Early June 2017

“Turn up the fucking music” he screamed. “My heart feels like an alligator!”

“Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass!”

from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Music is important, especially on an absurdly long and open-ended road trip. Every journey needs a soundtrack. It is necessary to set the proper mood. It also necessary to have something playing that will keep the driver from dozing off, making an involuntary lane change, and crossing the rumble strip.

Karin and I were initially shocked to find out that our new Toyota Corolla had no CD player. Once again we had been blindsided by new technology. We had plenty of music. Unfortunately, it was all stored in a Fred Flintstone format. What would we listen to while driving through the hinterlands? Would we be forced to tune in to some redneck radio station that only played goat-roping music? Things looked bleak for the upcoming trip.

Stefan came to our rescue. He and Karin bought an iPod, and then Stefan showed us how to download our CDs on to this magical device. Hours later, we had 1553 songs on the iPod. Just enough to make through four weeks of white line fever.

We started the trip by programming the music selection on “shuffle”, which meant that the sound system would randomly pick a song from the extensive and diverse pool of tunes that we had downloaded. This proved to be too eclectic.  It is too hard for a person to go from listening to the ethereal voices of Anonymous 4 singing in Latin to hearing the lead singer of AC/DC scream, “Have a drink on me!”  It’s just too disorienting. Eventually, a problem developed with the interface between the iPod and the car stereo, and we were forced to listen to one album at a time. That was probably for the best.

Sometimes the music selection matched well with the terrain. We listened to the polkas of Frankie Yankovic as we drove through Ohio south of Cleveland. We heard Johnny Cash as we burned through Memphis. The Indigo Girls sang their lesbian folk songs through the arid wastes of west Texas on I-10. K.D. Lang belted out torch and twang in eastern Oregon. The baritone voice of Krishna Das chanted in Sanskrit while we crossed the endless plains of South Dakota. The deep-fried southern voice of Nanci Griffith crooned “Gulf Coast Highway” as we drove through a small town near Austin. The Reverend Willingham cried out to us near Nashville: “Can I have an Amen!?” Amen, Brother.

Sometimes the music choices were a little iffy, but they somehow seemed to fit. There is nothing like listening to Shirley Manson of Garbage roar “I’m Only Happy when it Rains” while driving along I-40 in Arkansas. It also felt good to hear James Brown wailing “Like a Sex Machine!” as we cruised through El Paso. The dark and intelligent lyrics of Timbuk3 kept me going while navigating the golden hills of California. The Yiddish dreams of the Klezmatics sounded fine while rolling over the blue hills of Kentucky. We enjoyed the divine weirdness of Dead Can Dance in New Mexico. I only regret that we did not record the B-52’s for the ride through Idaho (underground like a wild potato). Oh yeah…

Occasionally, Karin and I felt obliged to sing along with the music. We knew the German lyrics to “Muss I Denn” and “Zogen einst fuenf wilde Schwaene” from Zupfgeigenhansel. We remembered a few Beatles songs. It was almost impossible not to sing along with the chants of Krishna Das. It was also nearly impossible not to accelerate. Oddly enough, the liner notes on the Krishna Das CD cover attempt to absolve the musicians from causing a driver to use excessive speed on the highway. Listening to The Clash play “Brand New Cadillac” is likewise hazardous.

My best musical memory from the trip is of roaring through Wyoming and yelling out song lyrics, while Seal and Jeff Beck played their full-throttle version of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”.

“So, how does it feel?”


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