One of this blog’s regular readers, perhaps motivated by my apparent dismissiveness for lyrics, first in a post on the Drive-by Truckers and then in a follow up with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, has written in to be heard from.
For our first-ever guest blogger, please welcome Shep Cummings.
It was once said, rock musicians are the true poets of our age. I have no idea who said it but I completely agree. There is the music that moves us, excites us, touches us, or humors us, but then there is also what’s behind the music, as in the words, the message, the story, the moment. I’m not trying to get too deep or hokey here, but I’m a lyrics guy. For every song I’ve ever liked there is one line I remember above all others. So much so that it’s the first thing I think of when someone mentions the title, it’s what I listen for once the tune begins. So with that having been said, what are some of the most memorable lyrics ever recorded? Individual lines that have come to define an entire song and everything it’s known for (at least to me they have). Well, among the hundreds that fit this category here is one candidate I’d probably put at the top of my list:
“Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac”
In this ’80’s classic written by Don Henley, with music composed by Mike Campbell (guitarist with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Henley sings the perspective of a man who pines to rekindle both a past summer fling as well as his lost youth. After he proclaims his love (that will still be strong after the Boys of Summer are gone) so nicely tied together with reminiscences of sun and sunglasses, Henley diverts away from the sands and surf halfway through the track to sing “Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac / A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back.” Over the years many have deciphered this apparent non sequitur to be the moment in the song when the author realizes he will never in fact get back his girl of summer, and perhaps he never really loved her to begin with. I think it’s probably a lot more basic than that. As legend has it Henley actually was out on the highway one day and really did see a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac and felt the need to include it in the song, conceivably as an example of his generation selling out. True or untrue, to me this lyric will always embody the crossroads of America’s establishment and anti-establishment in serving as the ultimate reminder that as the ’60’s made its way to the ’80’s, everybody, even Deadheads, had to grow up sometime.