Today in 1968, at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles, Glen Campbell would record one of the great country singles of the decade. It’s a simple story song written by a longhaired songwriter who had already scored a hit with MacArthur Park named Jimmy Webb. The production is the height of countrypolitan; strings swell and pulse throughout the song in what is, I imagine, an LA producers guess of what the high tension whine of Midwest power lines sound like 50 feet up. That’s not to mock the effort, art is representation, not actualization.
Jimmy Webb says he was driving through Oklahoma when he saw a man working alone on a power-line. It’s easy to wonder about the man’s life, his loves and frustrations. To ask whose voice does he hear through the wire? I remember my own experiences looking at power-lines as a boy; awe and not a little fear at those skinny steel pegs jutting out of the wood that someone would climb up to a broken transformer box. I remember thinking no way would I do that.
What I love about the song is how in two simple versus Webb captures the essence of the working class through a job most of us know nothing about. He captures how lonely it is to work the best part of life away for money far away from loved ones. Most of us don’t climb the poles, but we do work, we do give up our best waking hours. We do this mostly for the profit or comfort of others. And sometimes, our time not being our own, we wish for rain. Rain gets the singer down from the poles and off the road. It cools things off. It drowns the voice humming through the wire.