Music surrounds me. Or rather, I surround myself in music. Whether falling asleep on my own at night or walking to the local shop, it’s always there. When I run, drive, eat, type, always there. I realised this when the sound of silence broke me from a waking dream early one morning, and it got me thinking about the music I choose, happen upon, am given and influences me whilst travelling last year.
Sigur Rós always reminded me of actually experiencing the band live at Glastonbury Festival. Until I spent a few hours walking around Yosemite National Park in California in February 2008 with Ágætis Byrjun coming to me through my headphones. The Scandinavian sounds married beautifully with what would have been a “blue sky powder day” at a ski resort. The six and a half hour journey each way to get to the park was forgotten as soon as I wandered around the deserted footpaths away from the main lodges and found myself staring up at thousand foot cliffs rising from snow meadows beneath.
This can be the beauty of music. Hearing that collection of songs will forever remind me of that time and place, those few hours of solitude in an environment of outrageous scenery. I’ll also remember the Bostonian professor – also named Robert (Bob) – and the British couple nearing the end of their year out. Incidental to my experience but remembered because of the depth of reminiscence I now feel.
A day or so later, I wandered aimlessly looking for City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach district. The area’s “colour” – by which I mean, strip joints, homeless population and “interesting characters” – was accentuated by Mogwai creating their walls of sound between my ears and out of their The Hawk Is Howling record. The slow buildup of layers of guitar effects over guitar squall pushed me ever upward from Fisherman’s Wharf, past Coit Tower and up to the Beat Museum, City Lights and the building Francis Ford Coppolla’s Zoetrope film production company have called home since the 70’s.
Maybe I should’ve been listening to bebop jazz in homage to Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous prose writings inspired by his time at jazz bars in the city, but I’ve always associated the Beat Generation more with the drug-fuelled ramblings of a benzedine addict; huge feedback-filled walls of noise are how I picture that scene as a soundtrack…
America is a special country and has a special landscape for musical associations. Perhaps this is a personal thing and I’m just a sucker for a Yankee-accent and the music coming out of the country but well, there you go.
For example, Johnny Cash’s music was made for driving down a Texas highway towards Austin on an 84 degree F February morning having just come out of Mexico. Creedance Clearwater Revival similarly, in a redneck, singalong kind of way, comforting like a nursery rhyme to an infant when driving past “Lonesome Hill” ranches, border patrol stations and Billy Bob’s Hamburgers.
There’s always the blues imitators who took it to the next level – Led Zeppelin helping get that Ford Mustang up onto the Pacific Coastal Hoghway out of LA – rock music’s dynamism can help get you going when you’re in that over-tired, underslept state of mind, suddenly on an 8 lane highway after the sedation of New Zealand’s State Highways (generally one lane each way).
Down in New Zealand’s South Island, John Lennon had kept us entertained whilst viewing the majesty of a seemingly untouched country enjoying an early summer. How Do You Sleep?, Lennon’s poisonous jab at Macca, will forever remind me of the rolling green mountains between Marlborough and Nelson. The two bare no relation but are now inextricably linked in my mind – the song’s anger made all the worse by it being recorded with Ringo and George and subsequently listened to amid the grandeur of yet more amazing hillsides, shoes on fence posts and not much else…proper thinking time to digest the vitriol.
On a potentially more embarrassing note, car-dancing (dancing sat down in the back of a station wagon) to Michael Jackson’ “Thriller” and the breath-taking peak of Mt Aspiring are forever linked in music/landscape fraternity.
Basingstoke train station doesn’t seem to inspire the same lyricism, but given a bit more thought could surely provoke the spirit of John Lydon’s PiL, The Smiths or Joy Division…it looks like it could anyway. This is a fairly random collection of thoughts cobbled together from journal notes whilst travelling via road, rain, air and foot around the world in 2009. While I was listening to music.