Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Road Songs (Special Edition)
A couple of years ago I started a section on this blog called 'Road Songs' (I hope my Linkwithin gadget throws up a few samples). It was primarily based on my penchant for listening to music whilst driving and it was also a way of celebrating the positive outcome of my practical driving test in summer 2007 (after four attempts, fifth time lucky!). Although that forum came to an end a year later I always intended to have special editions of it running at some point. And this is the right time for 'Road Songs' to make a comeback.
Recently I undertook a journey to High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and on the way there I was asked by one of my companions whether I liked driving and why. I answered yes, but since I was focusing on the road and on the route at the time, I did not delve into the matter in depth.
So, why do I like driving and why, in my case, has being behind the wheel got such a strong relation with harmonies and arpeggios?
The first reason is that to me driving conjures up bewitching images of gears, wheels and engines. The combination of each element slotting into one another, rubbing against each other, pushing and pulling here and there is fascinating. One of my favourite moments is when I switch the engine on and slowly reverse my car onto the road, change to first gear and then smoothly into second. When I do this without making the car jerk, a little light inside me turns itself on and I smile appreciatively.
And it is the same with music. I love melodies that have the same hypnotic effects, where one instrument (usually the bass/bass guitar/double bass) serves as the platform upon which layers and layers of harmonies are added on. Just like my first clip tonight. It is the famous song by 'The Doors', 'Roadhouse Blues' and with due respect to Jim, Eddie has a good stab at it and pulls it off nicely. Sit back for a second and enjoy the effortless transition from instrument to instrument. Magical indeed.
When I started driving they always told me to learn to listen to the engine. And learn I did. As important as knowing your road signs. And believe me, it is a sweet moment when your motor is roaring to the sound you've come to recognise. It is the same with certain songs like this particular track by K-OS. Since I came across it on Radio Paradise, I can't stop playing it. It reminds me of that polished, regular and reassuring sound coming out of my car's engine. It's the sign that says everything's OK, baby, we're rocking.
Am I a happy man when I drive? You bet. Sometimes, as it happened when I went to Cuba last February, you're behind the wheel on a motorway that stretches for miles on end and suddenly you have a view too beautiful to believe: overcast sky on one side of the road, whilst a strong sun burns the hardest stones into submission on the other side. And your eyes are the only camera available. It's one of those moments when you feel lucky and happy to be alive and to bear witness to the wonders of nature, whilst behind the wheel. That's why my third clip is a mix of song and dance. 'A Day at the Races' might have featured the legendary Marx brothers, but it is this dance sequence which, in my humble opinion, upstages everyone else in the film. I watched the movie recently on TCM and I remember thinking: 'Why, that's how I feel when I drive'. Especially in the countryside. Enjoy.
When I drive I am careful with my speed. That is why there is a special joy that overcomes me when I see the needle indicating 20 miles per hour, or 30, or 40, and the revs still reading number 2 or just above it. The car moves steadily and confidently along devouring miles of asphalt. Same with music, I like songs that start with the equivalent of a first gear, then change swiftly into second and third and by the time they hit the analogous motorway it's pandemonium. This particular track by Metallica reminds me of a similar driving scenario. I understand that the name Metallica might not go down very well with some fellow bloggers, readers and followers, but I was a devotee of this American band in my teens and although I do not listen to them anymore as I used to, I still consider their music to be one of the most creative pieces of work ever. That's why I chose what to me is a very middle-of-the-road version of one of their classics. The way the tempo in their melodies fluctuates and swings is incomparable. And as it happened on that trip to High Wycombe, where I had to drive on the M25, once those two needles remain constant, the speed one marking 50-60 miles per hour and the revs one pointing at a number 2 or 3, you know you're in business. In the clip below, from 4 minutes 25 seconds onwards, what you get is that same pandemonium to which I referred earlier. And obviously the inclusion of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra adds drama and gravitas to a song about death.
Ever driven in the rain? Ever driven in the rain up a hill? Ever driven in the rain up a hill and come to a roundabout with four exits and three other cars coming down the three other lanes signalling right, like you? If you have, or if you ever find yourself in that situation, look at the windshield wipers, yours and the others', dancing from side to side; watch the indicators, winking intermittently; and enjoy that little moment, when rather than applying the handbrake, you bring both clutch and gas pedal up together to keep the car still. Inertia. Biting point. Same as with these dexterous dancers. Watch them as the arms go up together at the same time and how the en pointe is the equivalent of that clutch and gas pedal keeping the vehicle inert. In the same way indicators rarely blink harmoniously, the fact is that on a roundabout where four cars come down four different lanes you will sometimes get indicators flickering in unison, pretty much like this corps du ballet. And the result is as enchanting as listening to Tchaikovsky's score. Wipers swish-swashing on the windshield, indicators winking complicitly at each other, clutch and gas pedals united in a mechanical embrace, feet on point, hands outstretched, music approaching an unrestrained crescendo. This is what I call driving.
And last but not least a subject that no one should ignore: the perils of driving. About a year ago I had a near-miss and that taught me a lesson: never take anything for granted on the road. It is the same mesage that you find in some songs, for instance this little gem by the Spanish band Mecano, a throwback to the good old 80s (and if anyone utters the words '80s' and 'fashion' together, I will send the boys around to his/her house, De Niro-style in 'The Untouchables'. You know, 80s, guys and girls: soulder-pads, mullets, New Romantics, black eyeliner, blazers). The song's name 'Una Rosa es Una Rosa' refers to the dangers to which we are exposed when we plunge into certain relationships headfirst. As you all well know, a rose has thorns. Magnificent.
This is my last column until September when I will return from my well-deserved holiday break. I will still be around in the next couple of weeks but want to concentrate on material for the autumn and winter, so do expect me to visit your blogs until such time when I will disappear because I will be vacationing with my family, possibly in northern Spain, and hopefully behind the wheel. The 'Song for a Summer Sunday Morning' will continue unless blogger decides to play up in the same way it has done these last two weeks gone when my pre-scheduled posts did not come out when I expected them to. There won't be any comments moderator this time because since I don't post about politics or sex (usually), I don't attract spammers or trolls and we're all grown-ups really and I trust you all, above all, I trust you. Besides, I love the interaction there is between my fellow bloggers, readers and followers. When I go to other blogs and I read a comment along the lines of: 'I found you through the Cuban In London blog and I love yours', it fills my heart up with joy. So, let's keep that community spirit up because there's enough hate in the world as it happens. Many thanks for reading my blog and commenting on my posts and when you next go out driving remember to 'Keep your eyes on the road/Your hands upon the wheel/Keep your eyes on the road/Your hands upon the wheel/Yeah, we're going to the roadhouse/Gonna have a real good-time.' Have a happy summer.
Next Post: 'Song for a Summer Sunday Morning' to be published on Sunday 19th July at 10am (GMT)