CD Review from in Belgium recently published a review of our latest CD, A Handful of Locusts. Since the review was in Dutch and most of our audience doesn’t read this language we’ve translated it for our English speaking audience:

The Victor Mourning – A Handful of Locusts

If only autumn were already here. God, how I long for the silence, the peace, and the dark days of November. The tumult of summer always paralyzes my attempts to get anything done. Because of this I only dare make my way out into the world at night, but even then summer’s tumult is not completely gone. Then there are those dang farmers that disturb my much needed rest like beings possessed, racing their tractors across the fields. Luckily there’s a new voice out there, “A Handful of Locusts” by The Victor Mourning, evoking autumnal scenes that provide comfort and refuge from the infernal madness of summer.

It’s always autumn in the mind of Austin resident Stephen Lee Canner – vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for The Victor Mourning – and seemingly the clock is turned back to the year 1880. Along with his fiancee Lynne Adele and violinist Stefan Keydel, his longing for that dark era of Victorian America is expressed through morbid Southern Gothic tales wrapped in somber, sepia toned, Appalachian folk music. The songs on “A Handful of Locusts” sound like they were recorded in an old, crumbling Victorian house.

If you listen closely, you can hear the creak of rotten wooden floorboards in the background, made by the ghosts of the previous occupants who still wander the house where yellowed black and white photos hang crookedly on the walls. Stephen Lee Canner presents these morbid tales of deceit, violence, and murder, his wailing lamentation accompanied by Keydel’s mournful fiddle and the ominous sounding banjo of Adele. An example is the tale of local eccentric “Zachariah”, who read too deeply into Greek mythology and imagined himself as Icarus. Like Icarus, Zachariah did not fly to the sun but to death. Or the tale told in “Grasshoppers” of another eccentric who ate nothing but grasshoppers. The verses on this tune are sung by Jad Fair (known for his work with, among others, Daniel Johnston, Yo La Tengo, Isobel Campbell, and Teenage Fanclub.)

No, the members of The Victor Mourning are not jolly Frans Bauers [a famous Dutch pop/folk singer.] If things don’t work out with their musical career they could always start a funeral home. I wouldn’t recommend “A Handful of Locusts” to anyone who uses “Carpe diem” or “Living la vida loca” as their motto. Rather, “A Handful of Locusts” is fodder for the denizens of the dark and other nocturnal vermin who avoid the daylight. Such as your very own,

Roen Het Zwoen

Translation by Stephen Lee Canner


Visionary Art in Newgate Prison, 1677

The Lord High Chancellor's Mace

While reading through trial transcripts from late 17th century London I recently came across the story of Thomas Sadler and William Johnson who were executed on Friday, March 16, 1677, at Tyburn, a village in Middlesex long famous for its permanent gallows.

Sadler and Johnson had somehow managed to steal the mace of office belonging to the Lord High Chancellor, as well as two “purses”. The mace is the Chancellor’s symbol of office which accompanies him to any sitting of the House of Lords. The purse is a large bag embroidered with the Royal coat of arms which is also a part of the ceremonial trappings of the Chancellor’s office.

The Purse

Thomas Sadler, it seems, was known to the court as a repeat offender, having already been in Newgate Prison fourteen times. When asked by the court why the sentence of death should not be pronounced upon him Sadler was at first smug and insolent, saying that he already considered himself a dead man and had nothing to add except that the court should proceed and arrange a convenient time for his execution. Once the sentence was passed, however, he quickly changed his tune and went into “a strange kind of Agony with the terrours of his condition, flinging his Hat one way and his Perriwig another, and wringing his hands in a lamentable manner.”

Upon returning to prison Sadler spent his time in his cell “raging like a Wilde beast caught in a Trap, and vainly Shawing the greatness or stubboruness of his Spirit, rather than symptoms of Remorse or Contrition for his Offence.” After being visited by clergy he repented for his crimes, weeping and “confessing what abundance of Robberies and Villanies he had been guilty of, never before discovered.”

Sadler’s co-defendant in the trial was one William Johnson, a harness maker and “a fellow well educated, of good understanding, and great natural parts.” He had lived for a time in Holland and spoke both Dutch and French. Johnson was known to frequent “ill company” but had never been in jail before. He denied being involved in the theft and “fell down at the Bar in a Swoon” when the sentence of death was passed upon him.

Before his trial Johnson, “having an excellent fancie, and a hand no less happy at Limning”, had drawn the scales of justice on his cell wall. In one of the scale’s balances was the stolen mace and in the other was the gallows at Tyburn, the gallows much outweighing the mace. After he was condemned and returned to his cell where he spent “these few remaining moments of his life in Prayers and Tears”, he drew another set of scales, but this time with the gallows on one side and a crucifix on the other, the gallows again outweighing the crucifix. Beneath this drawing he wrote:

My Precious Lord, from all Transgressions free, Was pleas’d, in tender pity unto me, To undergo the Ignominious Tree.

I Suffer justly; but his Sacrifice, I trust, shall make my groveling Spirit rise, And from the Gibbet mount the glorious Skies.

Here we have a man of humble origins, intelligent but likely with little formal education given his previous trade, crying out to the universe through one of the few means available to him: art. How many times has this scene played out throughout history? How many masterpieces of visionary art have been lost to memory, whether scrubbed from the prison wall or tossed onto the midden heap after the death of the artist?

-Stephen Lee Canner

William Hogarth's The Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn (1747)