If roads were stick insects, I would not be a driver. Give me a fleshy, curvaceous motorway and I am a happy man, turn it into a size zero paved surface and I will be hanging my car keys forever and ever.
A bend doth a road make. The way this man-made, asphaltic curve winds and wraps itself around the landscape is the reason why I love being behind the wheel so much. It is also the reason why I derive a greater pleasure from driving around the British countryside than in urban London. The streets in my adopted city are too narrow and even broad avenues that arch left or rightwards lack the necessary angular space to enjoy the manouevring around a particular bend.
And the most important element of this peculiar and, possibly, whimsical fancy of mine is the synergy between braking, the bend as such and my hands holding the wheel. The first was analysed in detail here, the second one is the subject of this post tonight and the third one will be discussed in another column very soon.
When you find yourself behind the wheel, steering your car on a long, flat piece of tarmac, at some point your brain begins to beg for a change. That's where bends, chiefly conspicuous ones, come into play. Brake slowly, shift into a lower gear as you go around and let your hands slide on either side of the wheel. Bliss.
In music, too, I love this symbiosis between tempo, musicianship and creativity. And I will use the examples below to illustrate the relationship between road bends and musical ones.
My first clip is by Maestro Astor Piazzolla performing a song that is as rhythmically exquisite as it is curvaceously adorable. Here the bandoneon is the simile to that stretch of road that meanders and zigzags whilst the violin and piano represent the foot on the gas pedal. Touching.
The second clip is by The Beatles and it is also a timeless tune, 'A Day In the Life'. It, too, is my favourite song from their renowned "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album and no, this is not the official video. In fact there's a disclaimer on the author's profile on youtube that reads thus: 'Beatle clips I put together to "A Day in the Life". I made the picture at the end too. I've been noticing that some sites have been using my video and I would like to say that although I like the idea of my video being liked it is not the original.' And you could certainly believe that this clip was the work of John, Paul, George and Ringo, couldn't you? Such a good quality.
'A Day In the Life' is actually two songs in one. Apparently Lennon finished writing the first part and spoke to Paul about finding a filler for the second section. The latter had scribbled another melody and agreed to add it to John's bit. The result is the union of scattered pieces of news and domestic life. John's view can be interpreted as the sum of disparate world and regional events. Paul's is mundaness at its best. And you notice that at 2:17 (clip below) when McCartney's part kicks in. To me it is the equivalent of driving through the Dartford crossing en route to Kent. There's the bend curving seductively upwards and then downwards, the barrier that separates the metropolis from the countryside, order vs freedom. As an addendum, let me tell you that the Dartford crossing is not always that romantic. In fact, it is a nightmare most of the time, but last summer it provided me with one of those priceless moments when, queue-free, I cruised downhill with Nina Simone on the car stereo belting out 'I Put a Spell on You' and if there's a more magical and serendipitous moment, I'd be glad to hear about it. On a postcard, please. And handwritten, nobody writes cards by hand anymore.
But I digress. Sorry. 'A Day in the Life' is a monster of a road song that symbolises bends at their most beautiful and chaotic, like that middle section. Genius.
Last but not least an artist who has been featured four times on this blog in less than three months. Some people might be wondering whether I have suddenly become a Billy Joel freak or if I'm being paid by his record company to upload his music. No, it has all been very fortuitous. There was that link to his song 'The Stranger' because the post in which the track appeared was related to whistling, then there was his song 'Vienna' used as one of my Sunday clips. A couple of weeks ago I confessed to being bowled over by the lyrics of his timeless 'New York State of Mind' and I now I bring you 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant'. All this has been rather accidental, not intentional. In the song below, the road bend is symbolised by the changes at 1:41 and at 2:44. The first one is a smooth shift from a higher gear to a lower one, as the car effortlessly moves uphill, zigzagging carefully, whereas the second one is akin to going down and around a pretty bend at full speed, window open, wind massaging your temples. And by the way she is having a ball, isn't she? And so is the saxophonist. What do you mean who is 'she'? She, at 2:42; 2:59; 3:57; 4:08 and 5:01. Have you been paying attention? Anyway, what I would like to know is, what were you doing in the summer of '75? Going steady like Brenda and Eddy or driving around and enjoying road bends? Thanks and enjoy.
Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music' to be published on Sunday 17th January at 10am (GMT)