I first became aware of the Traveling Wilburys when I first fell into the black hole I like to call Life, After The Beatles. It was a dimly-understood idea – bunch of very famous people (and Jeff Lynne) have a laugh, sell scads of records. Of course, I knew very little beyond that because the records were long-deleted by the time I went to find them.
I tracked Handle With Care and End of the Line down thanks to the wonders of the internet – a decent argument for filesharing, I thought. I remember I saw the video for End of the Line so late one night it was actually 5.55am, and it was the last song Vh1 Classic played before switching from late-nite rock to all-day-slightly-crap-old-pop. I seem to remember shedding a tear when the Big O’s bit came up and the train upon which the video was set went ‘into a tunnel’. No, I’m positive I cried – and this was in the days before George went and died himself.
Then, I let them fade a little from my consciousness. I listened to Handle With Care, End of the Line and even Tweeter & The Monkey Man a fair bit after George died, but because I knew I couldn’t get the records, it was a bit ‘whatever’… and I got to a point where listening to George just made me want to stab myself in the head.
Then last year, I finally got over the grief of losing a hero (mostly) and spent the next few months listening to little but George. I thought of the Wilburys also, wondering if I could get anything more – Wilbury Twist was the last song I took off the internet that I didn’t pay for, but the quality was shite, so I barely listened to it. Besides, I got ‘Wig Wam Bam’ by the Sweet the same day and I have an affection for that record it doesn’t deserve.
Then the last few months I’ve had myself a bit of a Dylan revival thanks to Modern Times, which is an excellent record and I like his catarrhal death rattle voice that he has now more than the old nasal whine. More Wilbury build up, you might say.
Anyway, some bright spark finally thought “Hey! Let’s repackage the Wilburys!” and did it last month. I saw none of the promotional stuff – even the Olivia Harrison bit on BBC Breakfast had to be missed because I had to go to work. I didn’t buy it the day it came out, or the week it came out. In fact, it only arrived last week after I bought it off Amazon.
This is not because I don’t care. It’s because I haven’t had anything in the way of time for so long… and a little because I was concerned I might not like the records as a whole.
My overdramatic ‘If This Sucks I’ll Kill Myself’ attitude was of course, entirely pointless. The mere idea of such a collection of people putting themselves in a room with some guitars and managing to suck is barely conceivable, and it doesn’t.
In fact, The Traveling Wilburys are so magnificent in their excellence that I have been in a good mood since last Monday. Nay, a friendly, love-the-world-and-all-its-people-except-cyclists manner. In a bouncing up and down, euphoric way.
The trivial stuff: The first record (Vol. 1) is better than the second (amusing titled Vol. 3), but Vol 3 only suffers because Roy isn’t on it.
I listened to it when I was in Dublin over the weekend, and found myself even missing them when I was in a room with the Dubliners.
I have found myself contemplating the possibility that actually, Tom Petty is a pretty cool man.
I have found myself realising more and more that not only is Bob Dylan a genuine, full-bodied, wonderful genius of a man, truly a poet… but that he’s also got a really cool sense of humour. Sure, he’s a dour-faced Chaplin-alike these days, but I tell thee, the man knows how to laugh.
I have found myself realising that George skirted the line between absolutely-no-ego-at-all and raging-egomaniac as delicately as I do… but on a much larger scale, because he’s a Beatle and I’m… not.
I have remembered how much I like Roy Orbison.
I mean, the Wilburys are, like, life-affirming. More than that… it’s somehow the final, great death cry of rock and roll, before the corporate shite really took over, before concert tickets required mortgages, before every celebrity spoke only in soundbites, meedja-ese and the Heat magazine-induced ritual humiliation and idolisation of celebrities.
You would not get the Wilburys today. You get ‘supergroups’ and things like Live 8 and Live Earth ,but you would not get the Wilburys today… because I believe George when he said it all happened “just by magic, just by circumstance.” I believe that he was such good friends with each of these people that four legends (and Jeff Lynne) were willing to sit down, record some music for a bit of a laugh and sound better than every single other group doing it straight.
I love, truly love, love knowing that George Harrison was mates with Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison and Tom Petty and the far-famed Dylan… and that it was genuine friendship that created the Wilburys. So, there’s a fraction of promotion and such, but… you could not put this together if you actually tried.
And if you did, it would sound as sterile and mediocre as the most recent Band Aid. And the second one, come to that. Possibly also the first…
The Wilburys are organic and therefore real. Believe me when I say that it shows in the music. It’s all there, if you’ll only listen- the way George actually auditioned them all for each line… can you imagine auditioning for something after Roy Orbison? Why BOTHER? Except that George didn’t just get Roy to do everything, he gave bits to everyone, and it works because of it. It works because there’s something of their personalities (as I understand them, anyway), sewn into the fabric of the music.
There’s always the beautiful image of these guys sitting around playing guitars and ukuleles late into the night as all the civilians around them fall away… surely they must’ve looked round and thought “fucking hell, that’s *insert name here*!”. Even George, you know, must’ve sat there and thought “bloody hell, we’re fucking excellent!”
To have been a fly on that wall I’d sell a kidney. To be good enough to be a Wilbury, I’d sell more or less anything. I might just about stop before flogging my soul, but I wouldn’t bet the house on that.
The Traveling Wilburys is like a dream I had… except that somehow, it actually happened. With the Wilburys, who needs to be sad or depressed? The Wilburys prove that sometimes, magical things happen. The Wilburys remind me why it is that it’s music which gets me out of bed in the morning, why it’s music that’s kept me alive these long and often cold, dark years.
Notes on The Big O:
I remember Roy Orbison from before I remember George or Bob, and there’s a good reason for that: my dad doesn’t hate him. When I was a child, a lot of the music I heard that was any good was stuff he listened to, so I knew Roy. I remember when he died, just as that wonderful career resurgence (part-Wilbury induced, I’m sure) was really kicking in. I remember being sad, even then. I also remember my dad always telling me to watch him, and see how little he opened his mouth and moved his lips… and yet out came that sound.
Roy Orbison has one of the very few voices that makes me think of giving up. He cannot be equalled, and it feels fruitless to sing myself at all. I do it anyway, in the hope that one day, I might come close… and so I sing along and I do OK… then comes a note or a phrase that I probably couldn’t match even if I cheated on the computer… just to remind me that he’s The Big O, and I’m just a silly little girl.
Isn’t it funny how some of the saddest songs written in the English language sound, in his capable hands can make you feel better? We really lost a great guy too early (don’t we usually?), but you should all get down on your knees and pray to whoever/whatever you believe in that, for a few years at the end, he got the upswing, adulation and plaudits he deserved. For it, I also thank George. God mostly, but George quite a lot too. Mind you, while you’re down there on your knees, say a ‘ta very much’ for your man George too. I shall do so myself, as I do every day.
Quirky note I found on Wikipedia: some of the overdubbing on the previously unreleased tracks is credited to someone called Ayrton Wilbury. The civilian name of this fellow? Dhani Harrison. If you know why this is cool, I don’t need to explain. If you don’t, you don’t care.