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.