The Road (There And Back)

November 27, 2011

As a kid, the family usually made at least one trek annually to visit relatives in Western Pennsylvania.

To mitigate the need to navigate traffic, we would often set off on these trips in the wee hours of the night, getting the first couple hours in before the sunrise.

It was thrilling to be up in the middle of the night, at an hour whose existence was wholly unknown to me at the time.

As my younger brother and our mother would be asleep in the backseat, I was accorded shotgun, road atlas perched in my lap and serving as navigator for our father.

I assumed the responsibility of the task with deadly seriousness and a certain belief that any failure on my part might result in us being lost forever, though little navigation was truly needed and the position was essentially honorary.

Thirtysome years later, it’s simply good to that Paloma and I have made our Thanksgiving trek with no difficulties and are safely back in the treehouse with the animals.

Here are four road songs (out of the numerous ones residing on the harddrive)…

John Fogerty – The Old Man Down The Road
from Centerfield (1985)

I was a junior in high school when John Fogerty released his first new music since before I had even begun the educational process. I was hardly enamored with Centerfield or the handful of tracks that were getting airplay, but the album and Fogerty’s comeback was inescapable (especially as my buddy Beej loved the record).

For me, it was a bit too twangy for my tastes at the time, though now I have a much greater appreciation and affection for the ex-Creedence singer’s bayou brew. And, Paloma and I came across a fellow in a roadside McDonald’s that certainly would have been well cast as the titular character.

Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere
from Little Creatures (1985)

As John Fogerty was making a comeback in 1985, art-rockers Talking Heads were making a belated arrival, notching the most commercially successful album of their almost-decade long career with Little Creatures. Sure, the quartet had a major radio hit two years earlier with the übercool Burning Down The House and, though nothing on Little Creatures matched that success, the album had several songs that got a lot of airplay.

One of those songs was the skittish march Road To Nowhere which I heard a lot on 97X that spring and was accompanied by an expectedly eye-catching video that MTV played incessantly.

Steve Earle – Six Days On The Road
from Essential Steve Earle (1993)

Paloma and I didn’t spend six days on the road – two was more than enough for us – so we didn’t quite reach the level of weariness that the protagonist felt in the song that was a major hit for country singer Dave Dudley in 1963.

Nearly a quarter century later, Steve Earle contributed his version of the song to John Hughes’ movie Planes, Trains And Automobiles, a flick that has become a holiday perennial.

Eddie Vedder with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – The Long Road
from Dead Man Walking soundtrack (1996)

Traveling through the Midwest, Paloma and I heard a similar rotation of artists and songs on the (mostly) classic rock stations we’d pull up on the radio. And, there amongst ’70s warhorses like Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Skynyrd was – over and over again – Pearl Jam.

(much to Paloma’s chagrin)

Personally, it reminded me of how much of Pearl Jam’s catalog I have enjoyed over the years. The band certainly has had its detractors (aside from Paloma), but there’s always been something about the grunge icons that has struck me as geniune.

And, over the years, lead singer Eddie Vedder has, like several other members of the band, stepped out on his own as he did in 1996 when he collaborated with the late Pakastani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the lovely, mournful The Long Road for the soundtrack to the movie Dead Man Walking.

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