Sunday, July 29, 2007

Meaning Falls in Splinters From Our Lives

A while back I proposed a contest to ascertain the best first line ever from a song.
(At the time I championed Lou Reed’s “Wild Child," which begins "I was talking to Chuck in his Genghis Khan suit and his wizard’s hat.” – pretty tough to top, I know).
At the moment, I’d like to add Bob Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” to the competition. Consider the first line: “You are here and warm, but I could look away and you’d be gone.” He goes on: “‘Cause we live in a time when meaning falls in splinters from our lives. That’s why I’ve traveled far, ‘cause I come so together where you are.” Not only that. The capo-ed twelve-string ersatz harpsichord at the very beginning of the song could almost count as a non-verbal opening line. This is sound-word-wisdom.

As many know, an inferior version of “Sentimental Lady” appeared on the Fleetwood Mac album Bare Trees. Welch played in the Mac before Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the crew, and, in fact, Buckinham, Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie all play on Welch’s version of “Sentimental Lady.”

Listen with headphones for the way the noodle-verging (slide?) guitar swells and the airy backing vocal “oohs” create this weird gauzy effect, both ethereal and yet so brittle and glassy, and basically coked-out, that the whole mix sounds like it might shatter into sharp fragments if you tapped on it. It’s like elaborate spun sugar icing in some ridiculous rococo cake. And yet, the drums have that pillowy mid-70s sound, as if someone was thwacking you in the gut in slow motion with one of those cushioned inter-personal therapy batons.

When I first posted about Bob Welch in the early days of Driftwoodshedding, I said that I had an elaborate scheme of indie rock vs. soft rock equivalences. The idea was that certain indie rockers are basically just the 21st century avatars of specific soft rock or hippie forebears. Precursors. Bob Welch’s strained reedy singing always reminds me of Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips. But the production (listen to “Lose Your Heard”) – particularly the groping attempts at proto-techno rock futurism, with excessive fake strings, stiffly metronomic drumming, robotic guitar chunking – bring to mind the Kraftwerk vs. Sasquatch sounds of Neil Young’s Trans. Maybe a touch of Eliminator-era ZZ Top.

And then there’s the tricky matter of Bob Welch’s album covers. If, as Lefty proposes, the Bee Gees represent a post-sexual, post-racial, post-genre utopian vision of the future, Welch - with his cigars, pleated white pants, unhealthy hair, and entirely phony imagined sex appeal - is sort of a cultural death star. He’s demonic, trying to lure us toward some nightmare version of a present that is already hellish. Notice the licking flames. Be very careful.

“Sentimental Lady” - Bob Welch

“Lose Your Heart” - Bob Welch


Casey said...

Great post.
And dead on funny regarding Welch's album covers.
Good songs though!

Happy In Bag said...

You're right!- Bob and Wayne do sound alike. Also, Autumn Defense, a fine Wilco splinter group, have been known to cover "Sentimental Lady" at their shows.