Monday, April 28, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 118): "VERY FRIENDLY LIGHTHOUSES" (2001) Vic Chesnutt

Now that I’ve raised the issue of Limbo, I can perhaps venture in. Today’s song hails from the early stage, as it were: released in 2001, it was one of my favorite songs in early spring of 2002. Indeed, Vic Chesnutt could be seen as a real brethren of Limbo. His great album About to Choke (1996) finally showed up in my listening in early 2000. And then I got to know—largely through Kajsa—some of his other albums, such as The Salesman and Bernadette (1998), so that when he showed up with Left to His Own Devices in 2001, I was ready for it. And, what’s more, left to my own devices myself, I strongly identified. And then poor Vic—a paraplegic with immense medical expenses—cashed it in, Christmas 2009, his 45th birthday. Limbo was ending, for me, but it was all over for Vic. The man who, on this very album, boasted, “Something bold and beautiful occurred / I’m not interred.”

I took those words to heart back there, limboed, in 2002. Even with more than 40 years wasted, there still might be something ahead. And there I was, living “alone” for the first time in my existence. And it was bliss! One way of looking at it was: I always considered myself a solitary character, but now I was able to find out for sure. And by the spring of 2002, I was sure that I was in for the long haul on my novel-writing. It was just something I had to do.

Very Friendly Lighthouses” just suited the mood of a certain autonomy. “Motorboating through our lives / Only gradually / Gaining rudimentary / Navigational skills / And even sometimes offended by / Very friendly / Lighthouses / Very friendly lighthouses.”

Those “friendly lighthouses” are the very thing you might have to avoid if you want to tend to your own devices. I guess you could say that I was navigating a world of Wandering Rocks, just trying not to collide with any. “Guess you could say it but yours grew on me.” That’s what you have to watch out for.

And the central verse just gave me boundless pleasure (the whole song has such a quirky rhythm, and I’m tickled by the harmonies):

You've really got your groove on!
You even donned a fru-fru-frock!
But now that you have moved on
I'll process priceless memories.
I should've seen that you were stewing
I was absent when you blew in,
By the time I knew it,
It was already in full fabulous swing

The detachment of this verse delights me because it’s gently mocking—the “groove” and “fru-fru frock”—but also acknowledges, tongue-in-cheek perhaps, the attraction of those “priceless memories.” As if: thank God, she’s gone, now I can enjoy my memories of her! You know what they say about absence.

And what is in “full fabulous swing”? Grammatically, it should be her “stewing.” Like she was already in the grip of bad vibes, spewing them wherever she goes, and by the time he was around her she was on a tear. But I also tend to take it as a reference to her finding her consolations where she would so that the relish with which he sings “full fabulous swing” lets us know, well, when she’s out for blood it’s something. “You proved what you were proving / And it was sort of soothing to see.”

Those lighthouses can be too friendly, I guess. “You certainly were gruesomely before I went away.” It’s those riptides you’ve got to watch out for. You’d think a lighthouse would warn you, but, sometimes, before you know it, “it’s already in full fabulous swing.”

Apart from whatever is at issue here, the song, with all those “ooo-wing” sounds, has to cheer you up. Especially when the trumpet starts percolating at the end. And is that a harp?

Vic Chesnutt, who I had the pleasure of seeing perform twice in those Limbo Days, was a real deal, of one kind or another. He made 17 albums and I’ve heard fewer than 10. He distilled the DIY, alt vibe that was one of the better legacies of the Nineties. And he was always amusing in a grimly sardonic, knowing way. One of those guys with just a very individual way with a song. He’s missed.

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