Thursday 18 February 2010

Road Songs (Special Edition)

I'm in a dilemma. I discussed the art of braking here and the beauty of bends here. What, then, should I call the ability to turn round a bend whilst braking (do you see what I did there? :-D) and letting the steering wheel slide through my fingers? Wheel-sliding? No, that sounds like an activity in which Dennis Hopper's creepy Frank Booth would indulge. Possibly with an oxygen mask on.

No, the manoeuvre I'm trying my best to describe involves the smooth process whereby a driver guides the movement of a vehicle as he or she turns a corner, for instance. Once the turn is accomplished - and you have neither cut the lane into which you drive nor gone wide into the opposite one either - you allow the wheel to come back to a straight position. However, how many of you perform this operation without barely touching the wheel, as you turn, I mean? It's almost as if you were letting this circular frame its own moment of freedom. There it is, shifting back as your hands act like a magnetic field, close to it but not on it.

When I was still learning how to drive, my instructor insisted that my arms' position was fundamental, not just in going on straight roads, but also turning around bends. My arms should neither be too tense nor too limp. This would enable me to negotiate any unpredictable hazards, like sharp corners.

What I also discovered was one of those untapped pleasures that linked directly to one of my passions: music.

In my first clip tonight you will be introduced to Camarón de la Isla, accompanied on guitar by Tomatito. These two legends of flamenco music are singing a poem originally written by Antonio Machado, 'La Saeta', and set to music by Joan Manuel Serrat (the gentleman at the beginning). When I began to write this post, this clip immediately came to mind because it encapsulates that feeling of freedom I am overcome by when the steering wheel of my car runs through my fingers without touching them. As further information, 'saetas' are compositions in their own right, commonly sung - a cappella - during Easter and other religious festivities. And you can feel the passion and fervour in Camarón de la Isla's voice. The song mentions both Christ (or Gypsies' Christ, to be more specific) and the Andalucian people. Enjoy.

And because this blog likes to celebrate all musical instruments alike, in the same way that it blows the horn for all aspects of driving, the second clip tonight has the bass guitar as the leading character. Often overlooked, a good bassist will render a band a solid foundation upon which the other members can build the remaining layers of a particular melody. Just like the joint triumvirate of driving around bends, braking softly and wheel-gliding (no, that name didn't work either, I'm still searching). In the meantime, Kings of Leon.

And to wrap things up tonight and kiss this section goodbye for good ( I actually did it a couple of years ago but brought it back after driving through northern Spain last summer, who knows? I'll probably revive it again some time soon) I bring to you Anna Ternheim's 'Girl Laying Down'. She - Anna, not the girl - is a Swedish singer-songwriter, who's had me tapping my foot ever since this song made it to Radio Paradise's playlist. It is dark and grim, but I love the piano. It reminds me of the firm grip on the steering wheel as you are about to turn a corner and the momentary loosening of it after both your hands slide down on either side of the wheel. Bliss. And if you have a funky, catchy name for that manoeuvre, do not hesitate to send your suggestions in (you can scribble it now on the palm of your hand, preferably bracketed with "lift Cuban in London's spirits"), it will be most welcome.

Copyright 2010

Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on Sunday 21st February at 10am (GMT)


  1. These driving/music posts are just brilliant. I confess to not caring one whit about driving but you manage to make me feel like, yes, driving is the most pure form of living and the music while driving is absolutely necessary. I especially liked the first song -- it not only made me drive, it made me want to burst out crying.

  2. You know I love flamenco, the drama is delicious. That Kings of Leon track is good too ,I like the yearning. I never thing about driving and music ( I get motion sickness) but these all really fit.

  3. Thanks Cuban. I love the way you juxtapose the prosaic - driving - not that it seems prosaic in your hands, with such diverse music.

    You introduce whole new worlds, musicians and sounds against the backdrop of the ordinary. To me this is the essence of art.

  4. Buenas tardes! Cuban. Have you had your lunch:)?

    There is something about driving and listening to music. Driving takes us to a place, while music takes us to a time.

  5. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments. Yes, Ocean Girl, I just had my lunch, but would you believe it? I have been shovelling all morning at work (at a school where I am the community education coordinator) and my joints are aching. I'm just catching my breath back. Lunch? I can't even remember what I had. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  6. Firstly, do NOT tell a driving instructor about letting go of the wheel as you gently follow the contours of a bend in the road!

    Secondly, you are introducing me to music and artist I would otherwise not come across. I love Flamenco music (of course I have heard Flamenco music before) and Anna Ternheim, who is new to me. Good idea too to make me listen to Kings of Leon; I gave their latest to somebody as a Christmas present, now I know what it was I passed on.
    If your steering wheel is dry, leathery, how about 'snaking' the wheel
    back into position?

  7. I rarely think about driving, so this was an interesting moment for reflection. Maybe I should also think less about singing in the car. For everyone's sake.

  8. I love how you describe the theory of music through everyday movements and activities that everyone can understand. Everyone knows what it's like to handle the wheel and brake in a turn yet it's so hard to describe. You did it brilliantly with your words and the music.


  9. If only we could always have the backdrop of music for our actions..where are we going?..driving through life, I guess..thanks as always!

  10. Cuban - I'm always amazed at your ability to use language to describe something we do and don't even pause to think about as we're doing it. And let's see... about that music, I did like all three pieces. Though I have to say, I favor the Anna Ternheim simply because the way that song feels and sounds and looks on the clip all remind me of how my mind sometimes looks when I'm writing something. And the lyrics... haunting and perfect... yes, very dark. It takes you to turn the ordinary into blog post material, Cuban... most certainly!


  11. Thank you very much for your kind comments.

    Friko, 'snaking' it is. Great name. And yes, you can bet that I never let my instructor see indulging in that kind of shenanigans.

    Greetings from London.

  12. Hi Cuban, Girl Lying Down is an ethereal piece.
    I am able to transplant myself exactly where
    she is. For the life of me it seems I have
    commented on this post a few days ago,
    however I don't see a comment made by me
    so obviously not. The same goes for your
    post on the Dance Company, oh well hmmm..
    Maybe I'm having an early senior moment.

  13. WOW, tu como siempre, ese video de Camaron! mira que lo habia buscado en la net sin exito hace un tiempo.

  14. When you drive a stick shift, manual versus automatic, in a car built for speed and maneuverability, when you can turn an S-curve into an I, ah, then you will know what fun driving can be. I drove an NSX once...and I am still in love with the ability to take a turn at high speed without undue braking and, no, your hands never leave the wheel then~! Music and driving...can you tell your stirred the heart of a Californian?

  15. Hello London,
    I love your pieces about driving. And when you put driving and music together...fabulous.
    It was once my intention to make my way through a list of car that had to be driven before I died.

    Since I don't travel in the right circles to ever get behind the wheel of a Rolls, the list will never be completely crossed off, but if you ever get the chance, please write about it!

  16. Oh, yes, happy hour, California. I've always wanted to drive along that Pacific coast. Come to think of it, I've dreamed of driving along the West coast of Canada, too. Deborah. As for that list of cars, already done and dusted. I will have to dig that one out at some point. :-)

    Greetings from London.



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