“Sirens ring, the shots ring out
A stranger cries, screams out loud
I had my world strapped against my back
I held my hands, never knew how to act.”
Jakob Dylan was a storyteller, just like his old man (Bob, in case you didn’t know), except that his lyrics and vocals were a whole hell of a lot more intelligible. Fronting The Wallflowers, Dylan brought “6th Avenue Heartache,” a song he wrote about his experiences living in New York, to the band’s album Bringing Down The Horse, and made it their first hit.
“Below me was a homeless man
I’m singing songs I knew complete
On the steps alone, his guitar in hand
It’s fifty years, stood where he stands”
“6th Avenue Heartache” is a beautifully bluesy jam that Dylan wrote about a homeless man who would play guitar and sing down on the street every day below his pad in New York City. One day, the man was gone, but all of his belongings, including his guitars, remained. The lyricism and delivery from Dylan are strong enough to move boulders untouched by the forces of nature, and the song also features soulful slide guitar work, courtesy of Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, as well as backing vocals from Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz. Interestingly, the music video for the song, which was shot on the streets of New York, was directed by David Fincher, who is well-known for films such as Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and more.
Though it was the first hit for The Wallflowers, “6th Avenue Heartache” was overtaken in popularity and impact by their second single from Bringing Down The Horse, “One Headlight.” While the latter is also a good song, and was a rightful hit, the former represented songwriting at its very best – hitting lyrics, story, and musicianship squarely on their collective head. The song is a contemporary rock gem that holds up in stellar fashion nearly two decades later. Get it into your ears, and into your heart, and it will never leave, I promise.