Friday, August 17, 2007
Basement Songs - "Riviera Paradise" by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
To date, I have lived in two houses with basements. Budd and Eleanor’s nig house on North Park was the original basement. I grew up there, spent my college summers there, and for a brief period after Bowling Green, I spent time charting the next step to adulthood. The other basement was the room I lived in during my junior and senior years of college. In a blue house on Ridge Street, right next to the railroad tracks, my friends and I moved into the lower half of a duplex and called it home.
The blue house was two floors, a living room and a basement area, with fours rooms divided between those two levels. Each room became progressively smaller as you descended into the dank underbelly of the house. I immediately chose one of the basement rooms, an unglamorous, cold space with exposed cinder block walls. My thinking was that by volunteering for a one-bedroom shithole in the basement, I wouldn’t have to fight over the bigger, upstairs bedrooms. By doing so, I got the larger of the two dungeon rooms. Looking back, I know that it felt right having a place to escape to for studying, alone time with my girlfriend, or for dialing up the stereo when a release was needed.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, I was an avid listener of the electric blues. The few rock/blues songs that made it on to the radio were a breath of fresh air from the hair metal bands and slick, faceless pop rock at that time. I saw Clapton on tour with Phil Collins in ’86 when The Robert Cray Band opened for him. That was a killer show. And I was fortunate enough to see Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble twice before that tragic day back in August of 1990 when Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash. Because his death occurred at the same time we had just moved into the blue house his music will always be intertwined with my memories of that time.
After his death, I rushed out and purchased a couple of his earlier albums, as if I was afraid they would go out of print now that he was dead (little did I realize that his status would grow to legendary by decade’s end- well deserved, I might add). While I did listen to Texas Flood and Couldn't Stand The Weather quite a bit, it was his triumphant In Step that I continually slapped on to my $85 CD player (purchased from Dillon a year earlier). In Step had been one of the first albums I bought on cd, so it was destined to hold a special place in my heart. I’m strange that way. That album, recorded after Stevie Ray had defeated his drum and alcohol addiction, is one of the best rock/blues albums from that era. In my opinion, it may be one of the best rock/blues albums of all time. Yet, for all of the slow and fiery guitar licks and the blazing finger work he poured into IN STEP, the last track “Riviera Paradise” is the one I listened to the most. From the first listen, this quiet prayer of a song played with smooth accompaniment by Doubles Trouble remains one of the few songs that can send me back to the blue house and that cold, noisy basement room I lived in for two year.
Stevie Ray opens with a jazzy, thrilling riff, quick and reverberated, distinctly different from the other songs on In Step. As the rest of Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon on bass, Chris Layton on drums and Reese Wynans on keys) join in, the rest of the piece allows your mind to journey and relax, opening up the imagination. In my mind, the song always made me think of a dark, moonless night with the rain pouring down. Two lovers lay in the dark listening to the pattering of raindrops falling against the window. Their movements are hesitant at first, unsure what the other is thinking or wants. Then, lips meet, almost by accident, and passions are awakened… assured. The lovers move closer, letting their hands explore each other, all the while, the quiet storm of “Riviera Paradise” plays in the background and the skies open up. Finally, their love reaches a climactic moment. Their bodies are in sync. As the song cools to an end, the lovers hold each other. Outside, the rain begins to let up and the song comes to an end.
Not that I can recall ever making love to this song, the romantic dreamer that I was back in 1990 treasured the idea of two people merging together like that. I also treasured that A song like “Riviera Paradise” existed to provided a soundtrack. So many nights my mind relaxed and my worries slipped away as the moon shone through my lone window and a space heater rattled at the foot of my bed. So many nights I drifted off listening to the intricate playing of Stevie Ray.
It has been some time since I’ve truly reflected on the blue house and who I was back in Bowling Green. I believe the reason Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and “Riviera Paradise” are so much a part of my college experience is that I didn’t know many people back then who were fans. Aside from my roommate Brian, it was a pretty solitary club. The other reason the music is such a part of college is that I don’t listen to Stevie Ray as much as I used to. My tastes have shifted and the blues just aren’t what I am drawn to when choosing my music. Seeing my friend Hurley last weekend stirred the kettle. Hearing the names of people I’d long forgotten was so wonderful that I have decided to go back and listen the songs and artists that meant something to me in my early 20’s. This trip through the fields of nostalgia may be short lived, but I have a feeling I’ll keep a copy of IN STEP near the top of my stack of cd’s. It’s time to rediscover the masterful playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the world of wonder that exists in “Rivera Paradise.