In October, 1987, I’d started driving to my work in Tonbridge, Kent, UK, 20 odd miles away from our house.
I had started a new career, it was difficult, I was unhappy, I didn’t like what I was doing very much, and needed some new energy to make the thing work. I used to hire cassettes from my local library to listen to, and, as an old friend had played some early Pat Metheny, I obtained a whole bunch of titles to play at home and in the car.
‘Wichita Falls’ leapt out as a stunning, magical piece. It was immediately memorable, with moody keyboards, skilful guitar, symbolic Oriental tangents, but, the music had a real feeling of something deep and fearful – even a premonition of a disaster. I’m sure Viet Nam was there, and many other troubled spots. It hurt to listen to, and troubled me somewhat. I really couldn’t fathom what he was trying to do.
On the night of Thursday, 16th Ocober, 1987, the southern half of the UK experienced a huge storm – some say a hurricane, but it was very noisy and we were very worried for our property. My car was flattened by a falling wall, everywhere was disrupted, and I couldn’t get to work.
Trees were down everywhere. Some roads were totally impassable, and, buildings had collapsed with awful consequences. Electricity was lost in many places, and we had to rely on good neighbours for power where we could. We ate our meals in the green house, using a makeshift barbecue!
The next week, I started going back to work in Tonbridge. My new hire car had a cassette player, and I started to listen regularly to this track again, while driving through roads, which, frankly, I hardly recognised.
One particular stretch, which was normally bordered by several hundred yards of majestic Scotch pines, was unrecognisable, because the trees were nearly all lying on their sides, just like a row of pencils. It was an incredibly sad sight. The general buzz of chainsaws was everywhere and our intimate family of old trees, on our comfortable driving routes, had gone forever.
But, the music from this recording is etched in me like nothing else. I still cannot go by certain stretches of road without remembering the fallen oaks and Scotch pines, the disaster of the other supporting trees, the sawdust, the chaos of driving round the huge tree trunks in the roads. ‘Wichita’s’ sad mysticism follows every bend.
Of course, that was nearly twenty years ago. Things have moved on, but this music, with its haunting difference of style, will always be right up there when I have to point out things I’ve listened to, which are so deeply emotional.
I still cannot fathom what Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays were thinking about on the track, but the shining comment on the composition is that the music has an enchanting finale with the best instrument ever invented.