This is one of my favorite songs in the world ever, even if the lyrics leave me slightly flummoxed, because it cuts straight to what always got to me about Chris Whitley’s music. It was immediate but heady, earthy but ethereal, thoughtful and emotional and always so very beautiful. Even when it was all sweaty.
I’m by no means a music geek. Even at my most snobbish, I could still see the mainstream from where I stood. And now I’ve reached an age where I yell about how “In my day, the worst shit on the radio was GREEN DAY,” but I was lucky enough to actually pay attention to a song, Kick the Stones, that was playing under the hotel scene in Thelma and Louise. The song sounded just like the scene, a sleazy one-night stand with a drifter in a cheap motel somewhere in the vast unknown of Oklahoma. So I bought the cd, “Living with the Law,” and, like everyone else who’s ever discovered Chris Whitley, fell deeply in love.
In retrospect, the cd was an overproduced and homogenized major label release where they discovered this unique, if thorny, talent and slathered it in cream cheese frosting to make it tastier to a wider audience. But the bones of the songs were there. For comparison, here are two versions of Kick the Stones, the original and a version Whitley recorded in 2004 for “Weed,” where he stripped away all the trappings of his earlier recording and just let the song come through unfiltered.
He was a difficult artist to peg and he would change stylistically from album to album which made finding him all the more elusive. He was a musician’s musician, I guess, but more than anything he was this chimera, of this world but separate from it. Years would pass and then I’d hear about some Whitley recording from a couple of years earlier and fall in love all over again.
Sadly, there are no more Whitley releases to discover as he passed quietly in 2005 of lung cancer, leaving a legacy of beautiful and occasionally transcendent music. I was lucky enough to discover him early on, even if I didn’t always follow his work closely, and I thought I’d share some of his songs with you. And here’s one last song, simple and elegant, just Whitley and his guitar, part of this world but not exactly of it.