It’s necessary to be alone to become fully aware of the way that music recalls the past, provides a soundtrack to the present, and gives hope for the future.
For those of us who travel alone, music fills those empty nights closed in by the walls of concrete rooms. And it entrances us on long journeys by bus or rail, occupying the conscious mind and allowing insight to float up from the depths.
Some music is wrapped in memory right from the start. Those are the bits of local music you pick up along the way, the ones that trigger full stereophonic flashbacks of a particular bar, a beach or a dinner. Elvis Crespo’s Suavamente was the favourite of a waitress at a restaurant on a remote Caribbean island. Early Shakira brings back a barbecue party in Costa Rica where I was the guest of honour. And ‘Loleta’ by Eric Donaldson calls up ghosts of a Nicaraguan beach, where the beer bottles sweated cold drops of bottle sweat, and the pages of my book puffed with fine white grains; where sandflies bit our legs, but it was all too perfect and we’d drunk too much to care.
Listening to those songs back home in our hyper-cynical world of synthetic furniture and fake wood doesn’t cheapen sappy lyrics or reveal flaws in the mix. Instead, it brings it all back: the feelings, the slow lazy heatpace, the simplicity of life.
And then there’s the music you take along with you.
That music you’ve heard so many times that you know every note, every pluck of a guitar, and every tremor or hesitation in the singer’s voice. Those albums form the epic backing track of your trip. You listen to them over and over, and they soak up the landscape, the smells and the very feeling of the place. They colour the way you see it just as different shades of glass colour a sunny day.
My traveling soundtrack is invariably something by The Church.
Central America will always be Starfish and Gold Afternoon Fix.
My Mongolia is haunted by After Everything Now This and the b-sides of A Quick Smoke at Spots.
Japan is Remindlessness at 3am, when the writing was finished but I still couldn’t sleep.
Through the cracked dusty glass of so many jeep windows, the vast, meticulous soundscapes of The Church tinted my external landscape with emotion, even as the more poignant notes called up the melancholy of opportunities lost, of chances not taken, of phases recently come to a close.
The music imposed this on the countryside as it passed, and fused it into a total picture—a memory.
Travel is always connected with The Church. “Starfish” is a travel in itself, i don’t know any other album that is so much about leaving and arriving…and that without the songs being about travelling… it just generates that strange feeling about mysteriously leaving and then arriving in a totally different place. It’s not a nice journey, it’s full of question marks, desperation, the unknown. – “Heyday” is connected with the Alps in winter, probably my favourite place on earth. And then there is “Giant Normal Dwarf” by Dutch band The Nits (!), a synthetic féerique between XTC, Debussy and something totally surreal and mad. It takes you from a parallel universe Holland through space, time, old dusty physical collections, to the moon and back, to Finland, to paradise, to the bottom of a tomb and finally to a strange enchanted place called The Infinite Shoeblack. Methodical madness.
Harry Belafonte. Island in the Sun. Perfection.
Thanks John! I’ll look it up.
Yeah, dead on about Starfish. That feeling of dislocation, of longing, questions, uncertainty. I think that’s why I loved it right from the start. It spoke to that same place in me. I’m going to check out Giant Normal Dwarf – that sounds like a strange trip!
Okay…I’m old and don’t know any of the music you’re talking about! I’ll have to find them all on YouTube, I guess. I do so love a road trip and for me, there’s nothing better than listening to Jimmy Buffett as loud as possible while I drive. In the wilderness, though, I want quiet so I can listen to the sounds of the wind in the pines, the rushing snow melt as it courses over rocks, and maybe the howl of a wolf at night. Those things are perfect music to me.
Nothing better than the sound of the wind, or the howl of a wolf. I mostly tune in to music on long drives. Especially if I’m sharing a jeep with other people. The headphones let me pull back and carve out a space for myself, even in a crowd.
Travel music: the Dixie Chicks, while driving in a big red pickup truck, up the highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks Alaska, with a frontier-woman friend who would stop and fish at promising creeks off the highway and who didn’t seem intimidated by bears! That’s something I’ll never forget, and any Dixie Chicks music conjures up that road trip for me…wide open spaces, moose, Denali on a clear day…
That’s a great story Patty – and what a great soundtrack for your trip. I still haven’t been to Alaska. Closest I got was the Northwest Territories in Canada. It looks like an incredible place.
Since I usually only ever fly to my fiancé in Ohio, I usually listen to anything by Great Big Sea to keep my fear of flying at bay, I miss my St Lawrence River desperately down there, so I like River’s Edge by Great Lake Swimmers. And to help calm me, the beautiful voice of Loreena McKennitt usually does the trick.
In the car, I love my oldies but goodies, such as Piece of my Heart by Janis Joplin, Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road, Bruce Springsteen to name just a few.. I also love anything by today’s 30 Seconds To Mars. And I must add the great troubadours, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, and the great Harry Chapin. Their songs are timeless, a time when music was pure, honest and simpler. Songs that were stories of things gained and lost. These three singers were true musical artists.