Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Musical Connections – On the Road

No doubt like most people, I have vivid associations between certain pieces of music and some particular place, associations that sometimes go way back. It’s often a totally random thing. For some reason, a tune that I might have heard hundreds of times before simply resonates with the place or situation when I happen to hear again, often when traveling somewhere.

One such connection that sticks in my mind is from my high-school days when I had gone out to see a movie with some buddies. Where I grew up, that meant leaving the county, since my hometown had no cinema of its own. The closest place to watch a film was the drive-in theater in a neighboring town, 16 miles (26 kilometers) away. The closest indoor theater, where you didn’t have to hang a clunky speaker inside your car’s window, lay in another town just a bit further in the opposite direction.

It was from that theater that four or five of us were returning late one night in my friend’s Chevrolet or Buick or whatever it was. In any case, it was one of those big pre-Oil Shock creations of Detroit. Like lot of roomy automobiles of the day, my friend’s car had a long, sloping back window, almost like a skylight for those passengers in the backseat, where I was sitting.

As we sped up the road, probably feeling pretty good, being young and free of our parents, I remember laying my head back, under the rear window, looking straight up at a sky full of stars. That’s when this song came on the radio – seemingly perfect for the combination of teenage freedom and spectacular sky.


Myself, I would have never associated Nights in White Satin with Paris in broad daylight, but we all have our different experiences with music.

Another night drive is linked, in my mind, to an equally evocative and classic piece of rock music (maybe the best) by my hands-down favorite singer-songwriter.

This time, it was after my junior year of college, and my parents were along for the ride. Our family had made a long-anticipated trip to the American West, my first time beyond the Mississippi, in a marathon drive to the Yellowstone country of Wyoming (almost 2000 miles in just over two days). After a couple of days in Yellowstone itself, we were staying in the Great Tetons National Park, and had driven down to the cowboy town of Jackson for a steak dinner.

On the way back up the two-lane highway to the Tetons, our headlights slicing through the darkened sagebrush prairie of the sprawling Jackson Hole valley, I remember we were listening to this song on the eight-track player.

To me, the song released a powerful nocturnal energy that perfectly matched the feeling of cruising through the vast emptiness of Jackson Hole at night. Hearing it still takes me back to Wyoming, even today.

(On that long drive we also listened repeatedly to Jackson Browne’s album, “Running on Empty”, which is almost custom-made for endless road trips.)


Another Neil Young song evokes for me a general feeling of “western” nights spent under the stars and among the sagebrush, especially the steel guitar solo.


I seem to associate this with a chilly summer night in a KOA campground, probably in Panguitch, Utah, where a friend and I stayed on our way back from Las Vegas in 1980. I can’t hear this without thinking of nights in the high desert.

One very different song makes me think of a high bridge. I was 19, and we were again traveling with my parents, this time to the more familiar environs of Jekyll, one of Georgia’s barrier islands on the Atlantic Coast. We were returning from the nearest bigger town, Brunswick, where we’d gone for a seafood dinner (there seems to be a pattern here). As we were crossing the main bridge heading south out of town, this song came on the radio.


Again, the song seemed to resonate with the beach-holiday mood and the inky blackness of the night, and forever planted that bridge crossing in my memory. Why I remember the bridge as soaring high above the tidewater of the Brunswick River, I can’t say, since after checking photos of it on the Internet, I realize the bridge barely rose above the level of the water.

Maybe I’ve conflated it with actual tall bridge I crossed with friends one night coming out of Jacksonville, Florida, where we’d eaten at a Polynesian restaurant. (Again with the dining out, but no song associated with that crossing.)

Or maybe I just got carried away with Heart’s newly release hit – after all, at the time I probably had a major crush on one or both of the Wilson sisters, temporarily eclipsing my long-standing infatuation with Linda Ronstadt.

I guess making those kinds of overblown musical connections is easier when you’re young, romantically minded, and maybe a tad bit impressionable.  


  1. Nah. It's all about letting the music do it. The carefree days of youth just make it easier. Of course, when everything is new and exciting, you're bound to experience everything more vibrantly. Still, anyone can let it happen by letting your guard down and allowing the music fill you.

    Of course, the sort of sentimental music you linked is basically designed for the purpose. Ever tried it with something less obvious? Or stepping outside your comfort zone? Does punk rock and metal make you want to kick down the walls? (For giggles, have a listen to "Desecration" by Deicide or "Evisceration Plague" by Cannibal Corpse. It has to be loud, though. It's not going to be very sentimental either.)

    1. That sounds about right. Thanks for the suggestions, though I guess I'm not cut out to be a death metal fan.

  2. Jekyll Island saved me from Brunswick, which is a pus-pocket on the ass of Satan.

    The old Jekyll Island bridge was, indeed, very high above the water. When it was struck by a large container ship it partially collapsed, killing a number of people on the bridge. The new one that replaced it is even taller and larger. (You would have passed over the older one that fell into the water and took those people to their deaths.)

    You may be thinking of the old Jekyll Island drawbridge that connected the Jekyll Island causeway to the island proper. It was not very high above the water (thus, it was a drawbridge). But as it was not a very long bridge and only two lanes, it would be hard to confuse the two.

    And, yes, music often plucks the strings of nostalgia. More than just about any other experience, I suppose.

    1. So I probably was remembering it right, that we were crossing over a high bridge heading out of Brunswick. When I tried to confirm that memory by searching the Internet, all the photos of the "old" bridge was so different from the image in my head.

      I always recall Jekyll as a nice place to visit. I think you met up with us there on that trip. I hadn't been back down there until almost 10 years ago -- things seemed so run down, the fishing pier was dilapidated, half of closed off as unsafe. The beach of course was still great.

    2. Strictly speaking smells are even better than sounds for invoking memories. Then again music is more than mere sounds.