Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A View From the Bridge

[I'm gonna get horribly self-indulgent now, so please forgive me in advance.]

Here's the deal: I stumbled across this clip yesterday and I'm finding it difficult to describe just how moving I think it is. A caveat before you watch: The video quality is just barely adequate, but the audio is mostly fine. Listen to it with headphones -- you'll miss the bass, otherwise.



Okay, the backstory: The song of course, is the Kinks' gorgeous "Waterloo Sunset," and the guy singing it is Brit cult figure Terry Reid. If you don't know him, suffice it to say that he's a brilliant songwriter and vocalist (think a more soulful Steve Marriott) who made a couple of wonderful albums in the late 60s and early 70s (you can buy them here) but alas his career never really took off for all the usual reasons. What makes him slightly more than a fondly remembered footnote to history is that Jimmy Page actually offered him the frontman slot in Led Zeppelin; considering that he's also a terrific guitarist, the fact that he punted on the gig probably changed the world in unfathomable ways. Seriously -- can you imagine what Zep might have been like with a better singer and a twin-guitar attack? Wow. In any case, the clip derives from a series of club shows Reid did in L.A. in 2002; the band is led by longtime scenester Waddy Wachtel, and apparently all sorts of 70s and 80s B-list rockers did guest shots at one point or another.

So -- why do I find the vid so emotionally shattering? Well, the song itself has something to do with it, of course. Longtime readers are aware that I am occasionally of the opinion that it's the most beautiful song written in English in the second half of the 20th century. To my ears, it's about somebody who, for whatever reason, has concluded that they will never themselves find love, but who can watch other people -- total strangers, actually -- who have, and has decided that the solace they get from that is ultimately enough. It's a perfectly observed little vignette that manages to be both heartbreaking and strangely uplifting in its generosity of spirit; it's also, probably, the most revealing thing Ray Davies has ever written (and frankly, I can't think of another songwriter who could have pulled it off).

Reid gets all that of course, but he adds a lot more. It's a wonderfully theatrical performance, and at the heart of it is the not so dirty little secret of so much 60s Brit rock, i.e, that as much as the English pop boom owed to blues and r&b, it also owed to that now vanished English institution -- the music hall. The examples are almost endless -- see Sgt. Pepper or the Small Faces "Lazy Sunday" -- and one of the first things that struck me watching the clip is that Reid, singing his heart out up on that cramped little stage, could almost be a tragi-comic version of Archie Rice, the title character from John Osborne's The Entertainer. To really understand that you have to remember that back when Reid was an almost star, he was one of those skinny pretty boy rock god types. Here, of course, he looks like nothing less than one of those slightly puffy second tier expatriate Brit actors at Warner Brothers in the 30s. And he's not posturing like the pop idol he briefly was; instead he's swanning around in that ridiculous ice cream suit like Herbert Marshall in The Letter. It's laughably hokey but it's also quite brave; he's playing the fool and yet it's as if his relationship to the song and the audience and to the whole idea of being a rock star parallels the relationship of the song's narrator to the starcrossed lovers. There's something just enormously compassionate about it, and it just chokes me up.

And don't even get me started on Wachtel's solo or that gorgeous riff he introduces at the end to ride the song out (neither are on the actual Kinks record), or how Reid trails off into wordless falsetto, thus finding an unsuspected link between Davies' teddibly Bitish original and the American street corner romanticism of old Doo Wop and Goffin-King songs.

Alright, I''ve gone on about this for a little too long, and yes, perhaps I'm reading too much into it. In any case, I'm gonna go watch it again, and thanks for stopping by.

PS: If anybody knows anybody who knows anybody connected with the musicians, I would do almost anything within reason to get a high quality copy of the off-the-board audio for this.

PPS: Reid is playing B.B.King's in New York City in late November. I think I need to go and yell at him to sing the damn thing.

PPPS: I forwarded this to my old pal Eric Boardman (who's a fan and lives in LA), wondering if perhaps he'd been in the audience when it was shot. Just got his reply.

I was not (SIGH) at that show, but have been to Waddy's Monday night jam at The Joint quite often. A great scene as who's-who in rock drop by. Check the concert & club listings as to which bands are in town for the week-end and gamble. For instance, I saw Keith play for an hour, including a few Chuck Berry numbers and a torn-up version of "Down The Road Apiece."

Terry Reid's album with "Horses in a Rain Storm" kept me company summer of '70 along with "After The Gold Rush" and Donovan's "Open Road."

By the way, I sing it, "Eric meets Julie."

13 comments:

Gummo said...

One of the marks of a great writer is that they make me care about things I wouldn't normally otherwise care about.

You're a great writer, steve.

Brooklyn Girl said...

What Gummo said.

A beautiful, poignant piece about a beautiful, poignant performance.

peter spencer said...

Brought a tear. God bless you, Steve.

TMink said...

Wow, what a beautiful performance. And yes, Waddy still rocks.

Not to pile on the praise, but Steve, I have always appreciated your willingness to be emotionally transparent about how songs affect you. To me, there is nothing maudlin or uncomfortable or artificial about those times. It strikes me as personally brave, and technically adept.

Just the way I see it pal. That is the straight.

Rock on.

Trey

Kid Charlemagne said...

Great piece Steve.

There are days when I think that Ray Davies is THE greatest songwriter of the 20th century. I saw him in his one man show "The Storyteller" (gosh was it 10 years ago already?) and when he sang "Days" I bawled like a baby.

steve simels said...

Thanks, everybody, for the kind words.

I was hoping I wasn't crazy...
:-)

Gummo said...

I was hoping I wasn't crazy...
:-)


Oh, well, that's a whole 'nother subject there, pardner....

Dave Lifton said...

Once again, my plans to write about a particular song get postponed because you did it better...

Brooklyn Girl said...

This vignette has really stayed with me ... I woke up with it swirling in my head. There are so many subtle aspects to it, all of which you captured.

Which brings up one other thing: the contrast between this piece and the postmodern deconstructivist drivel written by your Britney-loving colleague (and I use the term loosely) speaks volumes about the state of critical thinking today. Man, am I glad you are still writing ...

Chad said...

beautiful piece, wonderful video. thank you.

Remonster said...

These intertubes have allowed me to make yet another great discovery. I will put Terry Reid along side Richard X. Heyman as new/old favorites.

Thanks Steve

phildrums said...

I play drums in the Waddy Wachtel Band and have been doing this gig since we started with Jack Tempchin in 2000. I played drums on this and with Terry on other gigs as well. There are no board recording of this that I know of. I think this was just a phone or camera video recording. Terry always did a great version of Waterloo Sunset and the arrangement you hear evolved over time as we played it many nights.

Phil Jones

Phil Cheese said...

Wow, that is a great version! And I've seen Ray himself sing it about 15 times or so in concert through the years, dating back to 1977.