“jefferson, i think we’re lost”
Today I’m thinking about context, and a sense of time and place. I sometimes wonder if I am one of the only music geeks in the world who has the fairly regular inclination to see if a piece of music fits a place or setting, or vice versa – what music fits the location.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m in the middle of a driving trip cross-country. For music, I’m using the iPod in the car, and while it is wonderful to have pretty much anything I could ever want to hear… it does take some of the adventure and planning and forethought out of the thing. When I went to Europe for the first time, I oh so carefully made sure I had a tape of “Heroes” so I could walk around Berlin listening to it (and I have to tell you, walking up to the Berlin Wall [this was just before the wall fell] listening to “Heroes” on headphones was one of my all time mindblowing experiences. You don’t know how well that album truly fit that city, was a soundtrack to that city.
But this trip, aside from the obvious – i.e., yes, I’ll be listening to Nebraska tomorrow morning at sunrise as I cross the Wyoming-Nebraska border – I hadn’t really thought about it all that much. I mean, I didn’t have to, I was going to have it all with me.
This meant trying out the album shuffle feature – except that in this case, after a lovely unexpected interlude with Who’s Next in northeast Oregon – my iPod decided to shuffle compilation albums (e.g., Decade and Tracks ), which is not quite what I had in mind with the album shuffling thing.
I left Boise at the ungodly hour of 7am this morning. I knew I needed something to keep me awake, but I think I might just be past the age where I’d just shove Raw Power on the turntable and blast myself awake. (Notice how I said “I might”. I make no promises.) I don’t remember what I was originally looking for, but when I was in the D’s, Dim Stars, Bright Sky caught my eye, and even with as much as I adore that record, nothing prepared me for the experience of this record at sunrise over the beginning of the prairieland, interspersed with this amazing unexpected stereotypically western scenery (you know… the red rocks and mesa-type things, all of which I started to dub as “Western shit,” for lack of a better term.) John Doe has said that he feels like he should be entitled to collect mail along Interstate 5, and maybe that’s why this record fit so well in a rolling Western landscape; most of the album was probably composed as he drove through one.
The masochist in me went for Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker next, and I got through it, gritted teeth and all – I love that record and I haven’t been able to listen to that record since December and I wanted that fucking record back. So I took it back, rolling through Southern Idaho, not believing that I was really actually doing this. I was going to listen to Stranger’s Almanac after that (well, kind of a familiar theme) but then I got a phone call, and with the terrain, that one call took about four. By the time we were done I was not in a Whiskeytown mood, and I was almost at the Utah border.
“On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert…”
I thought of that line yesterday and I was just waiting to cross the state line and see some real Utah desert and listen to “Promised Land”; I had a notion that all of Darkness on the Edge of Town was going to fit this landscape, so as soon as I saw the “Welcome To Utah” sign, “Badlands” came rolling out of the speakers. I hit shuffle again after that, and “You’re a Big Girl” began – I took it as a sign and cued up all of Blood on the Tracks…. and in case you were wondering, yeah. That worked.
The rest of the day wasn’t that planned; it was based on my mood and my level of energy, and mostly I stayed with the random track playlist, aside from a stop in Little America, Wyoming (hence the title of this piece). Bowie – does NOT work in this context at all. Iggy – not any Bowie tracks and none of the New York ones, either; in fact, nothing NYC flavored, except the Ramones, worked today. (So what does that say about the Ramones? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?) About halfway through Wyoming, in the middle of this uber-Dances-With-Wolves-type majestic scenery, it hit me:
Yes, I admit that Exile is an obsession. Yes, I think that you should always have a copy of Exile on Main Street with you at all times. (And with the iPod now, it’s hardly as dramatic or significant a statement as it used to be… what we give up in the name of progress.) But there’s a reason for that: it honestly is an album for all time and all seasons and transcends just about anything and everything. I had an unbelievable experience with Exile on a ferryboat between islands in the South of Thailand two years ago which proved to me that this record will stand up to and enhance and be transformed by just about anything. And today, of course, it did not let me down, either. It just expanded to fit the space I gave it, which was everything. It’s amazing to me that this record does not sound dated (which I guess is kind of a contradiction, it’s just that everyone today wants to sound like Exile, or at least try).
[Sidebar: Did you know that Lester Bangs thought Exile was a piece of crap when it came out? I’m serious. Yes, this means I’m working my way through the anthology; more later.]
I write this from Cheyenne, where I arrived and dreamed of pulling a Sonic Youth on the local record stores (they used to love going to small towns and finding a record store and cleaning them out) and going in search of a Goodwill and finding cool, dirt-cheap western shirts, but alas I arrived too late. I wish I’d gotten some beer from the grocery store, because now I could really use one.
Here’s a secret: my heart is honestly almost pounding in anticipation of hearing Nebraska in Nebraska tomorrow. I swear. I am really excited about this.
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