I drove myself to town the other day. This may not seem like a blogworthy accomplishment. Allow me to clarify. I haven’t driven myself anywhere farther than the post office since last August. This is due to a number of factors, most of which are money and vehicle related. Also, I’m completely night blind, so there’s a time limit automatically imposed on any solo outings that I might wish to undertake. Which wouldn’t be as big an issue if everything in this part of the world weren’t so bloody far apart. For example, going to the bank, the most mundane of everyday errands, takes me two hours and twenty minutes, door-to-door. That’s on a day with good weather, good traffic, and minimal construction zones on these insanely winding mountain roads. All my other errands are another twenty minutes past the bank, give or take. So, on a day when I need to get home before sunset, I have to plan for five or more hours of driving. It’s maddening.
And yet, somehow, completely liberating. I feel like I just got off a locked ward. How strange. I’d kind of forgotten how much I love to drive. When I was younger, I spent more time in my car than anywhere else. Given that there’s not much to do in the town that I grew up in, we would “cruise” for fun. That term has a sort of 1950s nostalgic connotation, doesn’t it? Very American Graffiti. The loop between the Hardee’s and the Wal-Mart parking lot is only a few miles at the most, but anyone worth seeing would be somewhere along that route on any given evening. Unless it was summer, when we took to the forestry roads and tried to out-four-wheel each other in the mud and the gravel, until we finally settled on a suitable location to set things on fire and drink beer and listen to music. When I think of my friends back home, these are the images that come most immediately and most fondly to mind.
For the record, a 1976 Volkswagen Beetle will keep up with any Jeep ever made on a mudding trail. Just so you know.
Anyway. I was driving along the highway (which is on the edge of a two-thousand-foot death drop straight down into the river, with no guardrail), thinking about Bruce Springsteen. There’s a snippet in the speech Jon Stewart gave when Springsteen received the Kennedy Center Honor where Stewart says: “When you listen to Bruce’s music you aren’t a loser. You’re a character in an epic poem. About losers.” I had that going on the hamster wheel, thinking about losers, what constitutes loserdom, etc. I was thinking specifically about “Glory Days.” What a sad, sad song that is, one of many sad songs that Springsteen makes seem happy with great drumming and an ungodly amount of upbeat background piano. I’d never really dissected the lyrics before. But it’s really sad. Listen to that song again.
And then the damn song comes on the radio. Holy synchronicity, manbat.
Which of course got me thinking about driving music. I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live. It’s a great read. His stuff is awesome, cheeky and insightful. He tends to take a small idea and nail it to a bigger one with some sort of pop culture railroad spike, rather like I do here, only way better and on a bigger scale. Killing Yourself to Live is about a road trip he took to visit a bunch of places where rock and roll heroes have died. Six thousand miles of going from death site to death site, driving by himself, thinking about music, listening to music, equating art and love and death and stitching all these together with his own musical nostalgia. It’s really very well done, and you should check it out if you’re into music at all. Or death, I guess. But in this weird Springsteen-and-Klosterman-fueled haze I was in, I started to analyze my relationship to music and to driving.
So there’s sad driving music and happy driving music. Happy driving music tends to be what I call “happyslappy.” It’s usually something along the lines of: “Hey, we’re driving around and we’re carefree and we’re just having a good old time, y’all.” I don’t know why I put “y’all” on the end of that. Seemed fitting. This kind of music has its place. For whatever reason, it feels more appropriate in the summer. A mystery of life, that. But it’s also shallower or poppier or whatever your term for bubblegum is. Driving is merely an action in these songs. It’s just what they happen to be doing while they’re having a good old time. Y’all. And I enjoy this type of music, but I’ll admit that it goes in one ear and out the other. I think that might be the point of it. If it makes me smile and bounce around and sing like an idiot, it doesn’t matter if it’s horrible.
Sad driving music, on the other hand, uses driving as a metaphor. This can be subtle or it can be heavy-handed, but it always has to fucking mean something, even if it’s just as much a background action as it might be in the narrative of a happy song. “I’m driving around but because I’m sad, my driving around is an extension of my hopelessness, blah blah blah.” And I’ve wracked my poor brain, but I cannot think of an exception to this rule. Driving is liminal. You’re between things. You’re in limbo. Your body is focused (hopefully fairly intently) on the task at hand, but your brain is free to wander. This can be tremendously fruitful, all this thinky time. You’re on a mission. You have a goal. You have a destination. You’re going somewhere. Unless you’re not. All those years of preaching “Life’s a journey, not a destination” (thanks, Aerosmith), and, big surprise, I never got anywhere. Which is not to say that that philosophy doesn’t hold water, but after a while it feels a bit hollow. So many driving songs being sad makes some degree of sense, if one knows that there’s nothing meaningful waiting for one at the end of the trip, right? We say “I’m spinning my wheels” for a reason. The act of driving aimlessly is pitifully unproductive. Taking action just for the sake of taking action. To be doing something, anything. To just be moving. And while it’s almost masturbatory in its pointlessness, I miss it.
Anyway. I’m not sure that I actually had a goal when I started writing this post. I just had all these driving-related thoughts and had to aggregate them into one big blurt of things that are loosely connected. For your reading pleasure. Because I love you. But I will say this: any and all music is better when listened to at very high volume while speeding down a lonely highway. Fact. Go test that theory and get back to me. Make me a playlist. Because I’m off the ward now, bitches. Got my wheels back. It’s a good feeling. Really, surprisingly, incredibly good. And I will leave you with this. It will, without a doubt, get stuck in your head. You. Are. Welcome.