I corrected one of the criminal deficiencies of my music collection last night, and downloaded a copy of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s penultimate studio album. (itunes has certainly made it easier for me to instantly gratify my musical impulses. I also got a copy of Ringo Starr’s greatest hits collection Photograph.) It was his final official recording with his longtime backing band, Double Trouble.
SRV recorded In Step after getting sober. It’s filled with a new energy and optimism. Always a master guitarist, Vaughan’s playing is rock solid, and his songwriting skills are sharper than ever before. Nowhere is any of this more obvious than “Tightrope”
I heard this on the radio last night; it was the first time I’d heard it in years, and it’s lost none of its emotion and urgency. “Tightrope” is a chronicle of the attitude change SRV experienced when he quit drinking and drugging. He seems compelled not to ask for forgiveness for himself, but to open up his heart to help others; the song ends with pleas to “save the boys and girls.” He understood just how close to the brink he’d come, knowing “There was love all around me, but I was looking for revenge. Thank God it never found me, would have been the end.” Maybe it’s just hindsight, but there’s also a sense here that he knew just how short his time was, that he had to make a difference soon, because this wasn’t his second chance. It was his last.
“Tightrope” is a song about redemption, but it’s not preachy. Because he wasn’t telling anyone what they had to do to redeem themselves. He uses some of the 12 step lingo, but he’s not directing anyone to follow his path. He wanted to share his personal journey. SRV understood that everyone had to walk their own road, but that we were all “Walkin’ the tightrope between wrong and right. Walkin’ the tightrope both day and night.”
A lot has changed in the last 23 years, but not that much is different. There’s still so much anger in the world, so much trouble. Too many people are teetering on their own personal tightropes. It’s time to help them find their way safely down.