Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays.

I wanted to take a moment and wish everyone a very pleasant holiday season. It's been four years since we lost Vic, and even though it still seems like yesterday, I hope that there's been time for healing and reflection.

Here's a great reminder of better times and yuletide joy.




Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for the continued support.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Happy Birthday, Vic.

Vic would have been 49 today. He is missed.

Here's a little snippet showing just how much fun the man was. (Thanks to my friend Scott for the video.)


Also, thanks for all the kind words regarding this blog. I am decided to keep it active, although I can't promise consistent output.

I will do my best though.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

To continue or not: that is the question.

I know I haven't dedicated nearly enough time to maintaining this blog, but what I have put in has been heartfelt and sincere, with the purpose always being to keep the spirit of Vic's music alive and in our hearts and minds, and to honor the man who left such an impact on the lives of so many.

My question to you is this? Do you need my assistance to do that?

Honestly, I've had some of the wind taken out of my sails recently, in regards to my role in the Vic community, as well as to this blog. Yet, despite several very generous comments and some unexpected praise in media circles, I am considering hanging it up.

I don't want to, but I also feel somewhat compelled to.

As a result, I've been pondering a few basic questions.

Is this blog a benefit to you (the readers) or is it just the meanderings of a fan boy?
Is it of the caliber and is it interesting enough to warrant repeat visits and enjoyment?
Is it educational and does it serve the purpose that was intended?

I'd love some feedback, please.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Nathan"- West of Rome (Re-issue), New West Records 2004

On June 15, 2004 , when New West Records re-released Vic's first four albums in expanded form, some of Vic's most inspired (albeit unreleased) work was finally available for the masses... namely  Confusion, Parameters, Elberton Fair and the long lost masterpiece Nathan.

Vic and his 'Little Sharpie.'
Peter Sillen's short film about the making of 'West of Rome' called "Speed Racer: Welcome to the World of Vic Chesnutt" featured a short, live rendition of both Nathan and the song Flying... another lost masterpiece. Nathan was written and recorded during that period right after Vic left California (he had moved there from Athens following the recording of Little) and moved back to Georgia. By all counts, this was an incredibly creative and fruitful period in Vic's life.

In the liner notes for the re-issue of 'West of Rome' Vic's annotation for Nathan simply says 'Inspired by the Kafka Diaries.'

Simple enough, right? Well, not really. Franz Kafka's diaries were written between 1910 and 1923, in German, and in an attempt to spark creativity for his other writings, focused on philosophy, dreams, observations, lore and feelings. They are an interesting and daunting read, and as a whole contain a lot of info and fodder for Vic to absorb.
So, where did the narrative for Nathan actually come from? The protagonist of the story, Nathan, reflects back on the remembrances of  his relatives, while visiting an old, abandoned homestead. The lyrics are heavy, and evocative and rife with the history of this family. There's sickness, death, unhappiness, shame, hardships, heartbreak, piety and tradition. It's a heavy song... and it's all based on one specific writing by Kafka.

Franz Kafka
"My Hebrew name is Amschel, after my mother's maternal grandfather, whom my mother--she was six at the time of his death--remembers as a very pious and learned man with a long white beard. She remembers how she had to hold on to the toes of the corpse while asking his forgiveness for whatever wrongs she may have done him. She remembers her grandfather's many books lining the walls. He bathed in the river every day, even in winter, when he had to chop a hole in the ice. My mother's mother died before her time of typhoid fever. Her death so affected the grandmother that she became melancholy, refused to eat, spoke to no one, and, one year after her daughter's death, went out for a walk and never returned; they pulled her corpse out of the Elbe River. Even more learned than my mother's grandfather was her great-grandfather, equally renowned among both Christians and Jews. Once, during a conflagration, his piety worked a miracle; the flames spared his house while devouring all the others around it. He had four sons; one converted to Christianity and became a physician. All of them died young, except for my mother's grandfather. He had one son, whom my mother knew as Crazy Uncle Nathan, and one daughter, my mother's mother."

So, in this one passage from Kafka, dated December 25th, 1911, lies the catalyst for one of Vic's greatest songs.

Vic said it best... "It was like I was writing a movie for this little faith ya know? Like I was writing for this, um, for this passage,  very short passage in Kafka Diaries....(it's a) quality song. One of my favorites."

And whether or not Kafka found his own inspiration in the scribblings of his diaries, we'll never know. What is known is that Vic had a special way of taking the most generic of passages... basically a dry, stale, piecemeal account of a man's family history and making it his own, and in turn recording what I consider one of his greatest, long-lost tracks.

Nathan was given live airings dozens of times between 1991 to 2006. It was first demoed as a just a simple solo Ukulele song and then later recorded as a three piece with Vic again on Uke, Tina on bass, Jeffrey Richards on drums (as 'Little Sharpie'.) It was performed during the mid-90's with the 'Scared Little Skiffle Group' (featuring Tina on bass, Jimmy Davidson on drums and Alex McMcManus on Guitar) and also aired during several of Vic's European solo jaunts in the early 2000's. Nathan finally came full circle when it was last performed with The Undertow Orchestra in Athens, in 2006. Each version as good as the last.

Vic performing Nathan from 'Speed Racer.'
It's a masterpiece of songwriting and worthy a revisit of you haven't listened to it in a while. A 'quality song' as Vic called it.

I concur.


The great grandfather with his pious beard
Bathed in the river, all his years
Many books, that lined his walls
Jews and gentiles, held him in awe

Nathan stepped through the broken window
And looked to the river where his mother once floated
Nathan stepped through the broken window
And looked to the river where his mother once floated

He had four sons, all healthy and proper
One was converted, became a christian doctor
His daughter filled with typhus and succumbed
He grew quiet his wife fell dumb

Nathan stepped through the broken window
And looked to the river where his mother once floated
Nathan stepped through the broken window
And looked to the river where his mother once floated

His granddaughter recalled, the day he died
She was six years old, frosted with fright
She clutched the toe, the stiff cold toe
And renounced the wrongs only she could know

Nathan stepped through the broken window
And looked to the river where his mother once floated
Nathan stepped through the broken window
And looked to the river where his mother once floated

For more info about Franz Kafka: http://www.kafka.org/

Here's the studio cut from the 2004 re-issue of "West of Rome."

And the complete performance from 'Speed Racer" (Unreleased) (NOTE: Not the greatest fidelity)


A solo performance from Vic's show in Amsterdam, Holland - April 10th, 2000


And finally the last known performance with the Undertow Orchestra, from Athens, February 8th, 2006


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Philip Guston", At The Cut, 2009

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, the intent was to focus on not only Vic's music, but also his art. Although Vic never considered himself an artist he most certainly was and his unique style and approach makes his art as recognizable as his music.

In his own words...

"I first started painting on poster board to illustrate songs for use as visual aids on stage. But when lots of people asked if they could have them, I was encouraged to branch out. I feel like I paint like a little kid. And for the same reasons—because it’s fun. My skill level is like that of a kid, I think. Mostly I paint symbolic figures in action to convey some sort of humor and poetry.

The sensation of painting is different from playing music, but it’s hard to describe. The visual feedback is magical, spreading colors where there was blankness is thrilling to me. Also, I find painting is a kind of muse re-setter. If I’m uninspired, I can sketch out a figure with a sword or fishing rod in its hand and suddenly, my creative spark is clicking again. And where sometimes the pressure to write heavy, moving songs can be stifling, painting is free and exhilarating."
-Interview for Paste Magazine 

In addition to the visual aids that Vic used on stage early in his career, he also often created (or designed) his own album covers. This allowed the work to remain a complete representation of the mood and feeling of the album. He also, reluctantly, would show his paintings, or drawings, in exhibitions. Sadly, unlike another singer cum painter, Daniel Johnston, there are scarce few representations of his work to be found in public forums. Vic's ability with a pen was of course limited due to his handicap, but nevertheless, his approach to line work was as interesting as his approach to syllables.
Vic's Studio

In an interview for New Stateman, Vic was asked about art and his take on it.
Does art make a difference? At the very least it makes a huge difference to the artist. But rock'n'roll changed the world - so did hip-hop.
Should politics and art mix? Politics and art are mixed. Art developed and exists as it does today because of political patronage. From cave paintings and Stone Age Venus figurines to classical architecture, Byzantine church mosaics, Renaissance masterpieces and the entire National Portrait Gallery . . . it's all political propaganda. Then there is art as populism: Guernica, Goya, Mark Twain, Bob Dylan's "Masters of War", M*A*S*H. In the beginning, rock'n'roll was by its very nature political, populist propaganda.
Does money corrupt an artist? Not if they are rich already. And frankly, sometimes when money and artists mix, great things happen. Of course, a hungry artist is very different from a sated one.
Is your work for the many or for the few? Um, have you ever heard my music? I would say 20 years of doing my thing has proven it's for the few, no matter what be my wishes or pretensions, ha!
Which artist do you most admire? To write it down seems strange and I tried hard for a long time, especially in the beginning, to resist his charms, but dammit, I think Basquiat is my favourite painter.

I too am a fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat. His post graffiti, neo-expressionist style, coupled with his love for words and the dichotomy of life makes him a favorite of mine. I can understand Vic's affinity for his work, and honestly, a similarity in styles between the two.

Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Self Portrait", 1982

During an interview for a German documentary on his music and art, Vic said...

 Detail from a 1998 German documentary on Vic's artwork entitled
"Songs, Stories and Pictures."
"I don't want people to think... "Oh! He's a musician so he thinks now that he's a painter too." I didn't want to do this. They MADE me do this. For maybe 10 years I've been drawing a little bit...painting and drawing. It's quite fun for me, and I don't take it very seriously. And, um, it's good for my mind, you know. I can clear my mind. It's like meditation in a way. I get messy like a little kid, you know? It's like playing with paints, you know. It's quite fun."

Vic's art is playful, yet very engaging. He may not have taken himself seriously as an artist, but his work stands up surprisingly well, and his creativity is quite advanced. His paintings are far more involved than his drawings, understandably, yet both still feel like they come from the same hand.  I really with that there were more representations of Vic's creative outlets, because I am fascinated by his view of life.

Here  is an small assortment of Vic's non-commercial work.

"Dance", Oil on Canvas

'Happy Hippy Chick in the Morning'- Marker on poster board.

 Another detail from the 1998 German documentary on Vic's artwork. 
And another detail.

And here are examples of some of Vic's commercial work.

'Watching the Sleeping Man' 7" single A-Side

Watching the Sleeping Man' 7" single B-Side

Cover for the 'Howl- A Farewell Compilation of Unreleased Song' vinyl which included a song by Vic, and also a song by his Grandfather 'Sleepy' Carter.

Alternate Cover for 'What Another Man Spills' by Lambchop
'The Salesman and Bernadette', 1998

"Skitter on Take-Off" cover, 2009

One of Vic's artistic heroes was Philip Guston. 

Philip was a Canadian transplant who established himself among the 'New York' school of abstract expressionism during the 1950s. Much like Vic's musical career, Guston changed his style from the simplicity of abstractism to a more subtle representational art and even later to a stylistic, cartoonish approach. Vic's admiration was probably due, in part to, the fact that Philip was often a tortured, complex soul, painting his world in a way that confronted his demons and allowed for some sense of empowerment. I can't help but feel that Guston's story made sense to Vic and as a result. Vic empathized and ultimately had to be drawn to his work.Vic made a habit of naming his songs after people whom he admired, or at least intrigued by (Lucinda Williams, Steve Willhoughby, Zippy Morocco, Lillian Gish, etc) and so his admiration for Guston is obvious. 

The song itself stands out as a tour de force on an album that includes some of Vic's strongest compositions.  The song's brash, chugging rhythm, off-set by the simplistic lyrics is in such deep contrast to songs like 'Coward' and 'It Is What It Is" that it can't help but stand out. 

Speaking of the lyrics, here's Vic's take on their meaning...
"This song is called Philip Guston. I love this painter. All the lyrics...you see I think Pitchfork accused this song of being...stupid. All the lyrics come from Phillip Guston. Either words on his paintings or titles of songs. It's a heavy song - they're fucking idiots." 

What Pitchfork actually said was this...
"...the lyrics of "Philip Guston" are quite minimal, serving as a bit of seasoning for a broken-down violin and guitar jam."  

Regardless, both Vic and Pitchfork are correct. It is a heavy song, seasoned with minimal lyrics and, in essence, the opposition of the two styles works surprisingly well. I often prefer the live representations of Vic's songs over the polished studio tracks, and in this case, the live version is (in my opinion) VASTLY superior. Unfortunately, 'Philip Guston' was performed only a handful of times, and almost symbolically, Vic's final performance is the greatest version of this song available. Vic stretches out the words, and you feel as though he is just on the verge of cracking when he sings the lyrics. His 'line variation' of the word 'line' is worthy of being remembered as one of his greatest onstage moments. 

Here's the Studio Cut: 

And here's a live cut from Vic's final show in Austin, Texas on December 5th, 2009.

"Cellar", 1970
The hand, the hand,
The hand, the hand,
The hand, the hand,
Thoughts of another finger
Typing down into a cellar
The line, the line
The line, the line
The line, the line
The line, the line
The line, the line
The line, the line
"The Line", 1978.
The line, the line
The line, the line

A fame A fame A fame for nothing
Pile, pile of cherries
And oh, I shouldn't think
Like gravity

"Cherries", 1974

"Untitled (Cherries)", 1980
"Bad Habit", 1970 
Bad habits
Bad habits
Bad habits
Bad habits