Saturday 5 January 2008

Road Songs (Andantino)

Disclaimer: This post is not an endorsement of bad driving and the blogger cannot be held responsible for any actions resulting from reading this post. Also, the following should NOT be attempted under any circumstances whilst doing your driving test. You will fail!

A few months ago I was driving around the leafy suburbs of Muswell Hill and Crouch End where the landscape varies dramatically from one road to the other, especially in the former case. Sometimes it is flat, sometimes it is slopy. On approaching a mini round-about half-way up a hill I looked to my right and noticed that a few cars were coming down the street. As it is customary in these cases, I brought the car to a halt softly, put my handbrake on and the gear into neutral. That did not last long, though, as I revved the car slowly until the needle went up to 2 and brought the clutch back up delicately whilst at the same time releasing the hand-brake. The vehicle remained motionless for a few seconds and as soon as the traffic cleared from my right I was ready to go.

This course of action is not a lesson you are taught when you are learning how to drive by your instructor. He/She would deem it unwise and unsafe. In fact, it was actually my wife who first suggested it as a way to be prepared to continue my journey without delaying the traffic behind or stalling the car. It got me thinking, though. Some songs are like that. A journey through a musical spectrum where suddenly they go uphill and come to a round-about similar to the one I encountered on that occasion and then they stop. Momentarily, however. Just for a few seconds. Far from putting their hand-brake up, though, they dither a bit and let the car gears reach the biting point. It is normally no more than a few seconds, until the green man changes to red, until the last car on their right hand-side has passed. And then the journey continues.

To illustrate this I have gathered a selection of clips from as usual. My first offering comes courtesy of one of the most prolific and influential musicians Cuba has ever produced. He has already been featured on this blog in my 'Autumn Songs' selection and at the time the feedback was very warm and effusive. So, I thought it was apposite to bring him back. Ernesto Lecuona, El Maestro. By the way, at 2:46, watch the pianist's right hand as it glides over the piano ready to come down softly on the black and white keys in order to continue the journey after the uphill start. Think of the biting point. Sublime!

One of the most common mistakes people make when they choose not to put their handbrake up whilst doing an uphill start is that their car rolls backwards. This is a very serious error which could cause an accident (read the disclaimer at the beginning of this post). To avoid this, as you go up a slope and are coming closer to either a round-about or a set of traffic lights you should stop slowly and ease back into first gear the same way Caetano Veloso does it in this live rendition of 'Girl from Ipanema', the eponymous composition by Joao Gilberto. At 1:02 look how Caetano joins in without interrupting the musical flow. Brilliant.

He was extravagant and eccentric in the 70s. But what you can never deny is that his musical output was second to none. And in the same way a car manoeuvre like the one I have been referring to so far can seem odd, his choices were sometimes criticised or just derided. But where would pop music be without David Robert Jones aka David Bowie? Classic.

It's Roger on percussion that really does it for me on this track. The way he bangs on those conga drums so ominously, keeping the beat going, weaving bass, guitar and vocal into one thread is a joy to see. But what also kills me (pun unintended) is watching Freddie shortly before his untimely death. His voice singing to the inevitable. That split second before the cars coming on your right pass in front of your eyes and continue their journey is the same split second in which your whole life is shown to you as a slide show before you are gone. Masterful.

Uphill starts are unpredictable and certain bands music is, too. Uphill starts where clutch is slightly raised whilst the right foot is firmly glued to the gas pedal keeping the needle in number 2 and the handbrake stays down have chutzpah. The same goes for some bands. The same goes for this band. They had a carefree joie de vivre, a raw energy that consumed the listener. Recently they staged a comeback at the O2 arena in London and their insouciance was still there for everyone to see. Watch the way guitar and voice enter a playful battlefield where little skirmishes here and there build up the momentum in this famous track. Led Zeppelin never did things half-way and you, too, should be prepared to take your chances when it comes to heading up that hill and braking slowly just before that big road ahead of you. Just enjoy that tiny instant when all the gears in your car are huffing and puffing to provide you with the magic of the 'biting point' moment. Amazing.

This is all for this week. Happy driving!

Copyright 2007


  1. Hola Cubano en Londres:
    Aquí me tienes devolviéndote la visita. En mi blog te he respondido un poco a tu comentario, y aquí complemento un poco diciéndote que cierto, mi inglés es pécimo, y aunque me he enterado un poco de lo que he leído, no puedo decir que he avanzado mucho por culpa de mi deficiencia con la lengua de Shakespiare.
    Otra cosa, somos de la misma edad, pero yo salí de la universidad dos años más tarde porque me cambié de carrera. Antes de estudiar Licenciatura en Historia en la colina, estuve estudiando ingeniería industrial por dos años, carrera que terminé dejando.
    No he sido capaz de dar con tu nombre y con la carrera que estudiabas, así que no puedo ni plantearme si te conozco o no. Un abrazo:

  2. Hola cubano en london

    Como el anteriro, aquí me tienes devolviendo la visita. Gracias por el comentario. Sí no hay problemas en intercambiar las links, creo que la mayor parte de los que nos visita también habla inglés.

    Te quedó bueno el disclamer.


  3. Gracias a ambos, yo he puesto los enlaces de los dos aquí. Me alegra tanto ver a compatriotas compartiendo ideas, ofreciendo opiniones, charlando libremente. Me siento como en aquellas tertulias en la UNEAC o en la Casa del Joven Trovador a principios de los 90.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hola Cubaninlondon:
    Te escribo aquí para decirte que lo más probable es que hayamos coincidido en alguna de las tantas actividades culturales de la Habana. Yo anduve bastante enclaustrado con lo de mi carrera, que era de las peores de las de humanidades, pero disfruté de los festivales de cine, de algunas de las tertulias habaneras como la del museo napoleónico. Alcancé a participar de algunos conciertos en el museo nacional de Bellas Artes, las peñas de las diferentes facultades de la universidad de la Habana, participé del mundo del teatro y de la sinfónica en el teatro nacional, estuve en casa de "Macho Rico", en el patio del Instituto nacional del libro, y hasta algunas tertulias más en privado en casa del Doctor Sosa, con quien tenía una relación muy estrecha, pues me tutoreó mi tesis. En fin, lo que sí te digo que yo llegué a la Habana en 1990, y la Habana de los 80 me la perdí.
    También me perdí aquel altercado del 5 de agosto famoso en que la gente se echó a la calle. Yo me había ido para mi casa. Sí viví lo de los camiones con balsas llenas de gente que se iban para Miami. Los profesores de sociología enviaban a sus alumnos a la costa por allá por Cojímar para dispararse todo el pase, mientras yo, como todos los estudiantes de primer año de historia, estudiando el paleolítico y el neolítico, jejeje. Un abrazo:

  6. Hola cubaninlondon...
    Me quedé con ganas de ver la referencia a "Running up that Hill" de Kate Bush...
    Muy agradable la lectura aqui en tu blog.
    Al Godar

  7. Jajaja! Oye, bro'er, si fuera por eso hubiera puesto el disco completo de 'Wuthering Heights'

    Gracias y cuidate.

  8. Recuerdo el día exacto en que murió Freddy, la noticia la dieron por radio reloj y yo me estaba vistiendo para ir a la escuela. Aquello me jodió el día. La escena del clip está pasa’ de ligas. Acaso ‘somos’ eso mismo... un instante de lucidez en la friolera tumultuosa de los días que van que joden, como el carro.
    Cuban, tírale una foto a de pionero a aguaya compadre.
    Saludos. Tony.

  9. Oye asere, cuando Freddie guindo el piojo yo habia empezado de alumno-ayudante con un grupo de adultos que venian de ruso. La que habia sido profesora mia en segundo an-o me vio en las escaleras del antiguo ISPLE y me solto aquellas palabras que hasta este dia recuerdo: "Te enteraste? Freddie Mercury se murio." Me vino una tristeza y una congoja de esas que te llegan sin avisar y por toda una semana no puse en la casa mas que musica de Queen.

    Saludos desde Londres.



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