O Death: Musings On Stockholm Syndrome
You wouldn’t call Stockholm Syndrome a musical brother to Vic Chesnutt, more of a kissing cousin. But it’s no surprise that, undertaking a short tour mere months after Chesnutt’s death by suicide on Christmas day, 2009, Stockholm’s members would want to honor their fallen friend by covering one of his songs. On the Jerry Joseph and Jackmormons listserv, listmember Craig Davis described how the choice was made
A couple weekends ago I was talking w/ Jerry about bringing back the Vic song “Bakersfield” that he hasn’t played in what seems like several years. He said that collectively Stockholm wanted to do a Vic song for the upcoming shows. I had a Flirted With You All My Life on a mix that we were listening to so I fast-forwarded it so he could hear it. To say Jerry loved it or was moved by it is an understatement. we listened to it several times in a row and he predicted then that would be the Vic song that SS learned.
Stockholm has played the tune almost every night of their recent tour. Song and band are made for one another, each illuminating something previously unseen in the other. “I’ve Flirted with You All My Life,” from Chesnutt’s latest release, At The Cut, is a transcendent exploration of death. Turns out the same could be said of Stockholm Syndrome.
The current iteration of Stockholm Syndrome wasn’t born until 2004. The band’s first draft, as written in early ’03, was the story of Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools and his good friend, singer songwriter Jerry Joseph, escaping – in the wake of the gut-wrenching, untimely demise of Schools’ band mate and Joseph’s friend, guitarist Michael Houser – to Europe, there to take shelter in a short acoustic guitar and bass tour. They played small clubs, wrote a few songs (including the heartbreaking Houser elegy “Postcard”) and, one imagines, commiserated amidst the loss of their friend.
The supergroup thing came later, the culmination of Schools’ long held desire to surround Joseph with a band of heavy hitters. Guitarist Eric McFadden, drummer Wally Ingram, and keyboardist Danny Dziuk were brought in, and the outfit spent Panic’s hiatus year, 2004, barnstorming Europe and the US. They even played Boston, risking Joseph’s own death due to an insidious anaphylactic allergy.
Nothing about the band at this time screamed “death,” although defining themselves was something of a parlor game for the musicians. They were a “political band,” they were a “heavy band that played political songs,” mostly they were Definitely Not A Jamband. This last seemed very important, and they never missed a chance to remind us of it, in print or onstage. They eschewed long, individual solos in favor of stout bursts of group improv. They rarely strung songs together with jams and raps, as was common in their individual acts. They excised from their performances most anything that could be construed as “jambandy.” Well they tried anyway; mostly their natural instincts got the better of them. (http://www.archive.org/details/stockholm2004-07-30.shnf) Stockholm made a big sound, and almost instantly achieved what some bands spend a career failing to accomplish: high-energy improv not as a vehicle for showcasing individual chops, but as an engine illuminating their emotional engagement in the music.
They released an album, Holy Happy Hour, mixing a few Jerry Joseph originals with a few Schools/Joseph co-compositions and a Climax Blues Band cover. Some of the songs, “Shining Path,” “Empire One,” and to a lesser degree, “Counter Clock World,” showed a political bent not uncommon in Jerry’s writing. Looking back, this quality seems mainly to be a function of the politically charged time in which the songs were written: post-Iraq invasion, pre ’04 election. But like all good political rock songs they’re broad enough to have aged well because they express a frustration applicable to any era – heck you could hear “Empire One” at your local Tea Party march and not think it out of place (if that’s your thing). The tune that struggles most is “American Fork,” a sort of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” for meth addicts. But the song is too overwhelming to be anything but powerful, even if its cultural touchstones have slid from topicality.