The protagonist in The Liquor Vicar is Tony Vicar, a dreamer and failed musician who is getting older, feeling himself drift away from the center of events, and is aggravated about his apparent slow slide downward.
He is surrounded by a cast of characters none too hip and somewhat shipwrecked in the past.
For this Spotify playlist I have chosen songs that seem to match the images of the characters as I imagine them. With a field of thousands of songs to choose from I went with these, hoping that the audio picture imparts the vibe of ramshackle retro, with a few meaningful twists and turns.
We start with the melodramatic ‘Town Without Pity’, a Gene Pitney classic, the first oldie of many. It sets a Sixties TV noir tone. The town of Tyee Lagoon may not truly lack pity, but Tony Vicar feels invisible and unwanted.
Elvis Presley’s live version of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra,' his cheesy concert opener, a schmaltzed up adaptation of the original, magnificent Richard Strauss piece, sets the scene for Vicar’s unhappy Elvis imitation, a schtick that he fell into years ago, and which he now despises. It segues into 'See See Rider,' one of Elvis’s tried and true opening numbers.
'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,' practically an anthem to a couple of generations of Canadians, follows. Vicar, unhappy and drunk, accidentally finds himself Elvis-ing to the song after a technical glitch. The song and the moment couldn’t be less appropriate at the wedding where Vicar is DJ-ing, under extreme duress, and he struggles his way through to an ungainly ending.
Tom Jones gives us Tony Vicar’s theme, ‘Too Hard to Handle’. Tight, energetic, and Vegas-y. Tight pants and yesterday’s hair. Outmoded sex appeal. And still a great track that hints at his underlying faith in ‘the dream’ of music.
I really like Diana Krall’s version of ‘Yeh Yeh’, a Pop classic that also features its original artist, Georgie Fame, on Hammond B3 organ. Kitschy, throwback, wholesome fun and evocative of optimism and good cheer. This is the theme of Jacquie O, Vicar’s love interest and the person who pulls him up out of his long, dark funk.
Ross Poutine, owner of the local liquor store, classic car aficionado, and crusty slaughterer of the English language is illustrated by 'Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,' a very old Bob Seger song. It seemed to capture the vibe of a guy who is as happy keeping company with cars as he is with fellow humans.
The geriatric but energetic and still flirtatious Frankie Hall is assigned Ray Charles’ version of ‘Hey Good Lookin’’. A classic, jumping track that evokes a bygone era of taking your honey out to jive. Her personality is further fleshed out with ‘Dance with Me, Henry’ by the inimitable Etta James.
Serena, the story’s baddie, is a complex young woman with a difficult past. I chose for her the mournful ‘Cry’ by the glorious Jon Batiste.
‘Big Time Operator’, one of my favourite kitsch oldies, is the perfect background for Farley Rea, Vicar’s sidekick and mascot. He shares many grand dreams with Vicar but is incapable of bringing them to life. The songs lyrics and delivery are totally full of shit, but delivered with such outrageous pizazz that I love it for Farley.
'Big Head' by Spirit of the West tells the story of a person who is determined to not let fame go to their head – a huge challenge for anyone who has ever been put in that situation.
I had to throw in 'Tom Sawyer' by Rush as the group is referenced several times in the book; one chapter takes place while Tom Sawyer is playing in the background and Tony Vicar has an epiphany.
Howie Beck’s ‘Watch Out for the Fuzz’ warns us about the dangers that lurk around Vicar. ‘Under My Skin’ by Sinatra, probably one of the top three or four Pop recordings of the 20th century, is referenced in the book and serves to illustrate how deep Vicar’s feelings have become for Jacquie O.
‘Someone Who’s Cool’ hints to us about Serena’s many false masks. One of my favourite Craig Northey lyrics nails it here, “Close, but kinda meatless, like actors who play Jesus, in a Movie of the Week.” This piece is followed by ‘The Pretender’ by the Foo Fighters, a menacing intro with an explosive chorus that tells us the action is now ‘all hands-on deck’ and the emergency is critical.
‘Go Down Gamblin’, a great oldie by Blood, Sweat and Tears give us a cool, intense idea of how Ross Poutine and Farley Rea bumble magnificently toward the climax and big rescue.
As Frankie Hall dies, ‘The Rites of Man’ by Spirit of the West captures the cutting pain of an imminent death. ‘Feel Good Again’ by the Boomers gives us the mood of wistfulness at the memories.
‘This’, by Quinzy is the ideal outro theme for this rough-edged cast of characters. Lyricist Sandy Taronno must have been thinking of them when he penned, ‘If we lived in a century a little tighter wound, they’d grab their torches, and run us out of town…’ It is the perfect summation of the story.
If you enjoy Tony Vicar and his friends I hope this playlist might colour in some of the background, and maybe even give you a good laugh, because after all, the best entertainment is balanced delicately on the knife edge of absurd and profound.
Vince R. Ditrich is a lifelong musician and member of the band Spirit of the West. He has circled the world, earned more than a dozen gold and platinum albums, and been enshrined in several Halls of Fame. Vince lives on Vancouver Island. Learn more here.