Essentially A Playlist – September 8, 2010

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Didn’t I just read a whole whack of articles about road trips in the last issue of the Manitoban?” and you’re right, you did. Fools think alike and great minds seldom differ, or words to that effect.

It just so happens that I’m about to head south for a little road trip of my own and it’s been foremost in my mind for weeks now as I froth with anticipation that only the smell of diesel and the taste of beef jerky can satiate.

Don’t consider this edition of the playlist a mix tape because it certainly doesn’t follow any of the rules my fearless editor Ms. Bowler laid down in Aug. 18 edition of this paper. Instead, it’s a tribute to some of the highways and byways that have been enshrined in song (and speaking of byways, if you like travel writing you must read William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways. A-ma-zing).

Bruce Springsteen — “Highway 29” [from The Ghost Of Tom Joad]
A bank robbery gone wrong, bloodstained bills and clothes, and a pair of star-crossed lovers making a run for the “safety” of the Sierra Madres — clearly this isn’t the Highway 29 of Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey, where it runs roughly 35 miles from Hamilton Township to Frenchtown.

Chatham County Line — “Route 23” [from Route 23]
U.S. Route 23 runs from Mackinaw City in Michigan down to Jacksonville, Florida. It’s one of the original U.S. highways constructed in 1926, though it originally ran only from Michigan to Ohio. Raleigh, North Carolina’s Chatham County Line — not to be confused with the publication Chatham County Line out of Carrboro, NC — chronicles the period in 1955 when the route was lengthened and the “fast, smooth and wide” highway created a place where no one ever slows down.

America — “Ventura Highway” [from History: America’s Greatest Hits]
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here because every other entry has a highway or route number in the title and this one doesn’t, but if you find yourself on California 134 between Ventura and Pasadena, slip this lovely tune in to accompany the drive and maybe you’ll see alligator lizards in the air.

American Music Club — “Highway 5” [from California]
I think AMC’s Mark Eitzel might be the best person to accompany a too-long road trip that has stretched into the wee hours of the morning. The man’s voice is in the dictionary under both “weariness” and “resignation.” Only he could sing a song about the California highway that hugs the coastline and feel an “overwhelming sensation of uselessness.”

Drive-By Truckers — “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” [from Southern Rock Opera]
The sprawling double album, Southern Rock Opera, is amongst this fine band’s finest moments. The fact that a drive from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Memphis, Tennessee on Highway 72 runs through northern Alabama and Mississippi is not one of the finest moments in border drawing history.

Jimmy LaFave — “Deep South 61 Delta Highway Blues” [from Austin Skyline]
The fabled Highway 61 has been chronicled in many a song because, as Stax Museum Organization director Deannie Parker notes in a great National Geographic piece, “Highway 61 was the road by which black people left Mississippi to find better opportunities.” Highway 61 runs from New Orleans to Wyoming, MN.
The full article can be found at:

Howlin’ Wolf — Highway 49 [from The Legendary Howlin’ Wolf]
A 516-mile stretch of asphalt that starts at the intersection with U.S. Route 62 in Piggott, Arkansas and runs south to Gulfport, Mississippi where it ends at an intersection with U.S. Route 90, Highway 49 is a legendary length of road. Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul at 49’s intersection with 61, and Howlin’ Wolf lost his woman because “all she wanna do / walk the Highway 49.”

Fountains of Wayne — I-95 [from Traffic and Weather]
I-95 runs through Maryland from the Delaware border to Virginia with a brief foray into the District of Columbia and the stretch between Baltimore and D.C. is one of the most travelled stretches of road in all of Maryland. As interstates go, it’s actually a fairly scenic terrain if memory serves, though Fountains of Wayne don’t exactly paint the prettiest of pictures on this tune.

Eliza Gilkyson — “Hiway 9” [from Land of Milk and Honey]
Leave it to second-generation folk-singer Eliza Gilkyson to sing a song about a highway that can’t be found on any map of America. When she sings “get your big trucks rollin down Hiway 9 / put on the armor it’s party time / gonna dance with the devil of our own design,” it’s no metaphor for driving in Hummers on U.S. freeways. Nope, these Humvees are rolling down the Iraqi Highway 9, which extends from Karbala, through Al Najaf, to Al-Qādisiyyah. Not your average road trip song.

Rodney Crowell — “Highway 17” [from The Houston Kid]
This one’s funny, in the same way that parts of No Country For Old Men are funny. The stick-up artist telling the story buries his money on Highway 17, which runs from Marfa to Pecos in West Texas, but while he’s in the clink the old two-lane road is expanded to a six-lane freeway. When he gets out, he can’t get at the loot he’s squirreled away. Ain’t that a chuckle, friend-o.