At Work: Bob Lind

Jeff Tamarkin on July 26, 2016

Photo: Henry Diltz

Fifty years ago, Bob Lind was all over AM radio with “Elusive Butterfly,” a shimmering, orchestrally ornamented, self-penned, Top 5 folk-rock hit produced by the legendary Jack Nitzsche and later covered by Aretha Franklin, Petula Clark and Dolly Parton, among many others. Poetic and ethereal—“Don’t be concerned, it will not harm you, it’s only me pursuing something I’m not sure of/ Across my dreams with nets of wonder, I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love”—the song’s definitive interpretation evades even Lind himself. “It wasn’t concocted consciously,” he says today. “A curtain opened and it was there. I just grabbed it and wrote it down.”

Lind was only 23 when he released the tune on World Pacific Records, and although other compositions (particularly “Cheryl’s Goin’ Home”) found favor with numerous artists— Richie Havens, The Turtles, The Blues Project—after a couple of sputtering follow-ups, Lind’s music career wound down. By the early ‘70s, he was out. “I let my hatred of the business outweigh my desire to persist, a childish and much-regretted mistake,” he says.

He subsequently took an assortment of jobs—some old fans might’ve noticed his byline appearing regularly in the tongue-in-cheek pseudo-tabloid Weekly World News—and he also honed his writing chops via novels, short stories, plays and film scripts. In 2001, the Britpop group Pulp paid tribute with “Bob Lind (The Only Way Is Down)” and, three years later, Arlo Guthrie encouraged Lind to return to music. But it took until 2012 for Lind to return to the studio. That year, he released Finding You Again, a stellar collection of new material, and now he’s followed that up with Magellan Was Wrong, which may just be the finest work he’s ever recorded. Both albums were produced by Jamie Hoover of the power-pop band The Spongetones.

“My themes haven’t changed much,” says the now-Florida-based Lind about his new music. “[My songs have] always been more local than global—intimate love and/or the yearning for it. I’ve retained much of the lust and passion of my earlier work, but my viewpoint has matured. There are songs I can write now that I could never have written in my gushy 20s.”

When he performs today, Lind, of course, still returns to “Elusive Butterfly,” but, he says, “I’m not an oldies act. I have no wish to revolve around my own corpse when I’m writing so much better now.” Nothing elusive about that.