Like many others I had a hard time choosing a favorite Westerberg tune but the one that I ultimately come back to is Left of the Dial. It is one of those songs that does it on multiple layers for me – musically, lyrically and emotionally (for lack of a better term.) Right from the beginning it let’s you know that you’re in for something special – the way the opening riff grabs you by the hand and pulls you right up into space. Then Paul begins to tell a little story and in 3 verses and a chorus you are right there with him/them living the unglamorous life of a musician in love with music. That has always been one of the things I love about his songs – the imagery he projects, the perfect word choice that says a lot in just a little, the way his voice interweaves with the words so perfectly. At just about half way into the song things change. The music becomes more urgent. You feel yourself soaring high above the ground along with the song. You are weary yet you get your second wind and let the music pull you the rest of the way through. It is uplifting and inspiration and I get lost in the music during the last minute and a half or so. Played live the tune is even more amazing. Perhaps the reason that put it on top as my favorite was hearing it in Memphis during his last tour. He played it after almost everyone had left (there is a story there for another day) and several of us were able to get in just in time for the last half of this song. Seeing the sheer joy on PW’s face as he played and experiencing the power of the song in a near empty theater is easily one of the best musically memories I have and just adds to the power of this tune.
As with many PW tunes, Left of the Dial holds multiple meanings and spawns even more emotional attachments. It seems no two people see any of this songs the same way and I love that. I listen to this song and I imagine life on the road as a band. But I also think of it as Paul’s love letter – to all his fans certainly but also to all the misfits who love the music that 99% of the world knows little about. If we were a radio station we wouldn’t be the popular one, we wouldn’t have the strongest frequency. We would be way over there at the end of the dial. And when we travel we’d find others like us at that same spot on the radio – people who get it. I have met a lot of wonderful people through the Mats music and though I don’t have the opportunity to get together with them much I know where I’d find them. Paul himself says it best at the end of the song and it always reminds me of you Westernerds – “And if I don’t see ya, in a long, long while. I’ll try to find you left of the dial.”
You know that part after the instrumental break where it pauses and the guitars come back in on that chord?
The world seems to brighten every time I hear it. I know it sounds a little lame, but it’s sorta like Won’t Get Fooled Again. Damn near perfect.
Zook is one of the guys who “gets” it. Great post.
This has always been my favorite. I have listened to this song every day of my life for at least 10 years. It is one of those songs that can morph into anything depending on your mood. One day it is sad, then uplifting, then defiant….whatever you are, it becomes. I have a pair of chopsticks in my car and they will stay there forever so I can play along with the crack of the drumsticks. And Wolf is wrong…Baba O’Riley is the perfect Who song.
After further review….Wolf was right.
Tasty pick indeed, Zook. What I believe I love most about “Left Of the Dial” are its crestfallen yet subversive political overtones. What is the plight of the artist, the true left? to “grow old in a bar”, to suffer isolation (“and if I don’t see you” “on the radio once”) to overindulge (“we got drunk…”). When I think of the phrase “left of the dial” I read it to mean actually off (it.) the dial. (No, not a horrible pun like “Left Off the Dial” or anything so dumb) Left of the whole thing, politically, despite NPR and the college stations actually on the dial but to the left.
I feel “Left Of the Dial” is a staggering achievement, an unblinking look into an abyss that lesser artists wouldn’t dare attempt. Off the air, indeed.