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September 2nd, 2004


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10:37 pm - they wanted the highway
Every major event in life, every stage, every moment to remember has its own theme song. A crisp September night lit up with blinking lights, filled with the smell of fried foods and the feel of cold metal as I cling to the railing while waiting to ride the Flying Swings, will always be set to Guns N Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine as that's all the loud carny ride ops played one year when I went to the Big E, the New England State Fair.

Actually, the Big E has a few soundtrack songs for me -- Paul Simon's Call Me Al was all I heard in 1986, but Prince's U Got The Look a year or so later really hit home because that was the first year I spent at the fair on my own. One of the first enticing moments of adolescent freedom and I got it set to Prince and, the next time around, Axl and Slash and where do we go, where do we go now, where do we go...

I guess I'd call all three early autumn soundtrack songs. Every time I hear one of them I huddle down in my ultra-cool jeans jacket and try and catch up with my best friend Craig so we can go on the pirate ship one more time.

Most of my memorable soundtrack songs are autumnal -- Spacehog's In The Meantime will be forever linked to my first Phall Phun Phest weekend in 1998, though the song's real power took place after the event itself, when I went to Dorney Park. The damn thing couldn't have been timed better, because I caught my first amazing glimpse of the beautiful and majestic Steel Force, one of my favorite hypercoasters of all time, just as the song finishes its intro and kicks into high gear, forever searing itself into the musical recesses of my mind. Then I went and rode the ride and for the entire time I was on the coaster that day, I heard nothing but In The Meantime in my head.

It was, as they say, a religious experience.

There was a summer song that got me, though. I hear tell most people get summer songs as their soundtracks, and I guess I am no exception. In July of 1998 I paid a month's rent, told my housemates to please feed the cats and empty the litterbox if it got too full, hopped in my car, and pointed it west. I was 23, just finished the most lucrative contractor job I'd ever had up to that point, and was flush with $10,000 in the bank. I was 23.

I've since been a firm believer in the fact that everyone needs a solitary road trip in their early 20s. I don't care for how long or for where to; just go. Drive. Drive on your own. Live on your own. Book hotel rooms on your own. Nap overnight at a rest area if you need to (but be prepared to be woken up at 3 AM by some dude rappin on your window askin for a dollar so he can "get some gas and take his asthmatic wife down the road." Whatever, dude, here's a buck, don't shiv me or nothin.) You learn so much about yourself that way.

I visited the Jack Daniels distillery. I SAW ROCK CITY, as the painted barns exhort. I visited the House On The Rock and came out of it with a better appreciation of beer, as they served Leinie's Red halfway through the tour. I made a point to stop at every amusement park I saw along the way, with the exception of Kansas City's Worlds of Fun because I hit KC in rush hour and wanted nothing more than to just freakin' get through the damn thing. I visited Toad Suck Square (sup Ellie.) I played Haunted Mini-Golf. I went to Cedar Point for the first time. I drove through Oklahoma at night, playing high-beam leapfrog with tractor trailers at 80 mph and marvelling at brush fires looming off in the distance. I spent a morning in a Confederate cemetary just because there was a beautiful stone arch across the road from my motel. Apart from three destinations and a loose arrival time, I had no agenda. I could do what I wanted. And for the most part, I did it on my own. True, there were setbacks -- I suffered through one extended layover in Memphis because I got some kinda stye in my eye that completely closed it up. I sat in a darkened hotel room for 36 hours watching Groundhog Day over and over again, a fate to which the phrase "cruel irony" hardly does justice. But it was okay -- once the stye healed, I went to Graceland.

Of course, I hung out with a lot of people along the way. There were beaches, roller coasters, and some good sex, but on the whole I was pretty much on my own. I had some tapes to listen to, including a new tape soundtrack of Until The End of the World that earned had its own special significance a month earlier, but on the whole I tried to listen to as much radio as I could.

I ended up hearing one song more than others, if only because that's how my mind ended up filtering it: Fastball's The Way. I remember first hearing it somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike around my first pit stop; it had a catchy melody in a crazy minor key and a fun, singalongable chorus. Way better than that "Closing Time" song I kept hearing.

I remember becoming happy finding the song again as I crossed into Delaware. From that point on, every time I scanned the radio stations, from Delaware to North Carolina, from Texas to Minnesota, if I heard a snippet of the song, I had to keep the station on and listen to it all the way through. It was a great roadtrip song, really -- something to do about people leaving their life behind for "eternal summer slacking" because "they wanted the highway, they're happier there today." Something to do with death, perhaps a romantic voyage off the Interstate into eternity, something, hey, it's in a minor key and they're happier there today anyway.

I was reminded of all this today when I heard Maroon 5's This Love for the umpteenth time on the work shuttle. I realized that if I'd done that road trip this summer, that catchy little pop tune with the surprising chord progressions (really Billy Joelesque if you think about it) would've probably been the theme tune I'd have kept hearing and enjoying. I really hope it has become some 23-year-old's theme song this summer, on their first solo flight out on the highway. It really needs to be.

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:jasonlove
Date:September 2nd, 2004 09:21 pm (UTC)
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In 1998, I was 16. Fastball's The Way prompted me to do something I'd never done before: buy a compact disc.

I'm six months from 23. I think a roadtrip might be nice.
[User Picture]
From:tyopsqueene
Date:September 3rd, 2004 01:40 am (UTC)
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I've since been a firm believer in the fact that everyone needs a solitary road trip in their early 20s. I don't care for how long or for where to; just go. Drive. Drive on your own.

Humpf, missed that bandwagon. If we extend it to "20s" that gives me just 3.5 years to learn to drive and take a road trip. Can I count trains/coaches instead?
[User Picture]
From:lillibet
Date:September 3rd, 2004 07:44 am (UTC)
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For me that song is all about driving back and forth between Berkeley and Sunnyvale, during the first summer that Jason and I were dating. It goes with I Can Never Be Your Woman (or whatever that song is called) in my head.

There are a number of songs that are associated with my drive to California, but mostly it was all about No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom--the whole album.

Once I arrived in California, there are a number of songs that came out that fall that are "California songs" for me--most notably, Long December.



[User Picture]
From:betweenstations
Date:September 3rd, 2004 09:32 am (UTC)
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The haunted putt-putt course still exists, although I think they renovated the haunted house section of the course.

And I have several songs that sum up periods of my life. I think the road trip song I could NOT escape has to be the Butthole Surfers' "Pepper." Which is not really a road song, but I could NOT escape it in my rented Nissan Sentra that didn't like going up mountains.
[User Picture]
From:androidqueen
Date:September 3rd, 2004 11:41 am (UTC)
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gimme $10K and i'll be off in a new york minute. :)
From:moxie_fawn
Date:September 3rd, 2004 11:50 am (UTC)
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That was beautifully written. :)

My 20's roadtrip/theme song/special moment came just a few months ago, when I decided to fly down to California by myself and see several bands in once big trip. I rented a car in Santa Barbara, saw my favourite band (Marcy Playground) that night, met them and spent the night hanging out with them, and then drove five hours to their next show where I hung out with them some more. The next day I drove several more hours to Palm Springs where I saw a whole bunch of great bands (The Pixies, The Cure, Radiohead, ect) at Coachella and hung out with MP's tour manager, partying with the kind of people I never thought I'd be around, before driving all day to get back to Santa Barbara for my flight home. The soundtrack to this best-vacation-of-my-life was, of course, the latest release from Marcy Playground, "MP3", along with a cd burned for me by their manager which includes two songs of theirs that especially summed up this moment for me, "Here comes summer" and "My favourite tree in fall". :)
[User Picture]
From:antiquated_tory
Date:September 3rd, 2004 12:49 pm (UTC)
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Beautifully written. Sadly I lacked both car and driver's license in my early 20s. Your post was one of the few things that have made me regret this. On the other hand, I moved to Prague at 26, so I can't really complain.
[User Picture]
From:lentilstew
Date:September 4th, 2004 11:58 am (UTC)
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I listened to "All the Pain Money Can Buy" (the album "The Way" is off of) during a rough time in my life. I was 14 and separated from my mom for the first time. She was in the Navy and had been assigned to a ship. So, I listened to that album at my aunt and uncle's house quite a few times.

And I think anyone who's owned the Pixies' album "Surfer Rosa" has allowed "Where Is My Mind" to be their temporal theme song.

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