R.I.P. Willy DeVille
August 7, 2009 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Sister Sue, tell me baby what are we gonna do. She said take two candles, and then you burn them out. Make a paper boat, light it and send it out, send it out now ... Willy DeVille (formerly William Dorsay), died of pancreatic cancer on August 6, at the age of 58. So much of his music evoked the languid heat of a city night. This might be a good evening to turn it up loud.

His band Mink DeVille played at CBGBs regularly during the rise of NY punk, but they were always more classic rock n roll/soul/blues/Latin than punk (Spanish Stroll; Cadillac Walk; Savoir Faire; Guardian Angel; Mixed Up Shook Up Girl). More people probably know him from the stately, gravellly Storybook Love, his collaboration with Mark Knopfler for the soundtrack of The Princess Bride. After moving to New Orleans in 1988, he continued to produce some really fine music, but most of the world never paid that much attention again.

Go here or here to find any of his music that you might have missed. If you want an immediate hit, this YouTube channel has a growing selection of uploads with excellent, detailed commentary. There's a lovely 2006 interview with Willy here. And there's a lavish Wikipedia article on him here.
posted by maudlin (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Let me dream if I want to!

R.I.P. Mr DeVille
posted by MeatLightning at 7:01 PM on August 7, 2009

posted by lazaruslong at 7:10 PM on August 7, 2009

RIP, Willy.
posted by jonmc at 7:18 PM on August 7, 2009

posted by Opposite George at 7:42 PM on August 7, 2009

I don't want to cry/A river of tears

[I was into new wave but Trouser Press turned me on to Willy Deville. Not my scene at the time but since I bought Where Angels Fear to Tread, I listened to it. Tonite, I am listening to it again, and....whoa! Thanks!]

posted by humannaire at 7:55 PM on August 7, 2009

Thanks Mr. Deville.
posted by acro at 7:55 PM on August 7, 2009

Speaking of which, good times....
posted by humannaire at 7:57 PM on August 7, 2009

it's days like this i wish i had a stereo with big ol' speakers, instead of just my sweet little laptop with earphones. i'd play "Venus of Avenue D" over and over, loud enough to get the neighbors to call the police! i used to cut pictures of this guy out of the rock mags and tack 'em to my bedroom wall, when i was a teenager. he's gone to soon, dammit!

i shared these thoughts with friends, elsewhere - so forigve me that this is not spontaneous. it is heartfelt.


Mink deVille was one of the first bands i ever saw in concert. my mom took me because i was only 14. he opened for Elvis Costello, at the san diego civic center theater. it was a great show.

i was lucky enough to get to see Willy deVille again, in the late '80's. it was at this second concert that i saw a remarkable phenomenon: i looked across the room, which was filled with little cocktail tables, each with a lighted candle in a red glass. with every beat of the drums, the flames inside the glass jumped up and peeked out over the rim - hundreds of little dancing points of light. it was magical - and so, very romantic. Manny Farber was also at this show - i guess he'll be seeing Willy play in heaven.

when i was traveling through spain 15 years ago, i stayed in a madrid family's home for a few nights. like many spanish families with an extra room or two, they let out the space to travelers. their oldest son would stand by the train station and greet people with little calling cards that had the address written upon it. he had a sweet, honest face; and so, a girl i had made friends with on the train and i followed him back to the apartment to meet his mother. she approved of us as tenants for the night. we were delighted - it was in a giant old apartment building, probably from the 1920's, and this family had the entire 3rd floor as their home. it was beautiful, with wrought iron details, painted tiles and high ceilings, and paned glass doors that opened between the different rooms and onto the balconeys that overlooked a quiet street.

in the cool of an early morning - on what would turn out to be a brutally hot summer day - i awoke to the strains of a Mink deVille song. "Mixed up, Shook up Girl" echoed through the building. i got up and got dressed, and crept barefoot from my room to follow the song.

down a hallway, around a corner, and through a door just slightly ajar, i spied the family's teenage son. he was playing his stereo and singing along, quietly. he was a big kid, built like a bear; his back was to the door. he had his arms wrapped around himself as though he were holding a lover, as he swayed softly to the music on the record player. i watched until the song was done, and then quietly found my way back to my room as the wicked, sexy notes to "Gunslinger" kicked in. and again, it was magical.

this was how i discovered that, though it was almost impossible to get news of his music or see him in the usa, he was famous, in europe. a very happy discovery. later in my travels i learned Willy was touring, and spent the rest of the week trying to find out the venues and get tickets. i had a funny experience: having walked into a big record emporium to see if they had any news on the tour, i found a beautiful girl who simply could not understand when i asked if they had any boletas for "Willy deVille?"

i finally wrote his name on a scrap of paper. her eyes widened and she delightedly breathed, in a laughing voice, "aaaah! si! si! BIJ'YEE DEBIL!!"

ah yes, accent is everything.

but i had no luck, as my path was on the opposite side of the country than his tour. and... i always just thought i'd have a chance to see him play again.

tonight, a tear falls for you, Willy - and i will pour drops of red wine in your memory. i hope wherever your soul is, that you are with your guardian angel.
posted by lapolla at 8:16 PM on August 7, 2009 [7 favorites]

Hope he found his Guardian Angel.
posted by Bron at 8:39 PM on August 7, 2009

This is a terrific post. I had to dig out Return to Magenta and Coup de Grace tonight when I read the news...
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 8:47 PM on August 7, 2009

So sad to hear about this but the lovely post provides some consolation.

Willy did a nice version of You Better Move On.
posted by grounded at 9:13 PM on August 7, 2009

Great post. The 2006 interview is lovely. I never knew what an interesting guy he was, not just an incredibly soulful singer.

posted by readery at 9:19 PM on August 7, 2009

I saw Mink DeVille a long time ago. On tour with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe? A million years ago.
posted by pracowity at 12:28 AM on August 8, 2009


Spanish Stroll was part of the soundtrack of my late teens.
posted by essexjan at 1:02 AM on August 8, 2009

Wonderful post -- I was hoping someone would do it right. So long, Willy.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:09 AM on August 8, 2009

posted by Smart Dalek at 6:12 AM on August 8, 2009

man, what a bummer.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:18 AM on August 8, 2009


Heaven is standing still.
posted by El Brendano at 10:27 AM on August 8, 2009

Mixed up, shook up from this. RIP
posted by bonefish at 11:48 AM on August 8, 2009

What a bummer. Willy was freakin' cool. I remember watching him perform on late night TV (Tom Snyder?) back in the early '80's.

posted by black8 at 7:31 PM on August 9, 2009

Fuckin sad.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:11 PM on August 12, 2009

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