Song written by Michael D’Abo
Performed by Rod Stewart
For a while there, few public personalities were as vilified as Rod Stewart. I suppose he was the [insert your favorite pop music sensation of the moment] of his day- as well-known for his behavior as for his artistic output. A lot of people had not heard of him until he broke through the cultural glass ceiling with flamboyant behavior and an open embrace of disco music. And that is how we treat artists who we decide have compromised.
I suppose any artist entering into the global conversation has to enter with eyes wide open nowadays. I doubt Stewart was oblivious to the consequences of true stardom as he had been around awhile already. He wanted it and he went for it. I daresay he still managed to work a fair bit of joy and talent into those big hits.
Of course, he has that voice– either you put up with it or you skip over it. He sounded world-weary when he was young. Which makes him perfect for…
After joining the Faces (who could bring the kick-ass better than most), Stewart (along with Ron Wood) started a string of amazing solo recordings that seemed to tie together best as memories. As well as the best singer/songwriters, Stewart crafted beautiful songs about absent friends and lost places. Ray Davies was a master of the song about changing times, but Handbags and Gladrags certainly matches the best of his compositions.
Wistful is an interesting artistic conceit.You would think that an artist would need some accumulated experience before they could look back with longing. In practice, wistful comes pretty easily to the human animal. Put us up against change and we have a knee-jerk reaction against it. Change brings uncertainty, prompting fear. Opposing the emotional response is our big brain reminding us that change is inevitable. Any time the heart and the head are in conflict, you just know you have a situation ripe for artistic interpretation. If nothing else, good artists are empathetic, open to all those emotions running rampant around them.
So things probably jumped the track with Tonight’s the Night, which you will just have to go find for yourself. Between Maggie May and it, Stewart probably saw his impending super-stardom.
Then it waned, but never entirely. Stewart’s continuing success runs counter to so many other tales of struggle or abandoned artistry that it inspires a certain degree of pleasure. He’s started writing music again (after a two decade lapse) and maybe (just maybe) has held onto a certain degree of self-awareness that has facilitated the ability to see those conflicts between head and heart.
Perhaps that is the thing about wistfulness. It is one of those paths into creativity that never really deserts you. There’s always something to miss, something to regret, something in which to revel.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 221 more to go.
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