Thursday, February 11, 2010

Walking On A Wire

Following his departure from the classic English folk/rock band Fairport Convention, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Richard Thompson would release one poorly-selling solo album before joining with his new wife Linda for a series of outstanding albums. Their marriage would take some interesting turns including a three-year musical hiatus while they joined a Sufi Muslim commune, eventually their relationship would end in divorce. Still, in Linda, Richard had found an perfect partner to interpret his songs vocally, especially their dispirited themes. Their final album together, Shoot Out The Lights, released right before their divorce is often linked with their failing marriage. This connection may not be entirely fair as Thomsom's songs were never (before or after this album) particularly cheerful; furthermore, many songs were written a couple years earlier prior to the Thomson's marital problems. Still whether fair or not, the songs on this album, especially those sung by Linda Thompson, convey an emotional bankrupcy made even more poignant by the real life events that were occurring.

The entire album is outstanding, but today's song Walking On A Wire really is a highlight. Linda's voice conveys perfectly (and quite beautifully for the topic) how a slowly failing relationship can be so draining; you can feel the fatigue in the slow tempo.

"This grindstone's wearing me
Your claws are tearing me
Don't use me endlessly
It's too long, too long to myself
Where's the justice and where's the sense?
When all the pain is on my side of the fence"

With lines of regret ("I wish I could please you tonight") and uncertainty ("It scares you when you don't know whichever way the wind might blow"), we get the feel of a disintigrating relationship, and the singer is just too tired to fight it. Richard finishes the song with an agonizing guitar solo that perfectly caps the song. Now 28 years later, I'm not sure how important or relevant it is to know how closely this song mirrored the duo's own emotions at the time; the song itself, no matter when you hear it, still rips through your heart.

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