20,000 Mile Playlist07/13/2009 at 12:39 am | Posted in Music, News & Explanations, Stories from the Road | 5 Comments
I used to be not-a-great-driver, hiding in the ranks of those humble, honest few who rate themselves below average behind the wheel. A Facebook quiz would show my driving style to be “cowardly space cadet,” because frankly, cars scare me. All of them.*
Not any more.
Last year I drove more than three hours solo for the first time ever, from Seattle to Portland (with traffic of course). I stopped for free coffee in the rest area, sweating and hoping I wouldn’t lose focus and total the car. I was terrified the whole way.
Last week I completed a road trip that took three months, on which I averaged 1,666.7 miles and 3 packages of wasabi soy almonds per week. I drove 85% of the time, and navigated in every major metropolitan area north and west of Texas, save Las Vegas, which you can keep.
(Road trip music playlist below. Some of it’s life-changing.)
What do you learn from an experience like that? A lot. I have aphorisms by the bundle if you dig those: What others can do, I probably can too, given enough coffee. / Necessity is the mother of courage. / Growing up doesn’t feel like being mature & in control, but rather like waking up to realize you’ve done things you thought you couldn’t. / People are mostly gracious and kind in proportion to your own gratitude and kindness. / Road trips aren’t like the movies, except for when they are. / Even in new surroundings and among total strangers, you find a way to filter your company, and you mostly miss meeting truly different people. / Cars may or may not respond to verbal encouragement, but no one will ever convince me they don’t. / You can’t park for free. / This country is gorgeous all over, and not nearly as big as I thought. Canada? Now that’s big. (Listen when I’m talking at you, Texas.)
Mostly I learned how deeply distance is mental, not physical. I often covered 500 miles during the day to play a show the same night in, say, Denver (hypothetical). And I had friends living on the other side of Denver, or 20 miles outside of it, who insisted it was “a shame I couldn’t come do a concert closer to them, and they’d catch me next time.” I don’t get bitter about a slight like that, but I do feel a little sorry when geography has such a hold on people.
So often folks got stars in their eyes when talking with me about doing all that traveling. “Living the dream,” they’d say, in every city. But I wondered: are you actually dreaming of traveling all over, or of rejecting the life you’ve built so far and leaving it behind? Because if it’s travel you dream of, nothing’s stopping you. Gas is not THAT expensive. What’s five hours from you that’s interesting? Take a weekend and go see it, for goodness’ sakes. It’s good for your soul, good for your love of home, good for your kids or parents. I grew up road tripping with my family, and I suppose I took it for granted that you can fall asleep in Oregon and wake up in California without buying a plane ticket. There are people everywhere who don’t have faith in this simple physical fact.
How were the concerts? The concerts were concerts! They were lots of fun. A YouTube search will tell you more than I could, since some folks have posted video. House concerts are nearly always the best if you ask me. Even though I played some great venues, Poor David’s Pub in Dallas, Lestat’s in San Diego, the Chai House in Seattle, nothing compares to the fun of meeting people at home. I played for tens and fifties and hundreds, and almost never had what I’d count a “bad” or “not worthwhile” gig. So — successful tour! The second half of it was financially self-sustaining, too, thanks to all of you.
After seeing most every major city in the west (except Las Vegas), I can conclude with certainty that I’m happiest in Anchorage. Being home is so good. It took seven grueling days of driving to get back home, and it’ll be the same to escape again, but I have no interest in moving. Alaska is home for now. I’m trying to pick up pieces of the tour, get some sleep, book new shows, and start scratches of the new album that will be my baby for the next 6-9 months.
My own personal Infinite Playlist was very important 0n this trip, because my car had no iPod input. I revisited my CD collection, which I haven’t done in quite a long time. And I listened to it for hundreds of hours. So here’s the list of albums that just would not leave the 6-CD rotation:
- Kristina Morland‘s Pidgin Music — easily my favorite of the trip, which I almost never say. And she’s an unheard-of artist too. Go get her.
- Jukebox the Ghost‘s Live and Let Ghosts — I always wanted to start long driving days with tracks 1, 2, and 4.
- Joanna Newsom‘s Milk-Eyed Mender — My desert island disc #1
- Camille‘s Le Fil — My desert island disc #2
- St. Vincent‘s Marry Me and Actor — Marry Me may have my favorite production values & chord progressions of the last 3 years
- Danny Schmidt‘s Instead the Forest Rose to Sing – Wins Marian’s favorite twisty lyrics award
- Shaun Cromwell‘s The Turning of Clocks — Shaun’s a relative unknown who needs your investigation. Sounds a bit like Kelly Joe Phelps.
- Jenny Owen Youngs‘ Batten the Hatches
- The Second Grace (self-titled)
- Kris Delmhorst‘s Songs for a Hurricane — My desert island disc #5
- Peter Mulvey‘s Kitchen Radio
- Sufjan Stevens‘ Avalanche and Seven Swans
- Madeleine Peyroux‘s Half the Perfect World
- A musical I’d never heard of called The Last Five Years, in which a woman tells a love story backwards and a man tells it forwards.
- Evan Phillips‘ Songs from Lake Lucille
- Laura Veirs‘ Saltbreakers
- Gillian Welch‘s Soul Journey
- The Beatles’ Abbey Road
- Hadag Nachash‘s Chomer M’komi
- Jars of Clay‘s If I Left the Zoo (I’m less a fan of their other albums, but this one is a standout that has stuck with me over time.)
- Norah Jones‘s Not Too Late
- Andrew Bird‘s Noble Beast
- Sixpence None the Richer (self-titled)
- Rilo Kiley‘s Takeoffs & Landings
- Elvis Perkins‘ Ash Wednesday
- Erin McKeown‘s Grand
- All of Joni Mitchell
- Lyle Lovett‘s Joshua Judges Ruth
- Sarah Harmer‘s You Were Here — My desert island disc #10
- And NPR whenever it was available, of course
I listen to more hard rock and rap than you might expect, too, but it doesn’t get put on repeatedly like this stuff. Links will be up later.
I’m trying to think of more to write about the trip, but I suppose I need some questions to answer, because I share my random thoughts about travel & geography on Twitter for the most part. So ask away! Blog entry on the new album coming soon.
All my best –
*Ex. 1: When my Mom drove with me to college in 2000, I happened to be behind the wheel when we first hit the freeway near Oakland (it was one of those freeways ending in -80, for you who will ask). I saw six lanes going in one direction for the first time in my life, so I hyperventilated, pulled off into Hayward somewhere, and got lost in construction for an hour. Mom took over. Ex. 2: I walked and rode the bus in Alaskan winter for six months to avoid learning how to drive the manual car my husband bought.