Thursday, April 21, 2011

On the Road Again

May the wind take your troubles away.
May the wind take your troubles away.
Both feet on the floor two hands on the wheel,
May the wind take your troubles away. 
Cars and music. Could one exist without the other? Stop for a moment and look back on your life. How many times have song and road converged to perfection? More than you can remember? Think back on the soaring highs and crashing lows you've lived with your hands on the wheel, music in your ears, and the road before you. There is just something about the strictly mechanical act of driving when coupled with the free rhythmic flow of music. It's a very situational thing. Mountain curves, long straight shots across plains, fast songs, slow songs, happy songs, sad songs, morning, night, driving fast, driving slow, sitting still. You just never know when the road and music will join in harmony.

Alone or with others, sometimes we feel the discomfort of being able to find nothing to listen to. You dig through your CD's, you scan your iPod, you search through Sirius (all while carefully watching the road, of course), but you find nothing that fits the mood; nothing that can translate the doldrums of the moment into some higher joy or understanding. You have little to do but sit and half listen to whatever is on. No fun.

Then there are the times that you create with a calculated play. Think back to a random Friday night at some point in your very young adulthood. Four people in the car, all big fans of the same band. You've all grilled out on the back deck and gotten yourself "ready" for the night. It's time to go. The bar is waiting and "people" are "out" who you most certainly want to see. The night is young and calling. It's dusk on a summer eve and cicadas are yielding to crickets. You load up in your friend's SUV. It's got a really good sound system. He cranks it up and rolls down the windows. It's time to _go_. He hands you a book of CD's. Flip, too mellow. Flip, nobody knows this stuff. Flip, too aggressive. Flip, bingo. It's the perfect CD. Casey Kasem himself could do no better. You put it in and flip straight to That Track. As soon as the first note floats out of the speakers, smiles break out and heads start to bob. If you've really done well, high fives are exchanged. Of you _go_.  Little talking. Stop lights, turns, left, right, you could ride for hours (so long as the bars stayed open while you did). Nothing random about it. You chose the tune but its perfect nonetheless.

Sometimes, music and driving combine to form joy. Recall going on a really good date with someone you had a crush on in your youth. Good times, plenty of laughing, never an awkward moment. You drop her off and it is obvious the date has gone juuuuust right. Perhaps you get a kiss good night and a promise of another date in the future. You walk back to your car trying not to skip and hop - gotta look cool. You non-chalantly throw the key in the door as the porch light goes out. As your butt hits the seat and the door slams shut, you stop, take a deep breath, then let out a suppressed smile. You crank the car exclaiming "yes!" between clenched teeth - gotta look cool. You'd been listening to the oldies station to keep things upbeat and fun. As you crank the car, the joy of your moment is greeted by the quiet little arpeggio that begins Dobie Gray's "Drift Away." The road unreels before you in a ribbon of unadulterated glee.
Give me the beat boy and free my soul,
I wanna get lost in your rock 'n' roll and drift away!
Sometimes, however, we drive when we are sad. How many times have you left somewhere in your car feeling crushed for one reason or another? Think back to when you were young. You've just left a party where you found out you'd been betrayed by someone you thought was your friend. Gut punch. Bad feeling. Furious, embarrassed, and hurt, you get in your car to head out. You are done with the disloyal scad. Finished. Friendship over. Your other (more loyal) friends run out to the car and beg you to say, but you brush them off and peel out of the driveway. You grab the first tape you can reach in the passenger seat and jam it into the deck without looking. After five seconds of hiss, your rage is fermented by the first notes of "Rearviewmirror" by Pearl Jam.  
I took a drive today
Time to emancipate
  . . . .
I seem to look away
Wounds in the mirror waved
It wasn't my surface most defiled
Head at your feet, fool to your crown
Fist on my plate, swallowed it down
Enmity gaged, united by fear
Tried to endure what I could not forgive
Saw things, so much clearer
Once you, were in my... rearviewmirror...
The music gives you a frame of reference. The further you drive, the more you understand. By the time you get to wherever you are going, the enlightenment of the music combined with the elixir of the open road and the wind in your face has calmed you down; composed you. Everything is going to be okay. How many times has it happened to you?  

But then there are Those Times. The perfect moments of serendipity where road and song join into one. Those Times could never be planned or created. Cameron Crowe painted this picture for us perfectly. Think the "Tiny Dancer" scene in Almost Famous - music and asphalt combined to form enlightenment. I had my own such moment in the late summer of 1994. My dear friend Zackary and I had gotten off of our senior cruise and set out for summer school in Athens not a week later. Taking my cue from a "Top ____ Albums of all Time!" list in Entertainment Weekly, one of the first things I did in Athens was pick up a super special collector edition copy of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street" album on my first trip to Wuxtry Records. (Much, much more on this in future editions).  It was an exceedingly hard time in my young life for many reasons. Times were just bad. I finished summer school and drove my sister Beth's '91 Accord down to Panama City to meet my family for a beach trip. I was emotionally banged up and my head was not in the trip (or anything else). One night way after dark, I had to get away. I took the Accord out by myself. Turning left out of the resort onto highway 30, I rolled down all the windows, and soaked up the steamy haze of an August night on the Florida panhandle. I rode in silence for awhile. Somewhere out near Laguna Beach, the traffic starts to thin, the road starts to open up, and you can actually see the ocean. I gained speed and the tires started humming to the road, barely audible over the roar of the wind. The moon was low in the cloudless sky. Metallic sprinkles of light reflected off of the rippled black glass surface of the ocean to my left. The garish lights of the resorts in town put a glow in the sky behind me. It was one of those times in your young life when walking around strength seems hard to summon and your soul feels threadbare. The Accord had one of those old Pioneer six disc changers mounted in the trunk, and I had no idea what whoever drove the car last had been listening to as I stabbed the volume/power knob and turned it up. A whirling, dreamlike flutter reached out of the speakers and grabbed me followed by the straight shot of a drunken singer's voice:
Saw you stretched out in Room Ten O Nine
With a smile on your face and a tear right in your eye.
Oh, couldn't see to get a line on you, my sweet honey love.
Berber jew'lry jangling down the street,
Making bloodshot eyes at ev'ry woman that you meet.
Could not seem to get a high on you, my sweet honey love. 
May the good Lord shine a light on you,
Make every song (you sing) your favorite tune.
May the good Lord shine a light on you,
Warm like the evening sun. 
For that unforgettable moment in time, everything was okay. The music and the road converged into one. "Warm, like the evening sun."  

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