Eye Of The Hurricane - Words and music by David Wilcox
I embark on a new series for FolkWorld in the full realisation that everything I do now is in a race with
the undertaker. I have now passed my biblical three score years and ten, and being the trencherman I
am and thus being medically classed as morbidly obese, I cannot have too many days/weeks/months
years) to be still above ground. (Yes, I am being buried by the way: they don’t burn boys
from the Rhondda Valley. Our fathers died of black lung disease after spending their working life
underground - my own at just 56 years and two months- and so we have a bounden duty to spend our
afterlife joining them underground too. Not being put into an egg timer.) And to boot, I am heavier
than Pavarotti was, and he did not even make 70.
Before I tell you about the song I have selected as my first to go under the Dai Woosnam magnifying glass, let me state the obvious.
It is a given that I might be talking total balderdash. After all, I have no monopoly on the truth. And even when my insights are proven correct, that does not stop you dear Reader from finding your own views to be totally antithetical to mine. But here is news for you... we can both be right.
As Bob Dylan famously wrote “You’re right from your side/I’m right from mine”. And (much less famously) exclaimed in a press conference on his first full tour of the UK, when asked the meaning of a particular song... “My songs mean what they mean to YOU... man!”.
So don’t please write in vituperative language to the Editor to tell him that Dai is, to use the familiar English phrase, “barking up the wrong tree”. I might well be. And certainly every line of my views here are not endorsed by the Editorial Board of FolkWorld. Nor should they be.
Why have they hired me? Not sure. But my dear wife Larissa suggests it’s perhaps because they like the sound of my barking. I must say, I cannot top that conclusion...so I will end my preamble here, and get down to business.
I start this new series with a song I have long treasured. It is by the American folk artiste David Wilcox. But first a
warning: there are
famous singer songwriters named David Wilcox. The Canadian DW was born a few years
after WW2, and is known as “Canada’s best kept secret”. He is a rocker whose song RIVERBOAT FANTASY has had
a zillion hits on its various YouTube postings. And trust me, he is a talented artiste with a big following. But he is
not our man today.
I am instead referring to the American artiste of the same name, who is almost decade younger, being born in 1958. I first came across his work in the late 1980s, when Tom Paxton sang his praises in a BBC radio broadcast. And when I explored his work, I was struck not only by his formidable talent as a performer, but the realisation that although his songwriting was somewhat uneven, he had written one absolute masterpiece.
Before I give you the link to the performance of the song, let me give you the lyrics. Read them aloud to yourself twice - maybe three times – so that you really take in the meaning of the narrative, before clicking on the performance. If you have never encountered this song and artiste before, all I can say is “You lucky people...you are in for a treat...!!” Not that it is a particularly happy song – in the denouement, I mean – but hey, let me breathe those last five words back in: don’t let me commit the solecism of not issuing a “spoiler” warning in advance. Confused? No, don’t be. My meaning will become clear from the lyric. Concentrate hard now please, taking in the words...
Eye of the Hurricane The tank is full, the switch is on The night is warm, cops are gone The rocket bike is all her own It's called a hurricane She told me once it's quite a ride She said that there's this place inside Where if you're moving you can hide Safe within the rain She wants to run away But there's nowhere that she can go Nowhere the pain won't come again And now she can hide Hide in the pouring rain She rides the eye of the hurricane Tell the truth, explain to me How you got this need for speed Well she laughed and said "it might just be The next best thing to love" Her hope is gone and she confessed That when you lay your dream to rest You can get what's second best But it's hard to get enough She wants to run away But there's nowhere that she can go Nowhere the pain won't come again And now she can hide Hide in the pouring rain She rides the eye of the hurricane We saw her ride so fast last night Racing by in a flash of light Riding quick, the street was dark The shiny truck she thought was parked Had blocked her path, stopped her heart But not the hurricane She saw her chance to slip the trap There’s just the room to pass in back But then it moved, closed the gap She never felt the pain She wanted to run away But there's nowhere that she can go Nowhere the pain won't come again And now she can hide Hide in the pouring rain She rides the eye of the hurricane She rides the eye of the hurricane
There are several versions of David singing this song on YouTube, all with the lyrics differing minutely. If you look at the original lyric, it seems to be staccato writing like a giant telegram, with minimal prepositions. This in many ways is ideal, as this Hemingwayesque staccato, ultra short sentences approach, to a song with speed at its very core, seems most apposite.
But I am conscious that in live performance he does use prepositions, albeit once or twice truncated and not immediately obvious, as they are elided slightly when swallowed up by the next word. But hey, we won’t spend the next hour arguing how long this piece of string is: if you hear different, then maybe you are right and perhaps I have my ears on wrong.
But then, maybe... [I say to myself, No Dai, don’t...they’ve got your drift...]
Now, the version I have chosen as the best of those on YouTube of David’s, is his slowest one: it (perversely perhaps) has the most gravitas. We will call it FIRST PRIZE version. But I don’t want you to play it. Not yet.
I want you instead to jump to the two performances immediately below this link. Are you ready? Then jump down the page.
And you will alight here. A formidable version: it was a close shave but it just lost out, perhaps because it lost that certain je ne sais quoi (gravitas?) in that extra speed.
We shall call it SECOND PRIZE version.
And then, that only shades it narrowly from this version which I will call THIRD PRIZE version. What I love about this version most of all is the audience applause at the end: yes I know American audiences often give standing ovations just to stretch their legs, but here they are clearly really appreciative of the artistic excellence just displayed. It is shameful how lukewarm was the applause in my FIRST PRIZE version you will soon be playing.
For you guitarists out there, listen to David talk about his approach here, and his love of open tunings...
And if you have the time, just listen to this most heart warming and thoroughly engaging story from David about the birth of his favourite ...
... guitar ...!! It has nowt to do with this song, but everything to do with the humanity of the man who wrote it...
Now, having really got to know the man, I invite you to scroll up and click the link I previously asked you to jump...viz., the First Prize version. Then come back to the remainder of my text below. Thanks, dear reader.
All that said and done, let’s now get back to the job in hand. And that is Dai-ssecting the song. (Non native
English speakers reading this: I hope you get my terrible pun on the verb “to dissect”.)
Now ostensibly it is a song about a girl on just about the fastest motorbike there is. Forget that I have the young Marianne Faithfull in my mind’s eye here, clad in her buttocks-revealing full body suit of black leathers, zooming around Heidelberg in that movie from 1968, THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (also known as NAKED UNDER LEATHER in the USA): just put that down to an Old Age Pensioner’s non-politically correct memories and dreams and fantasies...!!
Forget the movie...the bike in this SONG, was the Honda CBR 600 Hurricane. It had a top speed of 229 km (and
that, to my fellow Brits, is a phenomenal 142 miles an hour “in old money” ...to loosely use another British
colloquialism), and the story goes that if the engine was performance tuned, it could go up to 180 mph. Allegedly
– or rather, anecdotally - at least one State Police in the US, fruitlessly tried to ban its sale within the state, on the
grounds that none of its police cars were fast enough to catch one...!!
Let’s now zero-in on this verse:
She told me once it's quite a ride She said that there's this place inside Where if you're moving you can hide Safe within the rain
Here is a picture of the said bike. You can well see what she means, assuming she is a slim, reasonably
petite, rider and not a big fat, unathletic slob like me, who would be open to the worst of the elements.
Note she is saying that you can move safe WITHIN the rain. Not without, but within. There is an acceptance that the rain will fall on you, but because you are crouching down and forward, you don’t get that phenomenal windforce with accompanying horizontal rain blasting into your face.
But, hey...let’s stop and pause for a moment. Why? Well it is time to move away from the motorbike, and instead
think of the wider metaphor.
Have you wondered why David uses the lower case “h” when he talks of the hurricane? And why she is riding the EYE of the hurricane?
Of course it is because he is not just talking speedy motorbikes here. He is also talking about almost the speediest thing known to man: the winds of a Force 5 hurricane. And then reflecting on how if you are in the eye of a hurricane, you are paradoxically, in its calmest point.
And then he cleverly links the “safe place inside” the bike, to being in the eye of a hurricane. A calm place: maybe the only one where she can forget being jilted and thwarted in love. A place where she can temporarily get away from the pain of having her heart broken, with “the second best thing”: viz. her addiction to riding her bike at a phenomenal speed.
And alas she is going to stop her heart permanently and break a lot of other people’s hearts with her almost inevitable early demise, as, if we go further along the narrative, we come to these two extraordinary verses that spell it out most graphically:
Riding quick, the street was dark The shiny truck she thought was parked Had blocked her path, stopped her heart But not the hurricane She saw her chance to slip the trap There’s just the room to pass in back But then it moved, closed the gap She never felt the pain
Now, I submit that these two verses are a veritable masterclass in lyric writing. Let us study them both.
That first of the two verses describes a moment that many of us have encountered at least once in our lives as motorists. That heart stopping moment when we brace ourselves for a shocking accident...but as the first line of the second verse of the two suggests, we have a chance to escape disaster...and indeed many of us are only here today because fortune once smiled on us in a not too dissimilar situation.
We will gloss over the next line. We know what he means alright, but “pass in back” may be an Americanism...it does not sound right to a British ear. “pass and (get) back” (to her unimpeded route) would make more sense to us...even “pass AT (the) back”... but hey that is nit-picking from me, because he then hits us (pun unintentional, but I will take it...!!) with two lines of pure genius:
But then it moved, closed the gap She never felt the pain
OMG. Lyric writing never gets better than that. David Wilcox shows how to distil the death of someone into two
lines... and in such a majestic way. I salute him for that. Even the immortal Shakespeare would be stretched to
He even brings in the “pain” bit. Motorbike riding was her way of escaping the otherwise permanent pain of Lost Love: and so to die a painless death was the very least our Honda (capital H) Hurricane rider deserved. WHAT a song he wrote here. And what a singer and guitarist, he is, too. Top notch.
I will end by adding one more thing. I have met several British bikers in my time, and ask them their favourite motorcycle song and they inevitably reply...VINCENT BLACK LIGHTNING 1952.
And I can see why...after all, Richard Thompson doesn’t write duds.
But when I have put this song their way, they write me or ring me to say...”WOW...you have convinced me”.
One song is very good, but the other...the Wilcox song, is I submit, a true masterpiece.
Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credits: (1) Dai Woosnam, (2)-(7) David Wilcox, (8) Honda CBR 600 Hurricane, (9) Richard Thompson Band 1983 (unknown/website).