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The Ledge (07/28/1998), (Exclusive essay by John B) < Lindsey Buckingham < Main Page

The Ledge (07/28/1998), (Exclusive essay by John B)
Penguin

A lot o' words, not much to say, frankly.

Posted by John B. on July 28, 1998 at 10:44:08:

I've lapsed into another state of heavy breathing over Sir Lindsey's whole artistic statement, so it's time to share some thoughts. As usual, this is more properly the stuff of a diary entry, I think, but I know that there are at least a few of you out there who are simpatico with my great obsession, so you can understand.

It occurred to me, a few days ago, that my recent extensive replaying of Out of the Cradle had some weird effect on me; it sent me into this odd state of euphoria over Lindsey's music, and made me want to write about him again. Dennis Hopper's character in Blue Velvet had some similar odd trait (perhaps the tactile sensation of blue velvet enhanced his murderous impulses?), but it's been so long since I saw that wonderful film that I've forgotten specifics. But I remember him inhaling oxygen from a mask or something, perhaps in the aftermath of one of his heinous acts, and that is how I feel about Lindsey's music: after I listen to the guy, I need oxygen. So I find myself, again, writing about the absolute joy of listening to Lindsey. Perhaps I should call it Lindsening.

Anyway, on with my narrative. A few weeks ago, I received a ton of Lindsey music from an EXTREMELY generous Ledgie--Drew, God love her, taped Law and Order, Go Insane, Buckingham/Nicks, the 1992 Superstar Concert Series appearance, Holiday Road, Twisted, Steal Your Heart Away, Time Bomb Town, Walls (he does back-up vocals), and other songs for me. (How's that for hitting the jackpot?) Plus, she wrote out all the names of the songs on the cassettes and e-mailed additional production notes to me. Obviously, it was a time-consuming process without reward, to say the least (she refused my limp offer of a few bucks to cover her costs), but Drew--who doesn't know me from Adam--e-mailed me and offered to do it. There's something about the kindness of strangers that is so uplifting, even to a cynic like me.

I've played all of it many times, and I've thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I've got so many things I'd like to say about so much of this music, I don't know where to begin. Maybe I'll just write a couple of essays, and post them...whenever.

Perhaps a good launching point is Law and Order. This album has always been on my to-buy list, along with Go Insane, but financial constraints and the idea that it could be nothing but a come-down after Out of the Cradle put both albums on my budget's back burner. Besides, Law and Order was his first solo effort, and I'd heard it was kind of...eclectic, and sounded like a mish-mash of songs. He didn't have accountability to anyone but himself, and most of the oversight on the project was his own, which left open the possibility that it just wasn't great. As a writer and sometimes editor, I can testify that it's much easier to edit someone else's work. Trying to figure whether your own stuff is anything but garbage--well, it's tough.

And besides, I'd heard Bwana and never loved it, so what's the hurry?

Of course, my logic was slightly faulty, since I kept forgetting that this album was not a product of Lindsey's musical infancy, but was written/produced around Tusk/Mirage time, two phenomenal albums. Also, hearing Bwana once is like hearing anything once: insufficient.

Law and Order, as far as I'm concerned, is an outstanding album. Not good; outstanding. But like all of Lindsey's stuff, and just about anything else I've ever loved (including my wife), it takes time to discover the wonderful qualities, to get a sense of the rhythm, to understand what it's all about. And then, all at once, you say, "Aaaaahhhhhhh. Wonderful!"

I highly recommend either a) buying it, or b) making a friend (like Drew) who'll tape it for you. It's really great music.

The album starts out with the goofy Bwana, a song that I initially resisted, but that has really grown on me. He sounds so playfully dopey on the song ("ra-cha-cha-cha!") that it could've been on Tusk. At first it seemed choppy, but the beats grows on you. And I realize that he's having a great old time with this song; you can't take it seriously, because he doesn't. We all, indeed, have our demons, and this whole album sounds like Lindsey was trying to exorcise a few (although this song, as we know, is about Mick and his demons; what a couple).

The next song requires words. I don't know what I can say about Trouble that would add to any discussion or open anyone's eyes, but I feel that this song requires words in volume to do it justice. It's an awesome song, and simply saying "Yeah, good song" doesn't do it justice. It needs to have words thrown at it, which is kind of ironic, since the song is short on words and is too short, period.

So I'm just gonna type away.

I hadn't heard Trouble in a very long time (except for the Saturday Night Live appearance, which I taped off Comedy Central), and I've NEVER heard it on a decent sound system. And I've never heard it in a controlled setting, where I could dictate the volume, time of play, and so on. I'd always heard it on the radio.

I smiled to myself as that goofy "*beat* a-two-a-three-a-FOUR!" downbeat led into the song. It really is vintage wacky Lindsey. But then, out of nowhere, that overly lush vocal and production kick in with an intake of breath (that he uses in the intro to a few songs--see Monday Morning, Walk a Thin Line, and the SNL performance, where I thought he'd vacuum the microphone into his lungs) as he whisper-serenades his unseen lover with "I should be saying goodnight, I really shouldn't stay anymore. Been so long since I held ya, forgotten what love is for," and it's pure magic. It sends chills right up and down the ol' spine. The backing vocals--all Lindsey, I'm sure--are AMAZING, sounding like ghosts in the wind as they insinuate themselves into the song; before you realize it, they're introducing the chorus with "I think I'm in" before he says "I think I'm in trouble," and then supporting him with "don't know what to do." The backing vocals in this song are like a separate song entirely.

Funny how you get absolutely no sense of the music from reading the lyrics. Lindsey has been criticized occasionally for his lyrics, or lack thereof. (I think this criticism abated with Out of the Cradle, but I digress.) But I think those that would criticize his lyrics are missing the point that those of us who get routinely drunk on his singing and arranging see so clearly: it's not so much the lyrics, it's HOW they're delivered and the musical context in which they're delivered. On paper, Trouble's opening lyrics are mundane. But when you listen to him sing them, they take on the love-confused murmurings of someone caught in a dilemma.

Quasi-digression: Before I bought Mirage, I read the lyrics to Book of Love. I tried to figure out what it would sound like by reading them--an impossible feat, to be sure. But the opening "Walked out, goodbye" looked so simple and austere, it seemed like a throwaway.

If you have the album, you know how he delivers this simple line, and it ain't so simple. Coming after the catchy guitar intro punctuated by bass and piano, that leads into soaring background vocals and instrumentation, he disdainfully sings "Walked out, goodbye," and it's one of the album's highlights for me. I've often replayed just this part, before letting myself fall into the rest of the "I swore, I never would cry." I get goose bumps just thinking about it. (Does anybody else adore his line, "In silence/the lonely make/all their mistakes"? Boy, he could write a book on isolation.)

Commercial: Among other things, I think Lindsey is a GENIUS at arranging backing vocals and harmonies. There is nothing run-of-the-mill about any backing vocals he performs, and he does it better than anybody I can think of. His back-ups on Tom Petty's Walls are practically a clinic in how to take something that could've been mundane and making it the best part of the song. My kids sing the back-up vocals to that song; it's the part that really rings in their heads.

Anyway, back to Trouble. As he sings "Come to me darlin' and hold me/Let your honey keep you warm," there is a highly sensual quality to his voice (and to the lyric, obviously) on that second line that kinda takes you by surprise. I love the way he's recorded his voice(s) on the song; you hear another voice sing the "c" sound just before he sings Come, almost like a stutter. It's a really c-cool effect.

I had to laugh when I heard the live version and, as Lauren pointed out a while back, he mistakenly sings "Come and keep your daddy warm." He turns from unselfish lover to incredibly selfish s.o.b. Men, I tell ya...

The song is too damn short, though. But lemme conclude by saying that it is a tribute to Lindsey's vast talents that he creates a great mental picture--I always think of a woman's bedroom, with a window in back, and a moonlit sky with stars all around, and the silhouettes of these two people as he pours out his frustrated heart) with almost no lyrics.

Mary Lee Jones has the energy (and drumming) of a Tusk tune. It has a great, funky guitar solo to end it; Lindsey really rips. Good song.

I'll Tell You Now is a sweet, lazy melodic tune that draws you in. It always ends when I don't expect it. It's the kind of song that you really don't want to end, because you can get very comfortable Lindsening to it.

It Was I and September Song are Lindsey remakes, and are playful send-ups of the originals. Great songs. I wish he had written them.

Shadow of the West is another amazing song--a serious turn on an often-lighthearted (at least on the surface) album. His dusty vocal meshes perfectly with his arrangement, and the harmony (I think Chris backs him up on this one) when they sing "I'm a shadow of the west, um hmm" is quite soothing. The lyrics, however, are not; Lindsey again reveals his emptiness ("More and more I feel less and less"). The quality of his songs always gets ramped up a notch when he's being what appears to be autobiographical, or at least telling a story about vulnerability and insecurity, as in this song and Trouble.

That's How We Do It In L.A. is so wonderfully wacky, I love it. I hated it for the first few seconds, of course, but with Lindsey you quickly get into the stupidity of it, and then realize what he's doing musically, and you see the depth and quality, even in a quirky song like this.

I looooove Johnny Stew. That guitar riff is so cool, and the vocal is really neat. It's another example of how Lindsey makes himself sound so different on every song. Whether it's Bwana, Trouble, Shadow of the West, That's How We Do It In L.A. or Johnny Stew, he continually surprises and delights the listener. In this song, it's yet another brilliant touch when he sings "Johnny, Johnny, JOHNny!" and you hear him mouth the words "Johnny Stew," without actually saying them. Then he has this totally bizarre break in the song that sounds like he's either having a psychotic episode or he's some kind of mad scientist (or both), and then he slides back into the very catchy beat.

Love From Here, Love From There is a little ditty that adds to the eclectic nature of this album, and Satisfied Mind--a song he didn't pen--adds an ironic finale, since it certainly doesn't describe his. Just look at the title of his next album.

And speaking of that next album, I just wanna say that I love it as well, but I think he got wrapped up in the whole techno-thing and got a little to far away from his guitar. After hearing it, and considering what Ann said way back when (that Out of the Cradle is Lindsey getting back to his acoustic roots), it seems that he does best when that guitar is front and center. When you consider the intro to Don't Look Down (on OOTC), it's really a guitar-driven overture for the album, and for life. It starts out innocent, takes a dramatic twist, and then almost spins out of control before regaining it's composure. Listen to it, and you'll know what I mean. Lindsey really tells a great story with his guitar.

Go Insane is, in my humble opinion, a really good album. The stand-outs are I Want You, which sounds very '80s, Slow Dancing, which features some good old-fashioned raunch, I Must Go, Bang the Drum, and his MASTERPIECE on this album, D.W. Suite.

If you're considering purchasing this album, get it for this song, if for nothing else (although I think any Lindsey fan would enjoy the whole album; Play in the Rain, however, doesn't quite cut it for me; he called it the most experimental piece on the album, and I think the experiment was a mild failure). D.W. Suite is a wonderful, fabulous (insert your own superlatives here) sermonette on life and death (a tribute to Dennis Wilson, a.k.a., D.W.), and he sings/plays each section to wring the most out of it. The middle section is SO brilliant I have to replay when I hear it. It's Lindsey singing lead and accompanying himself as the chorus, and it's so moving, musically and lyrically. When he sings "Pray for guidance from above/Shadow all your hopes with love," it's about 15 of the most beautifully uplifting seconds on record. When he goes on to say, "Live your life without a doubt" and "Never, never be afraid," you feel like a preacher has spoken to his flock.

Great job, Lindsey. You are The Man.

Anyway, I've babbled for far too long here, without really saying much about these two great albums. But, you know, it's like I said before: it's not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. Lyrics are only as good as the emotions behind them. I think you know what's in my heart when I'm saying all this.

Hope you all have a really nice day.


Date: 1998-07-28         Number of views: 1664

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