Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Music to Road Trip By

As appears in today's issue of the New School Free Press

During Spring Break, my girlfriend, Nadia, and I took a road trip down to Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, towns known for their blues and country music, respectively. Of course, on a trip like this, we'd need a lot of music for the nearly 20 hour drive to the mid-South.

Music on a road trip (especially when traveling nearly 3,000 miles) is as essential as the gas you put in your car. It's what keeps the driver awake when passengers sleep; it distracts from potentially awkward silences that could last for hours; and it's also just fun to sing along in the car with other people.

As Nadia doesn't have her license, I bore all of the driving responsibilities. So while she could sit reading her Cormac McCarthy in peace, I was left to concentrate on the road and consequentially had more control and mainly chose the music.

At 5 a.m. on Saturday, we began our trip with an epic song: "Hands Down" by Dashboard Confessional. I realize I'm putting all musical credibility on the line here, but it does really wake you up at that ungodly hour, mostly due to the hilarious sincerity of the song.

Nadia and I lucked out because a few weeks before our trip, one of our favorite bands, Wilco, performed five concerts in Chicago, performing every song on their studio releases. She downloaded the concerts, put them on her iPod, and we had roughly 150 songs to go through. I'll never forget the moment when I heard "Remember the Mountain Bed" performed during concert #3. Nadia was sleeping and I was fading, but when Jeff Tweedy began to sing, "Do you still sing of the mountain bed we made of limbs and leaves?," I was alert and completely immersed, as if I was in Chicago, not driving through North Carolina.

Having something like the Wilco concerts is great for a road trip because there's a common theme in the music, and a sense of accomplishment when you've gone through all the songs, like finishing a book.

Being in Memphis was perfect for a music lover, and I found a fantastic radio station: WEVL 89.9. In the span of two days, I heard Tom Waits, Ma Rainey, Hank Williams and Big Joe Turner, among many others. If you're going to be in a city for more than a single day, finding a great radio station is the best because you'll hear new music and it won't drain the battery on your iPod plugged into the cigarette lighter.

On the way home, the only thing keeping me going in the final hour was Derek and the Dominos and Traffic (especially "The Low-Spark of High-Heeled Boys") because by that point, I needed some of my favorite music for stamina, and that's what good road trip music should do: giving you something to concentrate on while you're driving through rural Ohio, passing Burger King #2,340.