Tuesday, May 27, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 147): "LANDSLIDE" (1975) Fleetwood Mac

I love to drive. Hondas particularly. But such was not always the case. I didn’t learn to drive when we’re “supposed to” (age 16). In fact, I didn’t get a pass the first year I took Driver’s Ed (1974-75 school year). I had to come back and try again the following year, where I got a grudging pass from a well-meaning (I guess) but wholly ineffective and unhelpful instructor. Subsequently, I more or less ignored my permit, didn’t get a license, and then learned all over again in my mid-twenties with a real instructor.

What does any of that have to do with today’s song? Well, I will always recall this song as the song on the radio in the Driver’s Ed car when, for a brief span, I was actually getting the hang of it and it wasn’t so bad, maybe the reason I got the pass in the first place. I wasn’t (overly) nervous or in some personal cloud of my own making (my usual state from about 13 till . . . hmm), and I wasn’t striking terror into the heart of the instructor. It was just, or just barely, cool.

This song at the time wasn’t even a year old. It came out on Fleetwood Mac in the summer of 1975 and introduced Stevie Nicks, sixty-six as of yesterday, to the world. It was a big hit album and was all over the radio. “Landslide” wasn’t even a single and still got quite a bit of airplay. It was the song I liked best of all the songs the radio played from the album. And I’m pretty sure it was winter, one of those bright, sunny cold days, when it was on the radio during my time at the wheel.

Apropos, no? “Time makes you bolder / Even children get older / And I’m getting older too.” It was a bold move to be driving, for someone more or less permanently in Cloud Cuckoo-Land like me, and getting a license was the certain, state-approved symbol of children getting older. Old enough to drive. Old enough to fight. Old enough to vote. Old enough to drink. And drive. Heh. Was I clinging desperately to childhood. You betcha. Why? Well, my childhood was of the precocious variety. In terms of some of my reading I was already in college, and I liked it that way. No responsibilities except to the development of my own imagination, and, occasionally (I was lazy and there was no room at home for a studio) some improvement in painting. Writing, well, that just came naturally and was, much like these posts, an ongoing engagement with me by me. Sweeeeeet.

This song is sweet too. It’s got a more naked voice than most of the F Mac recordings. One of the things that kills a new singer, to me then and now, is affectation in the voice. It’s hard to pinpoint it, but when I hear it, I grow very annoyed. Nicks risks it, perhaps. I say perhaps because back then I would’ve been weighing and making up my mind. Do I believe her? In the end, yes. And so for all these years I’ve continued to do so. This is a song by someone on the cusp. She’s been through an avalanche, it’s all come crashing down, and something must change. And she’s been “afraid of changing / ‘Cause I built my life around you.” That is nakedly candid. She’s ready to outgrow this thing but hates to see it go.

It’s about her relationship with musical and romantic partner Lindsay Buckingham. Then came fame and fortune. But that’s not the point. The point is that she manages, with a very delicate and sweetly simple melody, to evoke a moment of decision and to give a shape to what might point the way forward: “and if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills / Will the landslide bring you down?” On the one hand, it’s asking, in that moment, will you think of me? Am I the one in your heart? And it’s also asking (I think) if yes, will that be a bummer for you? Will it bring you down to be in love with me? Which is a way of saying: Can you do this, bucko? 

Time makes you bolder, and you can see these things clearly, is the main takeaway from the song. I really grew to like Nicks’ vocal on this one. The slight huskiness, the almost twanging, the almost to herself talk-singing, and even a touch of Dylan in the way she ends that first drawn out li-i-i-ife. It felt new and bright, and, on that day behind the wheel, it was warm and comforting, even the childish parts I didn’t like (“O mirror in the sky, what is love?”) were OK and I liked the phrase “Can I handle the seasons of my life” which I used to sing as “Can I have all the seasons of my life.” That was more the question, to me, who once wrote a kind of spiritual autobiography, between 17 and 22, called “Seasons.”

At that point I put the song on a tape because that question of “getting older too” became relevant then (Nicks was 27 when the song was released). It’s all about weathering the twenties, isn’t it?

Mick Fleetwood, Nicks, John McVie, Christine McVie, Buckingham

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