Kurt Vile: Guitar Hero

Philly’s "Childish Prodigy" brings his woozy constant hitmaking to the masses.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Sep. 29, 2009

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When assessing the current state of financial affairs (or lack thereof) in music, and the frequency at which musicians sell their songs for commercial use—considered taboo just a few short years ago—Vile looks to his mentors for guidance, even before deciding to take a different route. 

“When Neil [Young] wrote “This Note’s for You” he was already a millionaire,” says Vile of Young’s notoriously scornful 1980s ode to musicians who dare sell out. “Whatever. It’s a new era. I’d totally let someone use ‘Freeway’ in a car commercial. You have to do that now to make any money. It sounds like a song that’s supposed to be in a car commercial anyway.”

Turning his tunes over to Madison Ave. is on Vile’s mind. “Freeway”—the fresh, free-wheeling, chock full of good vibes song on Vile’s first proper LP, Constant Hitmaker —was, in fact, plucked to be heard in a Toyota commercial before the deal unraveled. 

“Blackberry Song,” off Prodigy , is another song ripe for the commercial picking. Sample lyric: “My beloved blackberry.” Vile wrote the song years before the electronic device became ubiquitous, inspired not by texting, but by a poem, “Blackberry Eating,” at a reading he and his wife saw its author Galway Kinnel give at Dartmouth. 

“That’s a tough one. It would be great to take money, but it would ruin the song forever,” he says, pondering to himself how to cross this particular bridge when and if he comes to it. “And now I have a Blackberry which is like, uhhhh … ”

Now retired in a back booth at Johnny Brenda’s, Vile is optimistic about his future. He’s just gotten word that one of his idols, Richard Hell, has requested a copy of Childish Prodigy . He’s thrilled and a little taken aback. 

He orders a Sly Fox. Soon, one turns to five.

He pats his tiny (but beginning) belly, and pinches at what he can of it between his fingers. He’s got tour on his mind again. “Sitting around, drinking beer, waiting to play your gig. You can get a gut quick,” he says, not too worried. 

Vile pauses. Looks at the menu board, ponders getting food.

“When Bruce Springsteen went on his Born in the USA tour, he traveled with a personal trainer to keep him in shape.” 

Vile jokes his follow-up to Prodigy will be titled Kurt Vile: Born on Stage . 

He’s studied the masters, knows all their moves. If Prodigy ’s the hit it’s destined to be, a personal trainer on tour might not be too far off base. ■

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1. boog said... on Oct 5, 2009 at 12:10AM

“if you like kurt (like i do), how about you check me out. i'm nineteen, have four less tracks on my tape recorder, and seem to get overlooked by everybody in this city. i've been playing with hezekiah jones, the sweetheart parade, and all the other philly folk acts since i was a sophomore in high school.
i'm boog, with a lowercase 'b.'
look me up on facebook and myspace

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2. Shaily said... on Oct 6, 2009 at 12:50AM

“Kurt is so incredibly talented... this was long due...”


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