Willy Valutin is the lead singer of Richmond Fontaine. I have only one album by Richomnd Fontaine ‘The Fitzgerald’, which is a whiskey soaked exploration of true americana. It’s as bleak an american country album as I own. It’s a stunning exploration of the downtrodden in American society and it’s almost as if Vlautin himself is the spokesperson for those lost voices. In a country of hope he speaks for the hopeless. I am lead to believe that other Richmond Fontaine albums do not follow suit and are more upbeat affairs in the vain of Uncle Tupelo – which is again appealing, I just have never got around to buying any others. And certainly from their live performance at the Bongo club a few years back it was clear that the quiet, bleak approach is not one that they tend to stray towards. Most interesting of all at this show was the fact that along with all the Richmond Fontaine music on sale you could also buy both Willy Vlautin’s novels for what some people do not know is that along with being a talented songwriter, Mr Vlautin is a fantastic novelist. His first novel, The Motel Life, won him critical acclaim and rightly so. If the Fitzgerald is a voice for the hopeless, this book is the story of the people that he sings about. It’s a stunningly bleak piece of simple literature portraying a story of hope about 2 brothers, Jerry Lee and Frank. Jerry Lee kills a boy in a hit and run and the 2, in desperation, run away from the tragedy. Unable to cope with the guilt Jerry Lee tries to commit suicide but fails. The story focuses mainly on Frank, how he copes with bis brothers situation, flitting from one bad scenario to another but mainly waiting and hoping. This is a simple, spare and honest book which tears at the heart strings every step of the way.
His follow up novel Northline, is of a similar vain, telling the story of a women who runs away from her boyfriend who mistreats her. She gives her baby away, not ever telling the father, and builds a life in a different city, hoping to escape the numerous demons which she left behind, knowing that that will never be completely possible. The beautiful twist to the story is her fantasy relationship with Paul Newman, whom she turns to in her darkest moments. Her subconcious saving her from the harsh realities of her past life. It’s a truly lovely story and is accompanied by a soundtrack cd, music written by Willy Vlautin. It’s not often somebody comes along and touches your life through both the music and literature. It’s even rarer that the person, famed for his music may actually be more proficient in writing. Honestly, I’d recommend you check out both Willy Vlautin the musician and author, especially if you like your music and literature soaked in a lot of whiskey with a major dose of heartache. Touching, beautiful and well worth a listen/read.