I am not especially organized when it comes to car music. This is problematic on a long trip. See, I don’t have the technology to use my iTunes in the car, or stream satellite radio, or anything fancy like that. In the car, it’s cd’s or radio or me singing to Dawg, or nothing. I have a red box full of cd’s, and they get scuffed and spilled under the seats, and I have to root through fifty or so to find the ones I want. I’ll upgrade in my next car. That next car is a long way away, so for now, I’m not proud. It’s the red box.
It’s a double challenge when traveling, because you have to match your music to the trip. It’s the same with books. When I traveled around the world, I had a book for each country. It was a ridiculous plan, with all the precious baggage weight allotment they took up. It was worth the hassle, though, to read Siddartha again visiting the Buddhist temple Borabudur in Indonesia, and West With the Night in Africa, and so forth. (I had a lot, I mean a lot, of sitting-and-waiting-in-airports time. Those books saved me, along with crossword puzzles.) I’m not reading much on a road trip, so it’s music keeping me company.
At Merlefest a couple of years back, every single set had a gypsy song in it somewhere, just as I was trying to decide what to call this blog. All the gypsy songs sealed the deal. I can’t remember an overarching theme last year, but this year it was definitely train songs. Every set I heard had at least one train song, as if they’d all agreed on it ahead of time, but I know they didn’t. I’ve wanted to hop a train out of town before after Eilen Jewell sang Dusty Boxcar Wall at Berkely, but the train song she did at Merlefest this year was twice that potent. I was on the lawn with the girls, first set of the day at the Americana stage, and I was torn up from the beginning of that one. The girls all looked at me. “Pull it together, KB. It’s not even 10 am,” they said. But they know that train songs always get me.
Not like car songs, though. A car song makes me weak in the knees. Thunder Road. Me and Bobby McGee. Won’t Be Home. One zillion others.
Leaving Merlefest Sunday and heading west in the rain, I wanted Merlefest music back, so I listened to Peter Rowan, and then both of my new Honeycutters cds. I was trying to find the song that was playing when Julia and I walked up to the Creekside Stage to get ourselves situated. “Do you HEAR what they’re singing?” I asked her. “Totally,” she said. And then we spread out our blankets and I was all, “ARE YOU LISTENING TO THIS?” and she confirmed that she was, and then they kept going and I continued to badger Julia with “OMG. Do you hear that? Are they seriously writing about me? Did we just have a conversation about that? Did I just say that to you yesterday?” and she patiently said, “Yes to all of that.” And then they sang a song about a gypsy and I was all “!!!” and Julia agreed. So I had to listen to their cds more than once.
Coming into Nashville felt very Johnny Cash, so I had to listen to his greatest hits. And I woke up in Nashville with Willie on my mind, and I played the Phosphorescent cd of Willie Nelson covers that Veronica gave me. Which I just plain love. I played it more than once.
Cutting across Tennessee into Kentucky it was Yarn, which is great outlaw music, and that was about the time I got pulled. For the first time this trip.
Missouri felt like Jim Croce, for some reason. His character studies are my favorite, but there’s not one song of his I don’t love. I kind of got stuck on “Rapid Roy” after my speeding incident, with “He do a hundred thirty mile an hour, smilin’ at the camera with a toothpick in his mouth” being my favorite. That man? Knows how to tell a story.
I think it was in Oklahoma that I had to stop for more music. I played Chicago 17 just for pure nostalgia, and some of it is awful, and some of it absolutely holds up. And then I switched to Merle Haggard, for the sheer joy of outlaw country, and that is when I got pulled for the second time.
Waylon and Willie were the only people I wanted coming from Oklahoma into Amarillo. Those boys understand Texas. And I love them.
We hit Cadillac Ranch, and Dawg and I celebrated and had a photo shoot (Dawg was a little freaked out and barked a lot at the front car, I think it’s haunted,) and we turned around and headed east. All I wanted, after the grittiest part of Route 66 in Amarillo, was Quiet Quiet Quiet.
And then suddenly I realized that I was driving through east Texas while failing to listen to the Old 97’s. And so I blasted Alive and Wired, and Dawg and I sung along at the top of our lungs. When we got to One Old Brown Shoe, we were actually on 35 South. Pure honky tonk joy.
It was two day’s drive home from Amarillo. The stop-at-every-whim part of the trip was behind us, and Dawg and I were just trying to cram as many miles in as we could each day while staying on the right side of the law. There was a lot of driving and thinking, and a little less soundtrack. In my head I started about a hundred honky-tonk songs. They were all entitled things like “East Out of Nashville,” and “Amarillo By Morning,” and “One Hundred Miles to Texarkana” and all sorts of other beautiful place-sounding songs. I have maybe one line of each. (I am not actually a songwriter.)
Until our last driving day, and I had to listen to my favorite song from the Honeycutters about a thousand more times. This verse, ” Well I bought myself a brand new pair of blue jeans, ‘cause I’m tired of being righteous, playing every game for keeps. But most of all I’m tired of riding shot gun in my dreams,” may or may not have been written entirely with me in mind, but wow. Another perfect car song.
And now? Home sweet home. And that’s a different sound track altogether.