Richard Thompson: I Misunderstood
I remember reading a review of Richard Thompson’s album Amnesia in 1988. I had never heard of him before, and here was this review that talked about this brilliant guitar player who could also write songs pretty well. Now, I knew all about brilliant guitar players. They were the guys who played these amazing solos, really ripped it up. The best ones never lost track of what song they were playing, always wandered far afield but found their way back. So, I put Amnesia on the turntable, and prepared to be transported. Didn’t happen. There really weren’t any solos. Sure he played loud, but Thompson never went anywhere. There were a couple of great quiet songs, but they had nothing to do with great guitar playing as I understood it then. So I was disappointed, and I resolved to regard the music of Richard Thompson with suspicion from then on.
Fast forward three years. Now it was 1991, and Richard Thompson had a new album out, Rumor and Sigh. More to the point, I was no longer an I, but rather part of a we, about to be married. We heard 1952 Vincent Black Lightning on the radio. Now that is a brilliant song, no doubt. But it’s also the only song like it on the album. Soon enough, we were hearing Feel So Good, Read About Love, and of course I Misunderstood as well. These were more like what I remembered, and I wasn’t that impressed at first. But my now-wife latched on to the lyrics. And Thompson is a wonderful writer. So, being in the same car, Thompson stayed on. And his music grew on me. And grew. Just like in Where the Wild Things Are.
So here’s how I see it now. Richard Thompson is indeed a great guitarist, but in ways I didn’t understand at first. His talent has as much to do with what he doesn’t play as what he does. His playing can carry a song, as it does on Vincent Black Lightning. But he can also pull back and be part of the band. And, when Thompson writes, he knows which approach will be better for the song. I thought I didn’t like him at first, but I misunderstood.
MBGS #144: Cover photo by Steve Agee
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