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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Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

September 9, 2010

The first time I visited the UK, it was with a friend, TJ, and another friend of his, Donna, whom I didn’t know. It was a memorable two and a half weeks in a rented Daewoo, beginning in London, hitting both coasts and and so many castles – courtesy of TJ’s itinerary – that Donna and I began to refer to the trip as The Castle Hostage Tour.

TJ kept us plied with cigarettes and candy, resulting in a trek during which tensions flared only once or twice and those periods defused rather quickly.

For some reason, I seem to recall that one of those times when, if we had to spend another ten minutes in that Daewoo together, lives might be taken, occurred as we made our way to Liverpool.

Perhaps someone was out of smokes.

Perhaps someone had had one two many pints when we had stopped for lunch.

Perhaps it is merely the physics that disctate that, no matter how good of friends you might be – and the three of us remain friends fifteen years later – there is only so much time three humans can spend in a Daewoo together.

I remember the three of us reaching Liverpool as the sun was setting on the port city. We were muttering to each other under our breath as we settled into a booth in some dingily lit pub. The place was empty aside from a few grizzled, old characters at the bar who had the look of regulars.

I slumped in the booth, half-heartedly leafing through an abandoned newsheet. A headline caught my eye and the article had me laughing before I finished the first paragraph.

It was coverage of some local event that involved rolling wheels of cheese down a steep hill and participants scrambling after them. Apparently shenanigans and gravity ensued and there had been – as there were each year – a number of injuries.

Soon, the strife had passed and the three of us were laughing, pondering this insane sport over pints.

I thought of that evening when I read of the recent death of cellist Mike Edwards, a founding member of ELO. An immense bale of hay rolled down a hill and onto a road into the musician’s van.

Meeting your demise in such a fashion is out of your hands, but, should you concuss yourself while chasing a wheel of cheese down a steep hill, that one’s on you.

There’s been no shortage of bands from Liverpool to make an impact on the outside world (including that one mop-topped combo from the ’60s). Here are four songs from acts comprised of Liverpudlians…

Echo & The Bunnymen – Bring On The Dancing Horses
from More Songs To Learn And Sing

Echo & The Bunnymen was a band that I think I’d come across in print before I ever heard their music and, though the quartet were critical darlings, the name inspired no confidence in me.

But, when I finally heard their music I understood the hullabaloo regarding the Bunnymen. Their music was chiming, sweeping, cinematic, and grand and, though achieving commercial success commensurate to their critical acclaim in their homeland, Echo & The Bunnymen failed to escape the ghetto of cult act in the States.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Windows
from Telecommunications

I’ve expressed my affection for A Flock Of Seagulls in the past and recounted playing pinball with lead singer Mike Score.

This go ’round, I thought I’d offer up a more obscure track from the band, one which didn’t appear on any of the three studio albums by the original foursome. The twitchy, neurotic Windows must have been a song that didn’t make A Flock Of Seagulls’ debut as, musically and lyrically, it’s very much in the vein of that album.

The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s

The La’s long ago secured their place as one of the more bizarre tales in the history of rock music. One album, despised by lead singer/songwriter Lee Mavers who bad-mouthed the critically-acclaimed album in interviews, minimal sales and scant attention.

Then, nothing. For twenty years there has been nothing but rumors of new music and strange stories about Mavers’ perfectionist ways scuttling the arrival of new music.

Now, The La’s are kind of a cool secret.

Most people are likely familiar with The La’s music from Sixpence None The Richer’s cover of There She Goes, but that version pales in comparison to the chiming goodness of the original. The La’s echoed the classic pop of the ’60s with the ringing guitars and effortless choruses and that lone album is now, like its influences, timeless.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Enola Gay
from In The Dark: The Best Of OMD

Paloma turned me on to OMD. I mean, I knew their hits like So In Love and If You Leave, but there was an entire body of work with which I was unfamiliar.

Anyhow, Enola Gay is a sprightly little number about the bombing of Hiroshima.