erik lundegaard

Music posts

Sunday December 27, 2009

Vic Chesnutt: 1964-2009

I don’t write much about music because I don’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to write about music, but I do have a music section on this blog. It’s got the same kind or revolving photos in the upper left corner as the rest of the site, and one of them is of Vic Chesnutt, whom I first came across when others performed his music on the album “Sweet Relief II,” released in the mid-90s, and who died last Friday, Christmas day, from an overdose of muscle relaxants. He was 45.

The “Sweet Relief” albums and charity benefited artists in medical need, such as Victoria Williams, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993, and Chesnutt, who became a paraplegic in 1983 after a car accident. Among the artists performing his work: Madonna and Joe Henry (“Guilty By Association”), LIVE (“Supernatural”) and Soul Asylum (“When I Ran Off and Left Her”).

I came to him slowly but kept coming back. “About to Choke,” his first post-“Sweet Relief II” album, included the song “Little Vacation,” which I listened to all the time on a trip down the Oregon coast in ’97. I also loved this sad, true snapshot from “New Town”:

And a little bitty baby draws a nice clean breath
From over his beaming momma’s shoulder
He’s staring at the worldly wonders that stretch as far as he can see
But he’ll stop staring when he’s older

When a friend’s daughter turned two, I quoted that stanza and added: “My wish for Eva is that she’ll never stop staring when she’s older.”

In the late ‘90s I saw him at a concert in downtown Seattle, a small figure in a wheelchair, opening for someone, and the power and purity of his voice surprised me. Four or five songs in, though, it cracked, and kept cracking, and he grew dispirited, angry, self-flagellating. The Seattle crowd, already a passive-aggressive group, with most waiting on the main act anyway, responded with something like embarrassment. The show petered out.

According to my iTunes application, “I’m Through” from “Silver Lake” was the seventh song I downloaded (uploaded?) into the application back in December 2003. That’s the song with which I almost always closed compilation CDs back then. It fit my mood in 2003/2004, particularly in terms of politics and employment. He sings the song with a mixture of resignation and defiance, but you can imagine the song sung through clenched teeth. Maybe that's how I sung it:

And after everything else you draw out of me
You still expect cute curtsies

And I’m through through through
Carrying you on my shoulders
And I’m through through through

Sometimes his songs feel so personal you almost want to turn away:

Dogs are barking
Birds are chirping
The only thing better if
I was squirting
But there’s no one here
To love on me today
Cause the maiden’s
On holiday

Other times it’s as if he’s the third-person narrator of a Flannery O’Conner short story:

Betty Lonely lives in a duplex of stucco
On the north bank of a brackish river
Her ears omit the noise from a nearby airstrip
Her mind floats beyond the snapper boats

But his wicked sense of humor was always close by:

The mirror’s a mirage
No wonder I always look so crummy

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Chris Riemenschneider writes, in his tribute, “The L.A. Times has a quote from Chesnutt complaining about his mounting [$70,000] medical bills. It's goes without stating a guy like this—who contributed to society way more than he took from it—deserves decent healthcare, but let's not cheapen his memory with political talk.”

Riemenschneider works for a corporation and I don’t, not here anyway, so I can afford to be cheap. We live in an unChristian nation. There but for the grace of God goes some other guy. Here’s the L.A. Times quote:

“I was making payments, but I can't anymore and I really have no idea what I'm going to do. It seems absurd they can charge this much. When I think about all this, it gets me so furious. I could die tomorrow because of other operations I need that I can't afford. I could die any day now, but I don't want to pay them another nickel.”

I never left Vic but this spring I came back with a vengeance, listening to his songs, just his songs, on shuffle mode, and re-discovering this one. “In My Way, Yes” gives us three stanzas: the first on creativity (“Taking my time/Working on lines/Fingers in clay/Everyday”), then on love, then on life, and the chorus for each is an affirmation, a choosing of celebration over cynicism. Here’s the chorus for creativity. The creativity is his, the affirmation is mine:

(Do you think it makes a difference?)
I say yes
(Do you think it makes a difference?)
I say yes
(Do you think it makes a difference?)
I say yes
In my life, yes
In my life, yes
In my life, yes

No tagsPosted at 10:19 AM on Dec 27, 2009 in category Music
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Wednesday November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

"On armistice day
The philharmonic will play
But the songs that we sing
Will be sad"

—Paul Simon, "Armistice Day" from the album, "Paul Simon." And here's a pop-up, audio version. And since we're talking Simon, here he is singing "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" on Sesame Street, with a little girl getting WAY into the act. I watched this last night and couldn't stop smiling. If we want to celebrate soldiers and what they died for, well, this is it.

No tagsPosted at 07:44 AM on Nov 11, 2009 in category Music
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Thursday May 21, 2009

Lyrics of the Day

Taking my time
Working on lines
Fingers in clay
Head in the clouds
Moving my mouth
Spreading the grout
That's holding it down

(Do you think it makes a difference?)
I say yes
(Do you think it makes a difference?)
I say yes
(Do you think it makes a difference?)
I say yes
In my life, yes
In my life, yes
In my life, yes

Cuddling up
Declarations of love
Squeeze and a hug
A kiss and a rub
Faces opposed
Eyelids closed
Nuzzling nose
Like eskimos

(Don't'cha' feel silly?)
I say no
(Don't'cha' feel silly?)
I say no
(Don't'cha' feel silly?)
I say no
With my love, no
With my love, no
With my love, no

I never ever thought
I'd ever have a life like this
I never dreamed
I'd be alive
I never considered
Such as these surroundings
Effectually pulling it off

Watching the cops go by
Seeing a falcon fly
Reading a history book
Wetting a tiny hook
Driving fast all night
Bursting into song at first light
Sharing breakfast from one plate
Holding hands over loved ones graves

(Do you think you deserve it?)
I say yes
(Do you think you deserve it?)
I say yes
(Do you think you deserve it?)
I say yes
In my way, yes
In my way, yes
In my way, yes

— Vic Chesnutt, "In My Way, Yes," from the album "Silver Lake" 

No tagsPosted at 06:33 PM on May 21, 2009 in category Music
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Tuesday April 14, 2009

Tuesday Pick-Me-Up: Susan Boyle

I first saw this video of Susan Boyle on the BBC show “Britain’s Got Talent,” yesterday via Andrew Sullivan’s site. Then my friend Jake mentioned it. Then Andrew Sullivan brought it up again. I’m sure it’s making the rounds like nobody’s business. Everytime I see it I tear up, but you know me. Anyway check it out. Don’t make me sit you down and have you watch it with me hanging over your shoulder. That’s not fun for anybody.

The clip is, in effect, what these shows are supposed to be about: discovering talent that otherwise gets overlooked. In that sense — not to mention who Susan is, and what’s she been through, and how she triumphed — it’s uplifting. Incredibly so. Hell, she reduces Simon Cowell to a little boy holding his face in his hands and smiling and sighing.

Yet the unanswered (unasked) question is: How could this woman not be discovered before this? How could she not have a career as a singer? Even a little career in her little village? With a voice like that?

Put it this way: If she looked like that middle female judge she’d be a star. But she doesn’t so she wasn’t even a professional. She just sang – where? In the shower? Since she was 12? All because of where she was born and how she talked and how she looked?

It’s a truly inspiring clip. At the same time it’s reminding us, on this most superficial of shows, just how superficial our society can be.
No tagsPosted at 04:13 PM on Apr 14, 2009 in category Music
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Friday April 10, 2009

Your Friday Pick-Me-Up...

...courtesy of those crazy Belgians.

ADDENDUM: Check out some of the other, less official (if we can even use that term) versions of same. What fun! Best reclamation of a public space — and a public space where people tend to be zoned out, in limbo, not where they were and not where they're going — that I've seen in a long time.

I really like this one.

And here's the official vtm version. Apparently it was basically an advertisement for an upcoming reality show on Belgian TV about casting "The Sound of Music," but... that's my kind of advertising.

No tagsPosted at 04:17 PM on Apr 10, 2009 in category Music
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard