"The child is still in there rocking." - Lindsey Buckingham
"Soul Drifter" is on Lindsey Buckingham's third solo album, called Out of the Cradle. The album borrows it's title from Walt Whitman's poem "Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking." Lindsey said there is an innocent quality to this poem, and not surprisingly, to the entire CD. While the songs on Out of the Cradle embody Lindsey's signature pop sound, they also display a traditional rock and roll melodic sense. "Soul Drifter" is reminiscent of that traditional "Tin Pan Alley" approach that brings Lindsey back to his roots, and the listener back to the innocent quality of Out of the Cradle.
Lindsey has stated that he wrote "Soul Drifter" during the often bitter and non harmonious recording sessions of Fleetwood Mac's last studio album, Tango in the Night. "Soul Drifter" came to Lindsey "in a flash" one night while the rest of the band was just a room away. He was thinking it was time for him to move away from Fleetwood Mac and "go his own way." "It was a survival move both physically and emotionally," he has said. He wanted to move beyond the creative and personal suffocation that he felt tied him to this group. "Soul Drifter" is Lindsey's affirmation of independence, and displays his feelings of resignation, unsurety, and hope through his lyrics, with music that is both uplifting and sweet.
I'm a soul drifter, And I'm out of this town, Ain't no use hangin' 'round, You see.
Lindsey is the Soul Drifter. A drifter does not have any roots. They do not feel a need to settle down, they are drifting and are not bound by anyone or anything. The "Soul Drifter" here is Lindsey, who is feeling bound by his part in Fleetwood Mac and out of touch with what is the essence of his soul - his music. "The town" is both Fleetwood Mac and the huge selling industry it embodies. This "music making machine" Lindsey was a part of, no longer supports his true goals. He was a major player in the creation of Fleetwood Mac's signature sound, and while his soul has belonged to Fleetwood Mac for so long, he is now longing for something new, with fear and uncertainty lying ahead. While he is determined to make this change, this verse also belies his sadness and resignation at leaving.
Lindsey's determination to spread his wings echo throughout the lyrics of several other songs on Out of the Cradle. It has been recognized that "Soul Drifter" is possibly the precursor to another such song, "Countdown." While "Soul Drifter" is basically a declaration of independence for Lindsey, "Countdown" ("I'm waiting on the countdown, things about to turn around") is a reaffirmation of his decision to leave Fleetwood Mac and the hopefulness that surrounds this decision.
My heart was broken, My part was spoken, Now the ground has opened, All around me.
This verse showcases the roadblocks that crossed Lindsey's path of wanting to move ahead to a happier place. Lindsey felt frustrated with his "part" in Fleetwood Mac, both personally and professionally. He has stated that there was no camaraderie left within Fleetwood Mac by the time they were recording Tango in the Night. His relationship with former lover, Stevie Nicks, was more strained than ever, due to her own personal conflicts. It probably broke Lindsey's heart not to be able to communicate with Stevie at this time. The woman who was once his lover, was no longer someone he recognized.
Lindsey often felt he could not have the freedom and acceptance he envisioned for himself while he remained in Fleetwood Mac. This was not the first time Lindsey felt this way. His ingenious behind Fleetwood Mac's experimental pop album, Tusk, displayed Lindsey's creative heart to the world, and the rejection of that material by those closest to him, left him heart-broken and disenchanted. His heart was broken because he no longer felt Fleetwood Mac understood his visions and ideas.
"The ground has opened all around me." Lindsey's life up to this time was mostly devoted to Fleetwood Mac, yet it was no longer creative for him. The ground that he has walked on for so many years was now unsteady. His quest for freedom within his soul has now opened up and his possibilities are endless.
I'm a soul lifter, And it's out of my hands. So it's off to other lands, You see.
If the verse before was a roadblock in Lindsey's current musical situation, this one clears the path that is now "lifting" his soul. It's out of his control now as to whether his leaving Fleetwood Mac will be successful professionally and will make him happy, but he has decided to move forward to rediscover his longing for the freedom of personal creativity.
It's a new dawn, So it's so long, For the soul lifter, The soul drifter, That's me.
These lines carry through the upward theme we see in this last verse. Here, Lindsey is optimistic about his future and his artistic freedom and is welcoming them both with open arms while saying goodbye to the constraints of what surrounded his former musical self. He is both the soul drifter and the soul lifter, not in isolation, but with a purpose, in charge of lifting his own soul out of the chains that bound it together and letting it rest peacefully within himself. He remains true to himself and his art. "The soul lifter, the soul drifter" - that's Lindsey.
(The interpretations to these lyrics were compiled through discussions on the message boards of the Penguin, The Ledge. It is entirely possible that the artists had something completely different in mind.)