The Incredible Shrinking Town

November 28, 2010

As the love of my life and my partner in crime, Paloma got to to spend twelve hours in the car journeying to my hometown for Thanksgiving.

(as always, she was a trooper, possessing a grace that the wife of a head of state on a junket to a foreign land would be hard pressed to match)

The foreign land in this case being a small town in Indiana and, yes, growing up there in the ‘80s was indeed like being in a John Cougar song.

(he’ll always be John Cougar to me – actually, he’ll always be Johnny Hoosier, the moniker which my buddy Bosco affixed to the budding local hero as he reached critical commercial mass in 1982 with the album American Fool)

This is the third time that we have made the trip. The first time – two years ago – I was greeted by the news of the terrorist strikes in India the moment that i switched on the television in our hotel room.

(I suspect that most guys – upon entering a hotel room – drop the bags, flop onto the bed, and instinctually channel surf)

These three trips in as many years is a reversal from the prior decade and a half when circumstances, lack of funds, and/or lack of transportation meant that the holiday trek was hardly an annual pilgrimage.

The first time Paloma accompanied me, I noticed that things weren’t exactly where I’d left them.

Things, obviously, continue to be less as they once were, but this time I was more struck by the realization that the town is now shrinking.

It’s strange because the town now actually spreads out much farther than it did thirty years ago. There are industrial and manufacturing buildings where there had once been farmland, broken only by isolated farm houses along the narrow, country roads.

Many of those roads are now better paved as there must be far more traffic than the occasional car, pick-up or tractor that posed obstacles when my friends and I would spend summer days biking out to these areas.

(the first two were much more of a threat – especially as drivers sped on the oft empty roads – than a slow-moving tractor)

We had never ventured so far without supervision.

It was no more than five or six miles from our homes, but it seemed to be a fantastic journey.

In the years since, I’ve been ten thousand plus miles from home. The two miles or so from school in the center of town to my buddy Beej’s house on the edge of town now barely registers.

Paloma and I spent the drive home surfing the radio dial and it was virtually wall to wall Christmas music – something JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ addressed several days ago.

I’m with him that it’s a bit early in the season for such a single-minded aural onslaught, so, instead, here are four “road” songs from the large number available in the files…

Dire Straits – Telegraph Road
from Love Over Gold

It seems that Dire Straits was never cool (at least from what I’ve read), but a high school friend turned me onto the band several years before Brothers In Arms when they were being mostly ignored in the States.

I took to them and, despite its fourteen-minute length, the epic Telegraph Road was a favorite not only for the reflective lyrics but for the ferocity of Mark Knopfler’s guitar work at the song’s crescendo.

Catatonia – Road Rage
from International Velvet

The Welsh alternapop band Catatonia was reaching stardom with songs like I Am The Mob and The X-Files-inspired Mulder And Scully the first time I visited the UK in early ’98.

One of the friends I was with bought a cassette of International Velvet which we played relentlessly as we drove through England, Scotland, and Wales. Road Rage, though endearing and infectious, was, fortunately, not a case of life imitating art during that two-week trek.

Catatonia made little more than a ripple in the States, released a couple more albums, and split up. Lead singer Cerys Matthews has continued her career as a solo act.

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from Words & Music: A Retrospective

I can’t hear Holiday Road and not want to cruise through a desert in the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

Roger Miller – King Of The Road
from Love & A .45 soundtrack

If asked, there’s nothing I could tell you about Roger Miller. I’m not sure if I know other hits of his like Dang Me and England Swings.

I do know the genial King Of The Road, though. It makes me think of attending school in Southeast Asia in the late ’80s. The lone pop station played the song regularly, so I’d hear it almost daily lodged between then-current hits by acts like Skid Row, Roxette, and Richard Marx.

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