Brian Vander Ark
Pursue Your Passion - A Love Song For the Ages
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Love is in the air as Valentine’s Day approaches, reminding us of some of the greatest songs; soundtracks to our loving relationships.
Sure, My Funny Valentine, At Last, and Unchained Melody are most likely on everyone’s list of favorites. They’re all to the point, on the nose, right down the line, about love. But do they really represent what true love is? The ups and the downs, the heartaches, the longing, the sacrifices, and everything that goes with a deeper devotion?
Wichita Lineman stands as the least likely—and perhaps the most powerful—song about true love.
Written by Jimmy Webb and made famous by Glen Campbell, it’s a love song buried deep in disguise for the first verse, then trumpeted in the second. The way love itself can sometimes be. Hard for you to find the words, but once you do, you’ve opened the floodgates.
When Jimmy Webb was asked about the song, he told the story of driving westward on a lonely highway into the setting sun. Lining that highway was telephone pole after telephone pole, each the same as the last. And then, off in the distance, he saw one lonely lineman atop a pole.
As a songwriter myself, I can tell you that the muse strikes different writers in different ways. Spotting the lineman on the telephone pole, Webb could have just as easily written about people’s connectivity through a barren countryside and the importance of his job. Instead, he sought to humanize the lineman and made up his love story. The lineman is any of us atop that telephone pole, thinking about the love of our lives. “I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” There’s a sadness in the melody that makes me wonder if he is pining for her, adding even more weight to its meaning. Maybe he cannot give her what she needs at the moment. Perhaps it renders him helpless, wanting desperately to get back to her to talk of their love, but he’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere. He’s literally left out on a wire.
Or—and I like to think of it this way on Valentine’s Day—he’s deeply in love, and no job is too hard, no temperature too hot. He’s working for her, working for the children they’ve raised together, the home they’ve created. This tough as leather lineman outside Wichita knows that his job—keeping people connected through the phone lines—is not as important as the connectivity he feels for his love. Out there, alone, he hears her “singing through the wire,” hears her “through the whine.”
We’ve all been there. Always hustling, making moves. But in the quiet moments, we reflect on what we have. That brings with it a joy that can’t be found in the next deal made, the next mile driven, or the next screw turned.
Love is the foundation of everything we do, our common denominator. Everyone loves someone or something, and can feel the power it holds. At the end of the day, we all have something we want to get back to. Sometimes knowing that makes the job easier, the day shorter. There are even times when the desire to get back to that love is so fierce that the day drags on, the job seems harder. In those times, we are—like the Wichita lineman—still on the line. Either scenario works for me, and makes Wichita Lineman my love song for the ages.
Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer of The Verve Pipe. He covers "Wichita Lineman" on his new album called Planet Sunday Sessions Vol II. Released in April 2021.