The search is over
It’s easy to find the magic of Dwight Twilley
There are tunes that start with riffs. Your “Black Dogs,” “Black Diamonds,” and Black Sabbath discogs. Bad-bitch door blowers flipping the bird to lyrical afterthought. And there are tunes that start with a single lyric. The kind of lyric that pulls a gun on the brain that put it on paper; demanding a melody. Then there is the almighty, hummable hook.
Tulsa native Dwight Twilley’s “Looking for the Magic” is the hook. (Find it on the Shelter Records release, Twilley Don’t Mind.)
The first time Twilley let loose that ascending wail of “ah, ah ah, I!” in the studio—the trumpet of Gabriel announcing that he is indeed looking for the magic—he must have known he’d already found it. It’s the kind of hook delivered from the firmament of the heavens. The kind of hook that once captured, makes any sensible man look for the nearest Cadillac dealership. If you’ve got that hook, then you’ve got the money, honey.
But it wasn’t “Magic” that put the cars in Twilley’s driveway. It was 1985’s power pop hit, “Girls.” And though “Girls” is great, and “Girls” is “Girls” … it ain’t magic.
That eternal hook in “Magic,” and the string shimmering dismount where Twilley tells you it’s “in [his] eyes,” are the skeleton, organs, and muscles of the tune. Twilley draped his divine creation in dressed down—but durable—denim.
Hit play and you get several seconds of piano tinkles and big chord teasing, then you’re in. Drums and bass tramp in tandem on a militantly chill vamp that says “buckle up, and lay back.” Throw the “budda-bum-bududda” into a spectrograph, and you’ll see Tom Petty’s spliff burnt eyes looking just over the top of his shades. He’ll wink at the 38 second mark, knowing good and god damn well you’ll have what follows in your head for the rest of the week.
Rock n Roll’s commander-in-chief of chillness played guitar on the track. Baby Petty is in the video, seesawing his mitts along a bass like it’s a washboard; every inch of him invoking Janice from The Muppets.
But the rhythm, the verse, the pre-chorus, even Petty’s presence, are all accidents of the hook’s holy substance in the song. A hook like this required nothing more than a Beatles’ “scrambled eggs” treatment for words. But nevertheless, Twilley brought the goods.
His staccato delivery punches holes through an intimidating wall of reverb. “Only child is a silly little ragged, she’s been looking for the magic,” he says. “Stay awhile ‘til the city is a desert, she’s been looking for the treasure.”
Feeling silly and ragged, like when all you can do is sigh and your bones feel hollow, those are the feelings that send people looking for magic. The magic could be 1970’s Tulsa, where Leon Russell built a playground for local musicians in his Church Studio. A place that was anything but a dessert, where bright-eyed songwriters like Twilley could chance an encounter with the likes of Eric Clapton. Though Twilley met Petty in L.A., and not Tulsa, it was their tenure on Russell’s Shelter Records that brought them together.
But the magic and treasure may be as simple as a tune. Something like this tune. Something potent and undeniable. Whatever it is, it’s in your eyes.