Walking on a Wire

What can you say about a song that’s been breaking your heart for fifteen years?  Eventually, you’ve gotta cover it, right?  Such is the case for me with Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Walking on a Wire,” from their 1982 masterpiece, Shoot Out the Lights.  My introduction to Richard Thompson, like that of a few other music nerds from my high school, came from our super-cool music teacher, Mr. Hendricks, who would regale us in music class with songs that were way too hip for our adolescent selves.  (Actually, he got to work on us at a much earlier age…. I can still remember Mr. Hendricks’s first-grade music class, when he would stand on his head and play “Police on My Back” by the Clash, or “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors, while all of us kids would sing along.  Wow!)  One of the songs he used to play for us was Richard and Linda’s classic “Wall of Death” (which I also referenced a few weeks ago), and the greatness of that song got me curious about the rest of his work.

The legend behind Shoot Out the Lights is that it was a document of Richard and Linda’s disintegrating marriage — written, recorded, and toured on while their own relationship was imploding.  (You can watch gut-wrenching footage from this tour of them stoically performing “Walking on a Wire” here — thanks Youtube.)  For me though, this song has never been about a failing relationship — rather, it’s been about feeling like you are internally divided against yourself, and the weight of your own expectations.  As my fellow Abraham once noted, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  So, through the magic of multi-track recording, I get to play both Richard and Linda.  To further make my point, I’ve changed the lyric “Your claws are tearing me” to “My claws are tearing me….”  Hope that’s all right.

The review of this song on allmusic.com concludes, “Few other artists have dared to cover this song.”  To which I say, “Oops.”  I’m not claiming that this is the definitive version — not as long as I’m singing into the internal mic on the side of my laptop —  but I do hope it turns a few of you on to the majestic work of Richard and Linda.

2 Responses to “Walking on a Wire”
  1. Will says:

    Wow! Well played Abraham. Thought your voice conveyed some nice emotion here. Thanks for turning me on to the story behind this…I’d always liked the song, but, knew nothing of the background regarding the tour. What heartbreak…The youtube footage was rather moving. Good job with the arrangement as well—the keyboard flourishes were tasteful. It’s a sad tale, but, there’s some strange kinda hope there too. I chalk it up to intangibles…it’s either there or it’s not; you can’t create it. Perhaps our baseball teams will display some of those magic intangibles this year…Though, my money’s on the Expos.

  2. Abraham says:

    Thanks Will. Glad you liked it. It was kinda tough, messing with something I liked so much. I agree with you about the Expos — they’re looking pretty unbeatable this year. I forsee a breakout season for Andre Dawson.

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