“Ah Rhiannon, you don’t scare me anymore”.
Anyone hearing the comment might reasonably have looked around for the lady concerned; except she never existed, other than as a 1970s song. Her name used to evoke a sense that there was a sophisticated and streetwise world out there that was forever beyond the understanding of a hickey kid from nowhere. The insecurity even got a name a few years ago, it became called ‘Midnight Train to Georgia Syndrome’.
The great soul singer, Gladys Knight sang Midnight Train to Georgia in 1973, it made it to No 1 in the US charts. It told of a man who had gone to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune, but his dreams hadn’t come true and he was returning to the rural life of the Deep South from which he had come. The opening lines of the song, played by John Creedon on his programme this evening, go like this:
L.A. proved too much for the man
So he’s leavin’ the life he’s come to know
He said he’s goin’ back to find what’s left of his world
The world he left behind not so long ago
He’s leavin’ on that midnight train to Georgia
Said he’s goin’ back to find the simpler place and time.
By 1980 Stevie Nicks had become emblematic of a world that was too much for a teenager who struggled to understand the culture beyond his native West Country. In a year dropped out of college, a Fleetwood Mac album, long since disappeared, was played again and again on an old mono record player left by housemates who had gone to India. The side on which Rhiannon appeared must have been nearly worn away by the heavy stylus’ repeated circuits of the vinyl. It wasn’t even the lyrics, the song could have been sung in a foreign language and it would have made no difference, it was the sound of the guitars and Nicks’ voice that combined to become eerily haunting.
Haunting things are a problem, they defy articulation, they defy definition. If it was possible to explain why certain things evoked certain thoughts, then they would lose their power. The opening bars of the song hit the pit of the stomach; in the way that some anthems can make the hairs on the back of one’s neck stand on end, so some songs seem to have a physical quality about them. Perhaps an analyst would suggest some deep unresolved problem, not that one would talk to a doctor about 1970s music, but there was a sudden impulse to find Gladys Knight, to escape whatever dark shadows there are in the winding corridors of the subconscious.
A year ago, the voice of Stevie Nicks singing Rhiannon would have disturbed. Drifting homewards to the tones of Gladys Knight and the Pips, through the by roads of Laois and Kilkenny, on a damp November night, there was a sense of having returned to Georgia, and it was a good place to be. Time to play Fleetwood Mac and to be unmoved by Ms Nicks.