A-Z of Dead Man Singing: E

A-Z of Dead Man Singing: E

134 days ago

E is for Empty, Running On. I wanted Dave, the main character from Dead Man Singing, to have a big hit single as a millstone around his neck, one that he hates playing live but can’t drop from his set because the audience expects it. I wanted it to be from the early 80s at a time when his rootsier guitar-based sound was getting lost in a flood of synthesisers.

My first idea for a title was ‘Running On Empty’, which I thought could sum up a particular stage of his life, when the rigours of rock star life are taking their toll and he’s struggling to maintain his previous artistic heights. That idea was all fine and well until I discovered that Jackson Browne – an artist Dave would certainly have been aware of – had beaten me to the punch and recorded a very fine song (and album) with that very title. Dave’s millstone had to be an original composition, so it was back to the drawing board. At least I got to add the real ‘Running On Empty’ into the book!

Jackson Browne was someone who had passed me by for many years. I was a fan of a lot of similar artists, but for some reason I had never properly explored his work. Clive Gregson and Christine Collister included a haunting version of his ‘For A Dancer’ on their Love is a Strange Hotel covers album, but I never found the opportunity or enthusiasm to follow up on that. It was only the discovery that he had ‘stolen’ Dave Masters’ hit single that led me to properly listen to him, and I’m very glad it did. 70’s Laurel Canyon vibes with glorious slide guitar lines courtesy of the great David Lindley (see D is for) and to-die-for songwriting.

Running On Empty is his fifth album, and could have been written with Dead Man Singing in mind. Recorded while on tour, a mixture of live-on-stage performances and recordings made in hotel rooms, tour buses and the like, the songs hold a mirror up to the life of a touring musician, with all its joys and frustrations. If you, like me, had missed out on Jackson Browne, it’s well worth checking out, along with several other albums from that stage of his career.

What other songs tell the story, good or bad, of being a musician? When artists start singing about life as a rock star, does it bring the closer to their audience or just emphasise their distance from ‘ordinary life’?

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