27. “Little Wing,” Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

Yeah, my obsession with SRV has even led to drawing this oil pastel portrait.

 

Oh boy. This is going to be disappointing.

Really? Like, that’s your opening line? Okay, like, ciao, I have better things to do.

Wait, Valley Girl Voiced Imaginary Reader. Please stay. Despite our often contentious relationship, I do value your input.

You “value my input?” Um, gee, thanks, low-level cubicle farm manager.

Okay, well, my point is that I’ve tried writing about this song before. And it didn’t go well. Not for the blog, though.

First of all, you need to know that this is tied with Juliana Hatfield’s “Simplicity is Beautiful”  as my all-time favourite song. Many who know me might think it fitting that it’s a song with no words. Well, Jimi Hendrix’s original had words and was much shorter. But this is all bass, drums and guitar. Not just any guitar, though: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar.

For me, Stevie Ray Vaughan is it. Suppose some evil wizard came along and said, “As punishment for writing a disappointing blog post about one of your favourite songs, all music except for that of one artist of your choosing will sound like chalkboard scratchings for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.” My wise choice would be SRV. No music grips my soul as strongly and consistently as his does.

Listen to his guitar tone on this song (check the video at the bottom of the page). The thick, muscular timbre of the low notes, cut by the sharp bite of the high notes. The emphatic open-string, harmonic whammy-bar “sighs” as he cleanses the palette for each new section. The chilling vibrato on those high bent notes that introduce some of the new sections.

He had all the technical skills in the world, but he also had that thing that makes great artists of any kind great. He had the indescribable, unknowable something of genius. It’s something that’s beyond normal human ability. It’s preternatural. I’m not a religious guy, but to me it’s proof enough that there’s something else beyond this life, this world, that can channel itself through certain people. Sometimes, when I watch him play, I feel this paradox – I feel like he’s not even there on that stage, like he’s on another plane, and yet he’s totally there. I know that doesn’t make sense. But neither does this unknowable something.

I mentioned earlier that I tried writing about this song once before. I was in university, when my obsession with SRV was at its peak, walking around campus with his music in my ears, reading everything I could about him in books and guitar magazines – the World Wide Web was almost there, but not quite. I was recruited for my first band because I was reading a Guitar World “tribute to SRV” issue before a class and was spotted by the bass player, who sat behind me. I spent countless hours in my room, shredding up my fingertips, playing guitar along with his CDs. In my first-year popular music course, I wrote my major paper on him and analyzed a few of his songs. I got an A-. My graduation gift from my parents was my Holy Grail: the Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan signature Stratocaster. The first thing I ever played on it was the opening chord to SRV’s “Lenny.”

One day, before class, I thought to myself, “I love ‘Little Wing’ so much. It makes me feel so much. I’ll try to write a poem about it.” So I did. And it was awful. I came across it recently, in fact, and it’s still awful. I was never a poet, anyway. The closing line was, “The blues must rave on.” Get it? Ray Vaughan; rave on. Ugh.

But it proves the point that I’m clumsily trying to make here. Some things, like SRV’s talent, where it came from, and what it makes me feel, are simply indescribable. You can try, as I have, but ultimately no language can have all the words to accurately describe the infinite abstractness of what’s inside us. And yet here I am, a writer, like all writers, trying to do just that. Is it that ultimate futility that somehow drives us?

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