"Don't Be A Stranger" / Tom Gallagher
As if we need a reminder that life is not fair, here comes the devastating news of the death of my dear Kinks friend Tom Gallagher. The fact that Tom's enormous musical talent had never scored him a record contract was already high on my list of "life is not fair" examples -- and now this. He was a magnificent soul and he'll be sorely missed in the realms of Kinkdom.
So in honor of Tom -- or Major TAG, as we knew him best -- I'm turning my thoughts to this track from his unreleased masterpiece Age of the Wheel. When Tom's songs shuffle up on my iPod, they never strike my ear as amateur tracks; his guitar work is so assured, the songwriting such top quality, that I find myself grooving to the song for quite a while before I realize it's not some classic album track that any casual listener would recognize. "Don't Be A Stranger" has confidence in spades, from the raspy guitar strum to the pouncing melodic line to Tom's prickly, passionate vocals. And then there's that killer hook -- "Don't be a stranger / Don't let me feel so strange" -- that deft little bit of word play seals the deal.
There are so many musicians out there whose music doesn't truly make a dent -- listen to the radio for hours and they all begin to sound the same. The real gift is to make music that sends your personality out there, and personality is what makes Tom Gallagher's music special. Listening to this track, you can just tell that it's sung by someone with fierce intelligence, high standards, and a slightly dangerous edge; sure, there's darkness here, but that's what makes it compelling. This is rock and roll music, not wimpy emo.
From the very first verse, this is the song of a natural loner longing to make a connection, and there's a heartbreaking anxiety running beneath the usual I-wanna-get-you-girl plotline. Small talk and romantic games don't do it for him; he wants something real, and yet he's wary ("turn away, turn loose, but don't turn on me"). Tom sings this with consummate skill, navigating brilliantly between snarl and seduction and wounded howl. "Shed light so I can see / Shine your light down on me / Don't be a stranger / Come around, come again."
I can personally testify that we ladies are suckers for this kind of rock 'n' roll proposition. There's nothing we like better than comforting a bad boy who's been hurt. If any record company had ever been smart enough to sign Tom Gallagher, they'd have had a star on their hands for sure. Did I mention that he was also drop-dead handsome?
Once you knew Tom, though, you didn't think of him as a good-looking guitar god -- he was just Tom: moody, brilliant, wicked, kind, generous, quick to argue and just as quick to make peace. I feel blessed to have known him. Love on ya forever, Major Tom.