News in the world is bad right now–really bad–and I’m still feeling a little blue. Time always seems to move too fast. I just hope maybe we can get it together before we blow it all up.
I’m not superstitious about Friday the 13th. I’ve always considered 13 to be one of my lucky numbers. Also, today is my uncle’s birthday. (He’s the baby of the family. My father used to joke that they all thought he’d come home with three arms or something.)
I hope everyone had good luck today!
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.
Yesterday, I wrote about LL Cool J and a song he recorded 22 years ago. And 22 years ago today, Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed when the helicopter he was in crashed into a mountain. Four other passengers, including Eric Clapton’s agent Bobby Brooks, were also killed. It still stands out in my mind as one of the most senseless and eerie rock tragedies in my lifetime.
I was attending my local community college at the time, taking creative writing classes. As I was preparing to leave for school, I heard on KLOS that one of the choppers leaving a concert at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin had crashed. (The concert was a guitar lovers dream, part of a tour that featured Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray & Jimmie Vaughan.) The report stated that the chopper was part of Clapton’s tour, and that no one yet knew who was on board. It was a little freaky for me, as a young rock guitar fan, to leave my house and access to the news without knowing whether or not Eric Clapton was still alive. I know all the other people involved were very important, and that the deaths that occurred were no less tragic, but it was weird thinking a legend of Clapton’s stature might be gone.
I got home, found out Clapton was alive (whew!), but that SRV was gone. He had toured the year before with Jeff Beck, and I remembered being gripped with an overwhelming urge to see that show, but I couldn’t find anyone to go with me (I don’t drive, and didn’t want to go alone anyway). I had no idea why I wanted to see that concert so badly; I liked them both, but I wasn’t a huge fan of either. But Stevie Ray’s death pushed me to listen more to his music, and I was flabbergasted. The amount of raw talent and charisma he possessed is stunning, even today. He is still kind of unbelievable. I understand how stunning he must have been coming out of Austin, TX in the early 80s. Why David Bowie hired him to play on Let’s Dance after seeing SRV play at the Montreux Festival (that’s SRV on the opening of “Modern Love”). Why everyone hailed him as the Savior of the Blues.
This clip is from his appearance on Austin City Limits in 1989. It shows Stevie Ray Vaughan at his absolute peak. He was sober for the first time in many years, vital and alive. It’s almost impossible to believe he was dead less than a year later.