Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"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.


IƱaki said...

Thank you very much Holly, what a wonderful tribute. I know TAG would be honoured to see it.

Our dear friend will never be forgotten.

Melissa said...

As his niece, I am absolutly thrilled to see this. I never knew how absolutly amazing he was. Thank you so much for writing this and I will be sure to show it to the rest of the family.

Angela said...

Thank you, Holly, for putting Tom's name alongside other giants in music. Where it belongs. This entry made my day and it also made me cry. No, it's not fair. But with this magnificent review and tribute, you just made it a little more fair.

Dave K. said...

Nice post, Holly. Tom was an exceptionally talented musician/songwriter and a very fine human being. Although his music hasn't been widely heard in his lifetime, there is much we can to do to keep his legacy alive. This is a fine contribution to that endeavor.

Julie said...

Thanks for saying it for all of us, Holly. I've interacted with Tom for about two years through Kinks fan boards. His sense of humor and kindess are what I'll miss most. When I got his CD I played it non stop. He was a major talent and a great human being. I will miss him.

Jenny L said...

Well written, Holly.

alan_j said...

Kudos to you, Ms. Holly.

I regret not getting to know Major Tag any closer than the posts he made on Ray's board, but I could tell he was a kind, senstive, caring person. I'd expect those fine qualities to flow from him and into his music.

God Bless You, Good Major.

Complicated Life

huddie said...

That's beautifull Holly. As Angela said, Tom deserves his place among the other artists you discuss. He clearly was a passionate singer and songwriter but his guitar playing strikes me again every time I listen to Age of the Wheel. It is often very subtle, he doesn't profile himself as the great gunslinger. But the short solo's he plays, and the licks he does in between are so varied and versatile. He never turns to the same trick twice again bacause he doesn't need to. He was very well able to alter mellow bluesy guitar lines with heavy distorted rock moments, never at any time losing the overall sound of the album.
A guitar player myself, I think that's very much of an accomplishment.
I'm very glad now that I once mailed him a similar comment to his album...

god bless him

angela said...

Here's where to go for this song. Thanks goes to Tom's close friend, bandmate and co-producer, Joe DeLuca:


Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks so much, everyone. (Great dissection of his guitar work, huddie -- you're so much more knowledgeable of that end of things than I am.) I've been spinning this album over and over the last couple of days, and I just wish everyone in the world could have a chance to hear it!