Sunday, July 02, 2006

100 Greats in 100 Days # 012: Richard & Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights

In 1982 Dharmonia and I were living in Cambridge, Mass, trying to survive as free-lance musicians and teachers. The guitar studio we both worked out had already gone belly-up and we were only scratching along because we lived in a $238/month rent-controlled apartment with big chunks falling out of the ceilings.

We were already well-aware of the Anglo-Celtic folk revivalists, were already playing that music with Reynardine (a great band conceptually, but we were too late for the 60s-70s folk scare and too early for the ‘80s Celtic revival), and already knew Thompson’s music, mostly through his fantastic writing and guitar-playing with Fairport Convention. We also had a rare double-LP set of live stuff and outtakes called Live (more or less), which had some fantastic extended guitar solos and a beautiful version, by Richard and wife Linda, of Dan Penn’s Dark End of the Street. Linda had sung lead or backup vocals on some of Richard’s most intense and personal stuff, including the magnificent Pour Down Like Silver (topic of a future “100 Greats” post), and we were eagerly awaiting the new R&L duo disc.

Can’t remember where we bought it, or even if maybe we ordered it through one of the Cambridge shops, but I clearly remember driving down Storrow Drive with her reading the lyrics—some of the darkest he ever wrote. At the time, we were most aware of the scary and pessimistic elements (Don’t Renege on Our Love, Shoot Out the Lights, and Did She Jump or Was She Pushed) and we made those connections when we saw them on tour that year and realized that they hated each other (divorce pending, after Richard showed up at the airport to meet a pregnant Linda and told her was leaving her for someone else) and realized that the cover was designed in such a way that they hadn’t even had to be at the photo session together.

The shows on that tour were titanic but not enjoyable—more like watching a rock ‘n’ roll version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?--though I did have a remarkable close-encounter with Linda (a story for another day). It’s only with years of hindsight that we’ve learned to recognize the other, less stark beauties of this record: the sighing heartbreak of Walking on a Wire, the raging transcendence of the guitar solos on Shoot Out the Lights, and the fierce, hell-or-breakfast, Tilt-a-Whirling, Dervishtic jubilation of Wall of Death (“Let me ride on the Wall of Death/One more time/You can waste your time on the other lines/This is the nearest to being alive/O Let me take my chances on the Wall of Death”).

This is a great, very angry, very brave record.

No comments: