Editor's Note: This post was written by Neil Thompson of San Francisco's Low Red Land. It is part of a series of posts that the band will be writing for the site today. At the bottom of the page, you can find the links to the rest.
When we (Ben, Mark, Adam, and me) were driving here, I could feel the east grasp behind me. The same cities dangling their fingers, their old faces and buildings, their beaten roads. And then, the West began. Somewhere in Minnesota, from what I could tell. Sudden space, and the feeling that if we disappeared, maybe no one could find us. The four of us so out of place in the fat middle of America, the longest drive, great and quiet, sleeping between home and here, breathing soft breaths as the coasts scream.
When we reached California, the hope of arrival was suffocated by hours of driving, and we didn't hit the Bay until the sun was almost up. It is so big out here. Bigger than the home of my parents, and our coal mining families, and of old women saying their rosaries. I am from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, near the Susquehanna River (the same river that flooded this year when my grandmother died, and the same one that will flood again when no one is ready.)
I was home a couple of weeks ago, and my father and I agreed that the Valley breeds depressed people; there is some sad impuse of disillusion, or maybe failed escape. Maybe it's the Eastern European blood, or the stories of 8 year-old boys losing their hands in the anthracite breakers.
There are no seasons here. No change until the rain, no clear-cut cycles of growth and decay. It is tough to build memories when the months all seem the same: was it spring when I fell in love? How long have I stayed here? I am desperate to feel at home. I miss the fall and winter, and the way your body is tempered through the cold, how you can run bare-foot through the garage in mid-January and not flinch. I have yet to walk into a house here and feel a warm rush, the blood prickling in my face. I said it was cold yesterday and had my sleeves rolled up, my mother said there was already a frost back home.
Last night, I was lost between here and Fresno. I crossed bridges, and I couldn't tell what was water and what were fields. I was off the freeway and there were so many stars, and I had a glimpse I think of something of what this place may have been like before the serious paving began, and the houses, and the money came in, and the serious stretches of nothing between towns became less and less. It was quiet, and in the light, and even in a haze, you could see farther than anywhere back East, ever. The land changes so fast here and is dry and they burn it sometimes to save homes and cattle, and the hills look like the still backs of tigers, black and brown, heaving slightly as the shadows of your car trace their contours.
The rain came here sometime in the late spring , and all at once, a million cuddled seeds burst in cracks in the sidewalk and in the Presidio and in the Park, and for a few weeks, something was different, and it was sunny in the Mission where I live, and I could see the city green until summer.
We make music here. When I think of it, it is music that my family would not recognize as mine, songs that represent someone from a different place, but then, my folks still say they like it. They still compare it to what they used to play for me in the living room or the truck. It is easy to think that I have changed, that I have learned so much, but I still love Willie Nelson because my dad sang it to me. I do love it here, the final outpost before the Pacific where the fearless try and fail (and sometines do) get rich. There is something impermanent, a hopeful, endless adolescence, and maybe some comfort knowing your folks can't see you fail unless you limp home with nothing to show.
We are the bravest singers, and our eyes are open.
I would like to leave you with this...
During my trip home a few weeks ago, my dad and I sat by the cabin that he built this summer, by the lake where I grew up. We made a fire and got real, real drunk, and I made a playlist for the evening of songs that I like (I hoped he would like them, too). There is something a little dubious about an iPod by a lakeside cabin, but the future is now.
The Beatles - Long, Long, Long
I have played music for 13 years, listened seriously all my life, and it wasn't until a couple months ago that I got into the White Album. As with most Beatles, I can take or leave a lot of the album, but this sticks out, and it's beautiful, and I love the harmonies, and the organ swell at the end.
Wilco and Billy Bragg - Ingrid Bergman
I saw the Hitchcock film Spellbound
last month (with Ingrid Bergman in the starring spot, along with Gregory Peck), and I was reminded of this song. Mike from Birds and Batteries played this at an early show in SF, and I hadn't heard it before. I fell in love with the song, and maybe Ingrid Bergman, too.
Bob Dylan and the Band - Ain't No More Cane
It's a sweet old-timey song with incredible harmonies, and accordian, and Rick Danko's heartbreaker voice.
David Crosby - Laughing
The song that made me want to learn pedal steel, with David Crosby basically playing with a pick-up Grateful Dead. Consistently in my top 5 favorite songs, it's another Crosby tune about "what was going on," but this is unbelievably gorgeous, and makes me think California is beautiful.
Neil Young - Out on the Weekend
The song I listen to when Liz is away. Neil Young writes some of the loneliest, most heartbroken songs, and this is one of my favorites. Oh, and the way the chords stay static in the chorus, with pedal steel, and the Harvest drum sound, and how the song falls together... I've been after this sound since my dad played this tape in the car on the way to vacation when I was a kid.
Norman and Nancy Blake - G Medley: Grean Leaf Fancy/Fields of November/Fort Smith
When I think of American music, a lot of times it sounds like this. Fiddle and cello and open, open chords that ring. This reminds me of the Ken Burns Civil War
documentary (which I obsessively watched when I was a kid).
Paul Simon - Duncan
"Just thanking the Lord for my fingers."
Rolling Stones - Torn and Frayed
From Exile on Main Street
, one of my favorite Stones country jams.
Spoon - Towner
For the way the vocals come in sort of breathless then scream, and cool sounds all over the place, and the guitars.
Steve Earle - Ft. Worth Blues
I heard this song first on a tribute to Townes Van Zandt on Austin City Limits. Steve Earle played this by himself. Our buddy Mike died in Iraq a couple months ago, and I played this at his memorial. Two weeks ago, I was at a bluegrass festival and Steve Earle played this out of 3 or 4 songs in a song writers circle. What the crap are the odds? I was standing with my buddy Cameron, and we just stared and almost cried.
Tom Petty - Here Comes My Girl
If you've ever loved a girl...
Wilco - The High Heat
From the Wilco Book. This didn't make it on to A Ghost is Born
. The arrangement of the song is out-there, and the lyrics are beautiful, too. I like the crazy, off-time break down in the middle.
Willie Nelson - Time of the Preacher Theme
I used to listen to Red-Headed Stranger
with my family a lot when I was a kid, and his voice still amazes.
Randy Newman - Memo to My Son
Probably my favorite song.Read The Rest of This Week's Mutiny:Joe's IntroductionBand IntroBenMarkNeilContestPrevious Versions of The Midweek Mutiny:What Is This?Faster Faster Harder HarderSaturna