and hipsters in the studio version--I'm glad he did. I always like your comments and perceptions on his music.

  3. Skitter is, for me and probably everyone else, bittersweet. it has the distinction of being the first release i heard posthumously. the last time i saw Vic, January 31, 2009, i told him i had almost missed the show, having found out about it only 2 days before. he asked why i didn't check the website. i said that since the North Star Deserter jacket photo was still on there, he hadn't updated it. he smiled and said, "Oh, yeah. i forgot my password to change all that. but, you know, i'd rather write songs than worry about all that shit."
    Flash forward nearly a year, to November 12. i go to the website and see that not only has At the Cut been released over a month ago, but that he is touring RIGHT NOW. so i anxiously click on the dates, just hoping to God i haven't missed him. my heart sinks when i see that he had been here just 2 days ago, on the 10th. i send him an e-mail with the subject SORRY I MISSED YA and wish him a happy birthday. he never responds. because his website contains nothing about it, i still don't know Skitter On Take-Off exists. Christmas night. 11:00. my dad calls to tell me that Vic Chesnutt died today. suicide. of course. the courage of the coward is greater than all others. I whisper, "Merry Christmas, Vic." i feel like my ribcage is narrowing while a hand reaches up inside my chest and squeezes. it's while reading the LA Times peice in dazed shock minutes later that i learn of Skitter On Take-Off. for the most gleeful fraction of an instant, it's as if he's come back to life. i listen immediately. and cry. by the end of the chorus of "Feast in the Time of Plague", i pound the table, just as Vic sings, "Pounding tables/ fists of meat / stupid messy giddy greif". it's spooky. like space. about 2 weeks later, it occurs to me to patrol the internet for anything about the final show. the first place i go is the website of the venue. i look at the date of the show. november 19th. what the fuck? i had read a 9 as a 0. you can imagine the borage of if onlys this triggered. it felt as though i'd missed him twice. as if i'd stumbled upon some maddeningly useless device that brought me minutely closer to an ability to travel back in time, like i had found a time machine but i had no plutonium and know way of knowing when or where lightning was going to strike so i could generate 1.21 jiggawatts. time is, indeed, a trip. but i think the rips in the fabric are actually many. i've been fooled, i guess.

  4. brilliant post.
    i share the same feelings about 'skitter' and this song is one of my faves
    thanks very much


  5. Bittersweet indeed. I didn't hear this album till after Vic passed, and this song in particular felt like a final gift... one of his best.

  6. His final show was December 5th at the Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. A recording has been posted on the dimeadozen website. It's a cruel irony that a proud atheist has to have his last gig in a church and to leave this world on Christmas Day. Vic's passing was the greatest shock to me as far as famous people's passing goes since hearing of the death of John Peel. They both leave gaps in my life that will never be filled.

  7. Hello Charles,

    I am doing an art tribute dedicated to Vic for Dia de los Muertos, I'd like to use one of your photos. Can you contact me about this and I can explain the project.

    verdecalavera at