“But in looking back at the places I’ve been, the changes that I’ve left behind I look at myself to find I’ve learned the hard way every time.” ~Jim Croce~
The open road always beckons me. Mostly I keep the call of it at bay, but sometimes the need to be driving somewhere, anywhere can catch hold of my heart and not let go. There’s nothing as satisfying as steering over old familiar routes—or better yet to make a zig or zag over previously untaken roads. The wayfaring hunger in me constantly craves to be fed.
If I had the ways and means to do so I’d invest much more time and money behind the wheel than current circumstances allow. I presently have tons of time available, but cash flow limitations keep me close to home base—in other seasons when money wasn’t so tight my schedule was jammed to the max.
Funny how that regularly seems to work the same way—we never get our time and money issues into alignment to freely engage in the stuff that soothes and inspires. What invigorates me is to make an escape into the wilds of wide open spaces for no other reason than to have a look around. Seeing a new chunk of countryside is good for my soul.
Roadtrips are always accompanied by a playlist. I don’t know that I’ve ever been on a jaunt that didn’t result in at least one song getting forever identified by the site or situation upon hearing it. Some tunes are more memorable than others, but each has made its mark on me.
Music is a huge part of my life—I can’t play a note, carry a tune, or grasp the simplest All Good Boys Deserve Fudge dynamics, but something in my upbringing or wiring makes me appreciate the craft of songwriting and often I’m amazed by a subtle tone or phrase in the presentation.
At the deepest imaginable level I respond to and am sustained by poetic musings hooked to melody. Some find this peculiarity of mine discombobulating, but all I can do is quote that renowned philosopher Popeye the Sailorman: “I am what I am and that’s what I am.”
What follows is a miniscule sampling of favorite road songs. Do not be at all surprised that the featured artists are either moldering in their graves or creaking along being fueled by shooters of Geritol—the soundtrack of my life could be gathered together in multiple boxed sets entitled, Songs By Old Or Dead People.
The Hard Way Every Time
“Cause I’ve had my share of good intentions and I’ve made my share of mistakes. And I’ve learned at times it’s best to bend, cause if you don’t well those are the breaks. Should have listened to all the things I was told, but I was young and too proud at the time. Now I look at myself to find I’ve learned the hard way every time . . .” ~Jim Croce~
Jim Croce’s reflections are deeply personal jewels. He was the first singer-songwriter I shared with the strawberry-blonde destined to put up with and sometimes even come close to comprehending my complex idiosyncrasies. Anita and I met at a camp in some rolling hills north of New York City. That summer—1973—Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown was a hit and getting lots of airplay on WABC.
For reasons having to do with the heart Croce’s music became important to us. He was at the height of his popularity and though many others around us were fans, we sloughed off their interest with a shrug because they were not privy to the special connection we had to his songs. Time In A Bottle naturally developed into our song. Young and crazy in love, with hormones jumping like popcorn, we carried on a far-removed bi-national romance in an era before today’s electronic wizardry. There was no such thing as e-mail, Skype, cell phones, Facebook, or Google machines. Long distance calls were few and far between because those were expensive and reserved only for emergencies. Three hundred-some miles separated us. For periods of many months our communications would be entirely at the mercy of the postal service. Watching and waiting to check the daily mail had a talisman-like quality for both of us. Letters were written and read with a yearning glee that had no restrictions or boundaries—our secret dreams and emotions were stripped naked long before we actually shed our clothes.
Now forty years and counting later, with more miles logged than can be counted we remain together and remarkably still like each other with an abiding passion. In a neat weaving together of personalities, Anita enjoys putting on wandering shoes too. It’s never difficult to persuade her it’s time to be on the road again—she reads the antsy signs in me.
Metaphorically speaking, in our life together there’s been sweet stretches of grassy pastures, but between those spells, we’ve been over pothole riddled laneways, up and over steep hills, through jagged valleys, and navigated our way around a whole whack of ditches. It seems that we’ve done most of our growing traveling on gravel roads where love either deepens or dies. Ours has dug spiderweb roots that are intertwined and always spreading out—taking all the turns into consideration, the hard way every time road has been good to us.
Snowin’ On Raton
“Mother thinks the road is long and lonely. Little brother thinks the road is straight and fine. Little darling thinks the road is soft and lovely. I’m thankful that old road is a friend of mine. Bid the years goodbye you cannot still them. You cannot turn the circles of the sun. You cannot count the miles until you feel them and you cannot hold a lover that is gone. . .” ~Townes Van Zandt~
An old friend and fellow rambler nicknamed Fire In The Eyes—who tagged me as Dances With Corn—introduced me to Townes Van Zandt. It was a return favor—I’d given him a head’s up on John Prine. All things being equal it was a relational win-win, thank you very much.
Without question, the late Townes Van Zandt was one of the finest songwriters Texas ever produced, which is the highest praise possible since the Lone Star State has blessed the world with a plethora of exceptional rhythm and rhymers. Van Zandt had a rule when it came to creating a song—the lyrics had to work as a poem first. Until the words came together into stand alone poetry, there’d be no notes or chords. That old-school discipline gave birth to a large collection of story-song masterpieces, which have been recorded by giants in the industry.
Snowin’ On Raton evokes the classic getaway emotions—it’s all about leaving and moving on to the next place for no other reason than the weather changed. When I first heard it, wanderlust came alive—there could be no denying the yearning need in me.
Then as the road would have it, in 2004 we rode Amtrak from Illinois to California over a slice of the Santa Fe Trail. The tracks took us through the Raton Pass—it’s almost 8000 feet above sea level, located between Trinidad, Colorado and Raton, New Mexico on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We had opportunity to disembark in Raton and stroll around a bit.
The sightseeing lit up my imagination—it was summertime so there was no snow on the wall of mountains. However, Van Zandt’s words were playing on a jukebox inside my head. The imagery was vibrant—“It’s snowin’ on Raton, come morning I’ll be through those hills and gone.” I could easily envision the rocky slopes capped in white as snow tumbled out of a gray, heavy-laden sky.
It was while on our walkabout I discovered that Ratón is Spanish for mouse, or more accurately, small rat. That knowledge made me smile and stifle a laugh, but has never diminished the beauty, wonder and longing Snowin’ On Raton ignites in my bloodstream—I’m thankful that old road is a friend of mine.
“I caught this ramblin’ fever long ago, when I first heard a lonesome whistle blow. If someone said I ever gave a damn, they damn sure told you wrong. I’ve had ramblin’ fever all along. Ramblin’ fever, the kind that can’t be measured by degrees. Ramblin’ fever, there ain’t no kind of cure for my disease . . .” ~Merle Haggard~
This one is a no-brainer. Riding the rails with Merle Haggard seems as normal to me as breathing. In the 1960s Haggard had the rebel stance before outlaw became fashionable in country music. His hard driving and edgy Bakersfield Sound got ingrained in me. CHOW, the AM news and music beacon of the Niagara Peninsula dominated our household, and filled the airwaves with honky tonk fiddles and steel guitars.
I grew up a half-mile from a spur of the Canadian National Railway—that lonesome whistle beckoned me all through my growing up years. It infected me with a fever that can’t be measured by degrees—neither is there any kind of cure for my disease.
One large difference between me and the attitude of this particular song is that I do give a damn. If I didn’t give a damn, then many years and miles ago constraints would’ve been jettisoned and I’d be free to drift along on the currents of whimsy. If that laissez-faire approach was possible in me, then even now, it would always be good-bye time again. Deadlines, commitments, and the expectations of family and friends would all be put on the backburner, or more likely, if I really didn’t give a damn, being dependable or steadfast would never be factored into the equation of my life.
The echoes of a long ago whistle blows inside my head and I desperately want to follow it to feed the fever, but nature and nurture instilled a dilemma in me—obligations require my attention. No matter how loud or insistent the melancholy wail, engaging in fly-by-night behavior has seldom if ever been an option for me.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on perspective and mood, my makeup would never permit footloose and fancy-free living. My genetic code contains a raging thread of hypersensitive responsibility that never releases me—it’s forever at odds with aimless meanderings. Striking a balance is always a challenge, though without a doubt, appeasing the lure of the road gets shortchanged. Perhaps a season will come when toeing the line and hitting the marks won’t conflict with the ramblin’ fever burning in my veins.
Any one or all of these musical treasures could be performed at my funeral or memorial service. If so, be assured that inside that brass-handled box, I’ll be wearing a big sloppy grin—or if the decision-makers have me cremated, then my ashes will be doing a happy jig in the urn.
These three are merely small examples of songs meaningful to me—signposts along the trails of my journey. Most certainly at some unknown juncture on the road ahead I’ll revisit this territory, which will result in an exploration of another batch of rambling songs.
Until then, I’ll press onward and upward, with an eye over a shoulder to keep looking back at the places I’ve been, the changes that I’ve left behind