The Victor Mourning News for the New Year

The Victor Mourning's new home in 2012

The Victor Mourning wishes you a Happy New Year! We look forward to an exciting year, and have numerous projects in the works. At the end of this month, Lynne and Steve will bid farewell to Austin, Texas, and move The Victor Mourning’s base of operations to East Tennessee.

We look forward to exploring Appalachia, and to immersing ourselves in the region’s vibrant music culture. Once settled, we plan to record a 7” single for release on Folk Police Recordings, a British folk label. A new full-length album is also in the works for 2012.

Although we couldn’t persuade Stefan to move with us to Tennessee, as the band’s official fiddler emeritus he will continue to join us on recording projects and at shows when possible.

As always, we appreciate your continued support, and we’ll keep you posted as things develop!

—Lynne & Steve
January 2, 2012


John Dana Guildner (1949-2011)

John Dana Guildner - 1949-2011

The Victor Mourning regrets the passing of our fellow musician, John Dana Guildner, known to his friends as Dana, after a brief illness.

An extraordinarily talented musician, Dana had played the string bass with the Minnesota Symphony, and more recently, he played accordion and string bass with our friends, the Geneva Witnesses. He was also known for playing traditional hymns on his 1880s pump organ, pumped by a vacuum cleaner operated by his wife, Barb.

We treasure our memories of playing with Dana on the shore of Geneva Lake in Southern Minnesota, and it’s difficult to accept that we won’t have another opportunity to share that experience. In addition to his musical talents, Dana was a truly eccentric character, a generous friend and neighbor, and an important member of his community. Our thoughts are with his family. He will be missed.

The Ancestral Thread

I recently began a journey that has already consumed many hours (and promises to absorb many more), taken more than a few interesting turns, and led me to some very unexpected places: I’ve been researching my genealogy. This project, born of simple curiosity regarding a single facet of family oral tradition, has brought history to life for me in new and meaningful ways, and has created a major shift in the way I view my cultural identity.
I believe that most humans share an innate desire to know something about where we “came from,” and who “our people” were. We often define ourselves accordingly. To connect with our ancestors, it seems, fulfills part of a deeper need to understand our own place in the world. And if you think about it, the circumstances and choices of each of our ancestors have had a direct and powerful impact on who and where we are today.

The grave of one of my eleventh-great grandfathers in Quincy, Massachusetts, dates to 1694.

Our ancestry—the combination of genetics and upbringing—is an undeniable and indelible part of who we are as individuals, and determines a great deal about our lives even before we’re born. Even taking into consideration the fairly recent concept of upward mobility, political power, land ownership, wealth, and social status remain powerfully linked to one’s ancestry. Our ancestry can create opportunities or present obstacles, and manifests its influences not only through the more obvious inherited characteristics of racial group, physical appearance, and predisposition to certain illnesses, but it also shapes our cultural traditions and belief systems, career choices, behavior, personal values, and expectations.
I’ve always considered myself a sort of displaced Midwesterner—an outsider without roots, who never really belonged anywhere. My pedigree has always been somewhat of a question mark, as my father was adopted, and the records of the orphanage where he spent the first eighteen months of his life were destroyed in a fire many years ago. My mother never knew her biological father, nor did she have any connection with his family. That leaves the line I’ve been researching, that of my maternal grandmother.

The focus of my research traces the lineage of my mother, Patricia (b. 1929), through her mother, Anna Hoover (1902-1979), and her mother's mother, Susan Wilber (1867-1916).

Because some of her ancestors happen to be prominent historical figures, they have been extremely well documented, and it was just a matter of connecting the more recent generations to them to answer my initial questions. I could have stopped there, but curiosity led me to explore the lineages of the earlier generations, and now I have identified a number of my multiple-great grandparents. (If you’re not familiar with genealogical mathematics, it’s my understanding that an individual can have as many as 16,384 twelfth-great grandparents!)
As I’ve begun to explore my family history, I’ve been able to piece together fragments that have begun to form the stories of my ancestors’ lives, and they have become real people to me. A few are famous, but most of them you’ve never heard of. They include magistrates and farmers, lawmakers and shoemakers, merchants and millwrights, and generation upon generation of homemakers and mothers. By reading histories of their communities and immersing myself in the history of the times in which they lived, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of them.
My earliest non-native American ancestors came from England in the early 17th century as Pilgrims and Puritans, and I’ve been able to trace them to the English towns of Saffron Walden, Dorking, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. (The earliest ancestor I’ve found to date was born in 1350.) I’ve discovered their religious affiliations and birthplaces, where and when and whom they married, how many children they had, where—and sometimes, how—they died, and what they bequeathed their heirs. I have found houses they lived in and located final resting places on both sides of the Atlantic. I hope to visit some of these places in the very near future.

St. Mary's Church, Saffron Walden, Essex, England, where my ancestors were baptized, married, and their deaths recorded as early as 1540, appears much the same today as it did then.

Through this process, I’ve learned not only how the genealogy “bug” bites, but I’ve gained insight into why it does. Researching one’s family history is a solitary journey, of little interest to anyone but the researcher. But for me it has been one well worth taking. I’m beginning to see myself less as that disconnected, rootless Midwesterner, and more as part of something immense and ancient, connected by the ancestral thread that unites us all to those who came before us.
—Lynne Adele

Henry Russell’s Last Words

Federal No. 3 Mine

Federal No. 3 Mine

If you’ve attended one of our live shows, you are probably aware that band member Stephen Lee Canner writes nearly all our material. We do often add a “cover” or two to our set list—songs written by other songwriters we admire, and that for one reason or another we like to share with our audiences.

Among our favorites is the heartbreakingly beautiful song, “Henry Russell’s Last Words,” written by Diana Jones. Inspired by an historical event, the song documents the final moments of a West Virginia coal miner trapped underground following a mine disaster.

In The Victor Mourning’s version of the song, guitjo player Lynne Adele contributes lead vocals, Stephen Canner takes a rare break from singing duties to focus on delicately textured guitar accompaniment, and Stefan Keydel lends soaring fiddle solos that build dramatically to the song’s tragic climax. We hope to record the song for our next album.

Henry Russell was born in 1885 in Hamilton, a town near Glasgow in the west central lowlands of Scotland. He worked as a miner in Scotland before emigrating to the U.S. with his pregnant wife, Mary, and their two young children. They moved to Monongalia County, West Virginia, where Henry found work at the Federal No. 3 coalmine in Everettville.

Henry Russell

Henry Russell

The day of April 30, 1927 probably began like just any other workday for the miners of the Federal No. 3. But the day came to a sudden end for 111 of the miners when a massive explosion ripped through the mine, killing most of them instantly. Only nine miners working that day survived. Several men survived the initial blast, trapped hundreds of feet underground for several hours before succumbing to gas fumes. Among them was Henry Russell.

Russell gathered pieces of coal and scraps of paper torn from cement sacks, and began to write notes to his wife. The notes, which he placed carefully in his lunch box, were found along with the bodies of Henry and his coworkers and passed along to Russell’s widow, Mary. Their daughter, Marguerite, was just six years old when her father died. Now in her 90s, she still has her father’s handwritten notes.

The note

One of Henry Russell's handwritten notes

In 2006, songwriter Diana Jones accepted the challenge to write a song to help raise awareness for a memorial to the miners of the Federal No. 3 mine. Inspired by Henry Russell’s notes, she set them to music and created the intensely moving song “Henry Russell’s Last Words.”

On April 30, 2011, 84 years to the day after the disaster, the memorial was dedicated in the town of Everettville in memory of 149 coal miners who lost their lives in accidents there during the years the mine operated, 1918 to 1951. The memorial, which stands on a hillside overlooking the former Federal No. 3 Mine, is a 7.5-ton stone inscribed with the names of the miners, many of whom lie buried in unmarked paupers’ graves. 

—Lynne Adele

For more information, visit the Everettville Historical Association website:

The Stagnant Healing Waters of Heber Springs

Heber Springs, 1915

A wintry day in Heber Springs, 1915

Part One

When we travel, we like to visit places that have special significance to us, and we prefer places off the beaten track as opposed to tourist destinations. On our recent 4,300-mile road trip, which included playing shows in West Virginia, Virginia, and Florida, it was only natural that we decided to take a little detour through Heber Springs, Arkansas. The town is known to The Victor Mourning fans around the globe through our song, “Heber Springs Albino” (on our CD, A Handful of Locusts). Steve knew I would enjoy seeing the place that inspired him to write the song, and we wanted to collect some of the “stagnant healing water.”

Heber Springs (originally named Sugar Loaf) is the county seat of Cleburne County in north central Arkansas. It’s a sleepy town with a population of about 6,000, and it appears to have seen better days. The area has been inhabited by native people for some 10,000 years. The first white settlers arrived in the 1830s, drawn in part by the mineral springs that bubbled up from the ground in what is now the center of town.

It didn’t take long for an entrepreneur to recognize the springs’ commercial potential, and in 1838 the White Sulphur Springs Company was established for the purpose of creating a “healthful, commodious and elegant watering place” that would take its place among the hundreds of mineral spa resorts that sprang up across the country in the 19th century. Visitors flocked to the spas to bathe in and drink the supposedly healthful mineral waters, and to enjoy the wide variety of social and recreational activities that were offered for their entertainment.

Following the formula of countless mineral spas, the springs’ promoters attached their discovery to the miraculous curing of a mythical, ailing “Indian princess.” In 1886, an advertising booklet claimed that the springs offered “a sure cure for dyspepsia, headache, biliousness and hundreds of other ailments.” But Heber Springs was not destined for the success experienced at Eureka Springs or Hot Springs. The land changed hands several times through a series of complex real estate deals, there was no railroad access to bring in potential customers, and the project was never realized. By the time the Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad finally arrived in Sugar Loaf in 1908, the healing water craze was declining.

In 1910 the town’s name was changed to Heber Springs. The land and the springs were given to the community and became known as Spring Park. Locals continued the tradition of taking the waters in hope of curing ailments. Steve has childhood memories of seeing people filling jugs of the water at the springs and describing their various medicinal uses. There are today seven remaining springs in Spring Park that provide waters identified as White Sulphur, Red Sulphur, Black Sulphur, Arsenic, Iron, Magnesia, and Eye Water, each reputed to offer specific healing properties.
—Lynne Adele

Black Sulfur, Heber Springs

The Black Sulfur Spring

Part Two

In 1975 I was living with my grandmother in a tiny house in Searcy, Arkansas. One afternoon I was in the living room, probably looking through the TV listings checking to see when the Little Rock station would be showing a Ritz Brothers or Wheeler & Woolsey film, when my grandmother came in. And I swear this is what I heard her say:

“Stevie, go get dressed, we’re going to the funeral home, Elvis Presley died!”
“I said, get dressed, we’re going to Elvis Presley’s showing in Heber Springs.”
“Grandma, what are you talking about?”
“Virgie’s uncle ELLIS Presley died and we’re going to Heber to his showing. Get dressed.”

(My grandmother’s sister-in-law Virgie was a Presley and was also, tangentially, the niece of Luther Presley, author of the lyrics to the classic song “When the Saints Go Marching In”.)

So off we went to Heber Springs with my Aunt Viva at the wheel of her big forest green, late 60s Chevy Caprice. The scenery north of Searcy on Highway 16 starts getting pretty mountainous fairly quickly, and by the time we got into Heber Springs we were on the southern fringes of the Ozarks proper. Once parked in front of the funeral home in downtown Heber, I elected to wait in the car instead of going inside. (I was a headstrong adolescent in those days, always finding small ways to assert my independence.) The sun had gone down by this point, and I sat there alone looking at the exotic sight of small town neon signs. This wasn’t the first time I had been to Heber Springs, though.

Collecting the water, Heber Springs

Stephen Lee Canner Collecting the Water

About five years earlier I had come to Spring Park, the area where Heber’s springs are located, with my parents on a summer day trip. I wandered off to explore the park on my own. I was probably disappointed, given that most parks in my experience at that point either had a playground or a patch of woods to explore. This one had neither. My attention was captured, however, by a small concrete pool with scores of tadpoles swimming in it. I had never seen a tadpole before. I found a discarded paper cup and did a bit of “catch and release” tadpole fishing.

I wandered over to one of the springhouses and watched a family filling up jugs with water. The father began to lecture me politely on the different healing properties of each spring. From what I could gather, they seemed to be getting jugs of water from each different spring to have on hand to use as a healing aid should one of them suffer, say, an attack of biliousness or weakened constitution. Somehow, many years later, these memories resurfaced as fragments in the song, “Heber Springs Albino.”
—Stephen Lee Canner

The Victor Mourning Stagnant Healing Water

A Handful of Locusts

Locust, George Shaw, 1805

Steve and I are extremely fond of 19th-century imagery, and we have a collection of early natural history and literary engravings and lithographs in our home in Austin. After deciding that our recent CD would be titled A Handful of Locusts, referencing a line from our song “Grasshoppers,” we worked with graphic designer Jamie Panzer to develop the concept for the cover design.
The song “Grasshoppers” tells the tale of an eccentric, religiously obsessed man who talks to Jesus through his car antenna and believes that God wants him to eat only locusts and Campbell’s soup. We recorded the track live in the studio, with the legendary Jad Fair (best known for his role as co-founder of the band Half Japanese) providing guest vocals that “quake with the ultimate rumination of wrack and ruin” (Doug Freeman, Austin Chronicle).
We ultimately decided to build the design around a copper plate engraving from a book by the English botanist and zoologist, George Shaw (1751-1813), published in 1805, which we purchased from a dealer in New Zealand.
Jamie then went to work, creating a design incorporating the iconic image. The image was reversed, enabling it to wrap around the cover and be viewed in full when the cover is opened. For the inside cover, Jamie’s individual portraits of the band were presented in Victorian-era mourning jewelry settings and a typical Union case, continuing the 19th-century aesthetic.
The locust engraving itself is a product of the burgeoning interest in scientific exploration during the 19th century. Western adventurer-scientists were traveling the globe to explore new regions, seek real and imagined treasures, and discover and classify mammals, reptiles, insects, plants, fungi, sea life, and minerals. They returned from their expeditions to find attentive audiences fascinated by lectures about their adventures and discoveries, and wealthy patrons eager to purchase exotic specimens for their collections. Lavishly illustrated studies published as books and portfolios found their places in private libraries. Our locust came from one of these works.

A Handful of Locusts disc image

In addition to the literal reference to the song, we were also drawn to the biblical, apocalyptic associations of the locust with plagues and ruination—a thread that runs throughout the album. The disc itself features an image of a swarm of locusts as a visual conclusion to the cover’s ominous warning. Naturally, we were pleased when a British reviewer praised it as “some of the best cover art we’ve seen this year.”
—Lynne Adele

A Handful of Locusts CD cover

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)

It’s a Victor Mourning Wedding!

This fall The Victor Mourning begin a new phase as band members Lynne Adele and Stephen Lee Canner will wed in a private ceremony in a Victorian setting in Austin. During their honeymoon in the American Southwest they will visit museums, go antiquing, ride in a restored 19th century parlor car on the Durango-Silverton Railroad, and maybe even play a show or two. The Victor Mourning are excited to take the band to this new level.

The Victor Mourning: Mini Spring Tour

The Victor Mourning will be heading out on a mini-Spring tour this week with new songs and new merchandise items in hand. 

Wed, Mar 24 – Lynchburg, VA – The White Hart

Thu, Mar 25 – Harrisonburg, VA – Court Square Theater

Fri, Mar 26 – Charleston, WV – Taylor Books

Sat, Mar 27 – Noblesville, IN – Noble Coffee and Tea

Check our website for details on the specific venues. Hope to see some of y’all on the road!

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