Still on the Line …

I’ve always loved the song, “Wichita Lineman” (which will confirm for a friend who recently noted it, the fact of my unpredictable music tastes). I just read a fabulous LitHub piece about two lines of this song. I had no idea that other people were crazy for “Wichita Lineman,” no idea that some people think those two lines are the greatest lyrics ever. It’s a surprise discovery and a funny kind of validation.
I do love the couplet the LitHub essay focuses on, but I love the earlier couplet, too: “I hear you singing in the wires. / I can hear you through the whine.” And I love it because it’s so … “everyday.” When I listen to “Wichita Lineman” now, I’m always struck by its humanness, the totally ordinary and relatable stream of consciousness of it. This guy is out doing his job, thinking about how tired he is and the work that needs to be finished before the snow comes … and woven into his day-to-day thoughts are his thoughts about the person he loves and how much he loves them. It’s so ordinary and, therein, beautiful.
Part of the magic of this song that makes it as gorgeous to me today as when I first heard it as a kid is, of course, Glen Campbell’s voice. I love him singing this song. Everything about his voice and style is perfect on this song, right down to his choice to sing “linemun,” instead of “linemin,” which would have been tinny and distracting, or (god forbid) “lineman,” which would have killed the thing entirely.
But the heart of the magic is Jimmy Webb. His songs really just stay with you. Not just “Wichita Lineman,” but “Girl’s Song,” and “The Worst that Could Happen” (The Fifth Dimension), “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and “Galveston” (both also by Glen Campbell), and “MacArthur Park,” and “Didn’t We” (Richard Harris). And, according to the LitHub piece, he was only 21 when he wrote “Wichita Lineman,” and that amazes me. Not that 21-year-olds can’t be deep and have powerful feelings or what have you. Of course they can. But a young person writing these songs is still pretty shocking. All of these songs became hits in the late 60s — “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was originally recorded in 1965 — so Webb was writing these things when he was in high school. That’s pretty unfathomable. (And makes me look at my own clearly-lazypants work ethic.) These Webb songs sound too old for an 18- to 22-year-old, sound as if he wrote them while channeling the experience of one of his past incarnations, a love-lorn man of a certain age.
I like all of these songs, but something about “Wichita Lineman” is extra especially magical. It never fails to win me, to pull me in. It’s an earworm I welcome because I enjoy finding myself randomly humming or singing its lines. And that repeated phrase — “and the Wichita lineman is still on the line” — says so much. He’s still there, still holding on, still waiting for his lover, still keeping the line open. He’s ready and willing.
I want to know the Wichita lineman, but more importantly and despite the fact that I’ve never done that job or any job even vaguely similar to that job, I am the Wichita lineman. I’m the person going about the regular day-to-day of her job who is caught up short by the memory of the sound of The Morphine Man’s voice, AC’s lopsided half-smile, the sexy text from the boy who dumped me last month. These things filter in as I’m typing up work plans for the new fiscal year, as I’m packing to go out of town, as I’m getting my groceries. I hear them singing in the wires. I can hear them through the whine … I don’t need them more than want them, and I certainly won’t want them for all time (well, maybe The Morphine Man), but they stay with me all the same.

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

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