Okkervil River | Savannah Smiles

June 24, 2007 at 7:50 pm (mp3s, Okkervil River)

I’m sure most of you spent today familiaizing yourself with Okkervil River’s latest album, Stage Names. I just finished my first listen, and the word ‘charming’  came to mind several times during the album. The standouts seemed to be Savannah Smiles, A Girl In Port, Title Track, and John Allyn Smith Sails. Savannah Smiles hit me particularly hard, though I can see it as a point of contention among fans. It’s sappy and sentimental, but for me, that’s working just fine. Still, it’s not as great as the albums finale.


Okkervil River – Savannah Smiles.mp3 



  1. hellfried said,

    have playing stage names for the past few days on my ipod. great stuff. i think its their best so far.

  2. MJ96 said,

    Heard Savannah Smiles on 88.5 Georgia Unv radio. Love it! Thanks for the download. I’ll definately look for the album. Great use of strings and winds. Great job guys.

  3. Michael said,

    Read in an interview with the band that it is about a porn star named Savannah who committed suicide….and the song is told from the dad’s perspective — possibly after her suicide, looking back at her diary and remembering the last time she was home. He’s regretting not giving her the attention and love that she craved and died lacking. All my interpretation.

    But yeah, I found the interview with Will Sheff from the band. It’s by Pitchfork. Here’s the url:


    And here’s a VERY LONG section of the interview that deals with this song (this is probably 30% of the interview):


    Pitchfork: With these ideas of personal identity and transformation in mind, I’d like to ask you about “Savannah Smiles,” a song that deals with the life and death of Shannon Wilsey, a young woman who took the name Savannah when she entered the adult film industry in the early 1990s. This is a person who became so subsumed by her new identity that she committed suicide after becoming disfigured in a horrendous automobile accident– with such injuries, she no longer felt that she could be the beautiful adult film star Savannah. What drew you to Shannon’s story?

    Will Sheff: I guess I could relate, or something like that. I’m really interested in pornography, because there’s all this meaning that gets attached to pornography that has nothing to do with what pornography is. Because pornography is pretty much the simplest art form there is– there’s not a whole lot to it. There’s not a lot of meaning there. But there is so much meaning that floats around it. I’m really interested in the way that people talk about actresses and actors– but more with actresses– in adult film, they are extremely condescending. Often times you either get that this person is some sort of worthless whore, or you get this “poor girl, she must have been abused” kind of thing.

    The case of Savannah is interesting because– while not particularly special– her parents blamed the adult film industry while the adult film industry blamed her parents and nobody really knows what the hell happened. And that’s sort of the point of “Savannah Smiles”– you don’t know. There’s sadness about her story that you cannot boil down to a TV movie-style explanation ….Ultimately, I also feel that indie rock and hipster culture seem to me to be very phobic of sexuality. There’s a fetishizing of childhood– like you can see it in Wes Anderson movies and in twee music, and the ways in which these grown men dress like children. I feel that there’s a fear of sexuality, and one minor goal that I have with Okkervil River is that the songs are sexual. Not to say that they are about sex, but that they have an adult sexuality to them. That’s what rock and roll is supposed to be about, right? It’s supposed to be about sex….

    Pitchfork: Yet Savannah was impregnated by Gregg Allman before the age of 17, and she went through a series of short-lived relationships with rock stars like Slash and Billy Idol….

    Will Sheff: Yeah, she was a groupie.

    Pitchfork: So is this the relationship between rock and roll and sexuality that you wish to explore in your work? How do you reconcile the obviously exploitative nature of this state of affairs with perhaps a healthier understanding of the place of sex in the world of music?

    Will Sheff: Being a groupie is, in some ways, just an extreme form of fandom. I think that everyone has experienced, on some level, the emotion that motivates you to be a groupie. Groupies are also regularly disrespected, but all it is is somebody who loves something so much that they get involved with it sexually. Or maybe it doesn’t even have to do with sex. I have felt a sense of fandom for things that I have loved that is so intense that it starts to bleed into spirituality, bleed into sexuality, and bleed into all kinds of areas of your life that love for a simple rock album should not be occupying. So with the groupie thing– Savannah was involved with Slash, with Allman, and she’s in the Tom Petty video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, as Alice [in Wonderland]. And the ending of that video, it’s really beautiful and freaky. She’s being eaten as a gigantic birthday cake….

    Pitchfork: Yeah, I was 10 or so when that video came out, and I think it permanently warped my ideas of women and sexuality.

    Will Sheff: When I was writing “Starry Stairs”, which was meant to be a sequel to “Savannah Smiles” [The Stage Names was originally conceived as a double album], I kept coming back to that image of her lying on the table– and she’s underneath the stage, as it’s obviously a fake birthday cake body– totally immobilized. She couldn’t move if she wanted to in real life. And here is this rock band devouring her body. If there was ever a better image for the tragedy of the groupie– that’s it right there. So I was kind of thinking about that, too.

    Pitchfork: It’s an incredibly vivid and traumatic moment.

    Will Sheff: I’m really interested in the idea that trauma can be a really rapturous thing. You know, some people return again and again to trauma– they re-enact it and feel it again. It becomes something that defines their personality…..But with The Stage Names, I wanted all of those things to be submerged. I wanted on the surface there to be a party going on. We know all of that horrible stuff is down in the cellar, but up here we’re going to have a party.


  4. Michael said,

    Uhhh….maybe I should’ve just stopped after pasting the url…

    haha, sorry

  5. Bathroom Lighting said,

    the film industry is of course a multi billion dollar industry that employs a lot of people ,~.

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