Friday, September 15, 2017

Saying "Goodbye" to Walter

"And O, the heartache of the thief/strung out on the stash of his own grief..."

Greetings, D__ -

Apologies in advance, but I'm trying to wrap my head around why Walter's death is such a punch in the gut.

And I'm thinking you're the most direct route to my grief -- because the Dan, though they were certainly an element to my sonic interior, were not the inescapable harmonic presence they became until I visited you the summer of '87, when we drove to Port Elgin in your family's van, listening to the "best of" cassette your brother made.

When you turned up the volume for "My Old School," that was the first time I actually listened to what was going on and my thinking went from "Yeah, I like these guys" to "Oh man: these guys are something else entirely."
"Well you wouldn't even know a diamond if you held it in your hand/The things you think are precious I can't understand"
Surely that is the expression of a person who is sharp, observant and so far outside the swing of things it hurts, it physically hurts. He looks around his "class" (all definitions accepted), sees the entire pack enthusiastically barking in the exact opposite direction he's drawn to, and he knows: the problem isn't them, it's him. But maybe, if he gets the words right, and if he can somehow get everybody singing along, the problem won't be him. Maybe the problem will just . . . disappear.

But no.
"I did not think the girl could be so cruel/And I'm never going back to my old school"
Another part of the kicker is I think Walter's noggin was always the underrated of the two-headed beast that was the Dan. Certainly I underrated him -- up until quite recently, alas.

Look, somehow Donald possesses the bulk of the appeal. I've listened to his Nightfly Trilogy countless times -- only the canon (the Danon?) has received greater play in this house (though Kamakiriad never loses traction -- thoughts to be pursued another time, perhaps).

Donald put out three albums plus a fourth collection of seconds, of which many were arguably among his best work. Walter only put out two, and they didn't quite have the novelist's reach that Donald's did, the scope of concern was not quite so wide.

But I get ahead of myself. The truth is I was slow to listen to Walter.

"Slang of Ages" -- most-skipped song in the Danon?

Quite possibly.

And I know it's not "Walter's" -- he only sings it -- but c'mon, it's the only Dan song that put him out front. It's almost impossible for the listener not to make that song "Walter's." Regardless, nobody is going to the mat arguing it's on the same tier as "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."

And sure, back in the day I borrowed your copy of 11 Tracks of Whack. But I never put it to tape. Did I spin it a half-dozen times before returning it? Doubtful.

If the Dan's paucity of output hadn't pushed me to pursuit and deeper reflection, Walter would have remained neglected until his death -- until now. But he was still kicking when I finally shelled out for his tunes -- when I finally listened. And I was not ready for how deftly they cut through me.

Technical stuff: his voice is fine, better than okay. He has an ear for phrasing and he makes it work to his advantage -- a little like Donald, that way. But for whatever reason, the public ear prefers Donald's nasal tenor over Walter's sonorous baritone. So adjustments must be made.

11 Tracks has all the theory-execution pyrotechnics -- the bizarro bridges that outshine the chorus, the sudden key-changes. Tempo? Yeah, let's mess with that, too. It feels like a sobriety-splurge -- "Man, I've gotta quit fucking around and just get it down already!"

Contrast that with Circus Money, 14 years later. My first spin, I was trying to pin down the form, because wow it was familiar, but . . . wait: reggae? Dude, there's a reason why stoners listen to this stuff.

But it's not reggae, not really. And why should it be? Even reggae wasn't reggae, originally -- it was Soul, as embraced and expressed by Islanders. Walter's "reggae" has a polished concentration to its textures, a calculated interplay between musicians that beguiles. It's as if he said, "Let's not make this complicated, and it'll shine twice as bright -- trust me."

Listening to the music you might almost confuse him with a man who's made peace with the world. Listen to the words and you hear otherwise.

Walter's words run the gamut, from '71-'08. But they are finally a catalogue of the most heartfelt goodbyes a person can utter.

The byproduct of self-awareness at its most self-lacerating:
"Winter’s here 
And the day don’t last too long 
Barely thimbles full of sunshine to go on 
There’s an ocean full of midnight rolling right up to the door 
I guess Bob’s just not your uncle anymore"
You can't get away from that. You can disappear into a toxic fog -- temporarily. Or you can spend the rest of your life trying to learn how to say goodbye in the gentlest way possible.
Rest in peace, Walter.

1 comment:

DarkoV said...

A beautiful Read, Darrell. Late to the game on this eulogy. Thanks!