Sunday, August 12, 2012

Going the Distance: Come A Long Way

I’m trying a new file hosting service, so I hope the link stays live.
Music can be escapism. It isn’t always, but I suspect that is why a 50+ professional who has lived his whole life in either New York or New Jersey and has a pretty quiet family life likes to listen to music about people living on the edge, drinking, carousing, ramblin’. I know that I never will ride a motorcycle, get into a bar fight, hitchhike across the desert, or be a rock star. And, honestly, I don’t really have any interest in doing so.
But it is fun to listen to music that is about things that are outside your experience. I remember once reading an article that said that people like roller coasters, or eating spicy food, because it gives the illusion of danger, without real risk. That your body reacts by producing adrenalin and endorphins that give you that edge and pleasure, without having to worry about actually getting beat up or killed.
Which is why, I guess, I have always liked this song, by Michelle Shocked. Her narrator rescues her motorcycle from the repo man and drives it around Los Angeles, referencing a number of local landmarks and noting that she has driven 500 miles, but never left the city.
Shocked is an interesting artist—uncompromising and demanding of creative freedom. Her first few albums were incredible, and the album that this song comes from, Arkansas Traveler, is both brilliant, and controversial. In great part, it is a reworking of traditional folk and country songs, with all-star guests including Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, Hothouse Flowers, Uncle Tupelo (which included her brother), Taj Mahal, Pops Staples, and others, and there are many, many good songs. But Shocked insisted on appearing in blackface on the cover, to highlight her interest in blackface minstrelsy, and her label refused. The album was barely promoted and failed to sell, leading to the end of Shocked’s major label career. I did buy her next album, but have kind of lost track of her, although I know that she has been recording gospel music. She is someone who has simply done what she wanted, and damn the consequences. Another thing that I don’t think I could ever do, even though I respect her for doing it.
I’ve been to L.A. a few times, mostly on business, and recognize some of the places mentioned, but they are really meaningless to me. But there is something about the song, the music and the lyrics, that makes me want to jump on a bike, a hog, a chopper, or whatever the cool people call it, and head out on an adventure. It isn’t going to happen, and that’s OK, too. But it can be fun to live vicariously.

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