Sunday, March 28, 2021

The only truth

The band Silverhead fell apart in the mid-1970s after releasing two studio albums—their self-titled debut in 1972, and 16 and Savaged a year later—that didn't perform well commercially. Though they toured internationally, they never stuck on the radio, and as history tells the story, they will forever be considered a should've-made-it-big band associated with the dated Glam movement. I was listening to their debut the other day half in the background, when the side one closer "In Your Eyes" came on and moved dramatically to the foreground. I stopped what I was doing, struck by what a desperately beautiful love song it is, and was reminded again how music, when striking an eternal chord, can lift beyond the circumstances of its origin and feel fresh and relevant for later ears.

Written by Michael Des Barres—that's him on the album cover, pulling the title like an acid trail—"In Your Eyes" is a ballad that catches fire across its six minutes, and, arriving as it does at the end of the first side, feels both like a the end of an ending and the start of a beginning. There's a wonderful Stones/Humble Pie-ish vibe of druggy, exhausted decadence to much of the album; it struts ("Ace Supreme") and grooves ("Long Legged Lisa") and strikes poses ("Under the Lights") and the impression's that booze and powder are fueling the whole affair. The discoveries in the song all the more powerful and surprising to the singer, and so to us, in that they arrive as epiphanies earned at the end of a long ride. 

Michael Des Barres in '72

The song opens with the quiet, simple declaration of two held chords. Bassist Nigel Harrison and drummer Pete Thompson lay low, while pianist Mick Hodgkinson begins to move around a bit in the opening verse, adding some balm to Des Barres's wounded vocal. The story he's singing is as old as dirt, though perhaps a bit fresher given that it's coming from a post-1960s rock and roll frontman: I ain't much to shout about, he says, I thought I was special, I thought I had really good credentials. Older still is the naked admission that follows: it took you to make me realize that the truth was in your eyes. In bed next to her, besotted with the curls in her hair, he can't believe that in the morning she's still there. When the chorus comes around again, the band's in full swing, happy for the singer's good fortune, allowed now to express their own take on things; Harrison's bass and Steve Forest and Rod Rook Davies's guitars strut a bit now, but out of gladness, not ostentation. A couple of female back-up vocalists (uncredited, they're billed on the album in of-the-era fashion as The Silverettes, and included Suzi Quatro) sweeten the chorus. But the stakes are raised a bit: now, surprisingly, thrillingly, the only truth is in her eyes. 

That's the line that gets me. Of course, I don't know if Des Barres is writing autobiographically, and when a song's honesty is this universal, it doesn't matter what its origins are. Anyway, here' the story I'm imagining when I listen: a silhouette of a performer, drained of energy by drugs and the long road, waking up exhausted every morning with a woman, or dealing in the lobby downstairs with a manager or a hanger-on, whose eyes are bright and urgent but promise far more than they can deliver. It turns out that the only truth that matters is in her eyes, this very morning, the truth of her sticking around, of not used and split. What they did or talked about into the night is left unsaid, but the song basks in the afterglow. By the time the second verse arrives—it feels like the sun's coming up—the two are out on the street, if only in their heads, and the performance turns joyously funky, liberated from the solemn, half-lit opening verse as love floods the room with light. Her eyes are sincere when no one else's are. The song ends with soaring guitar solos and that simple but profound chorus trading places, the mood elevating as the song fades.


A good love song is a funny thing. Begun in the dark, it's deeply private as it's composed and performed, yet connects somehow with strangers listening across the globe, or shyly trading mix tapes or Spotify playlists, or in a dark basement during the closing credits of a movie, leaving the one who's watching in tears. You've got yours, I've got Sam & Dave's "When Something is Wrong with My Baby," which sounds to me as ancient as scripture and as fresh as the blush of new love every time I listen. I connect on a very personal level to the lines that Des Barres wrote in the chorus of "In Your Eyes." They conjure a pivotal moment in my life that's unimportant here, yet crucial to my connection with the song; it's what surprised me when I was working at my desk, with the album playing behind me, and then in front of me. That's the thing about a love song: it sings in a common language that may be foreign to the one who's not in love, or who's not ready to hear it. In 1972, Silverhead got in touch with something eternal while singing about a moment, a universal truth that came as an utter surprise to a man lying in a bed, who knows, finally, where and when.

Photo of Des Barres in 1972  via Pinterest 

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