Music and Travel or Travelling with Music

January 11th, 2010

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 Ros and Yosemite - Feb 2009
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.
Mogwai and City Lights bookstore, San Francisco
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.
Billy Bob's Hamburgers
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
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.

stream of consciousness #2

January 20th, 2009

I need to go back to the restaurant in Franz Josef. My legs itching like crazy whilst trying to enjoy a tuna nicoise – Sean noticed a large lever in the communal wash are of the toilets…set to ON it welcomed, no, encouraged someone – anyone – to turn it up into the OFF position. What’s the worst that could happen? The lights go off, a waiter stumbles, a fork pings from an entree plate and stabs the strange Americans at the next table in each of their elbows? Or we unlease hell upon the earth, like a massive, bright red HISTORY ERASE button tempting you; “Press me, you know you want to”. Well, we didn’t, none of us, we all said NO, a bitter disappointment one day in to a journey of yeses. But we did ask what it was for, but no one would tell us, the staff whispered to each other in small groups and peered furtively at our esteemed group, but no reply. Three weeks on, and I REALLY wanna know…answers on an email, please.

Next day: early morning, exit tent to behold a snow toppeed mountain range obscuring my view – how rude. A giddying sight at 7.30 in the morning, and I don’t mean Sean’s sleeping face looking back at me. Kiwi guy in next tent clampers out and calls to his mate, “Bro, you gotta check this out”, he’s not wrong. I don’t know how high those hillocks were, and still are, but higher than a kite is a fair assumption. So then, guess what? Slipping past the World’s Biggest Cockroach outside the men’s washroom – that’s where they all hang out, y’know – we proceed to park up and walk over the “terminal morraine” of mountain water streams, boulders, rocks, stones, pebbles and shyst – I said “Shyst” copyright Mike “Man”; Lewis 1986 – I find we can walk clear to within half a mile of the glacier head! No signs, 5 small posts stuck in the ground in seemingly random places, apparently a “path”, those Kiwis, eh?! and a bunch of under-dressed, over-camera’d tourists stumbling over said rocky obtrusions towards this huge wall of ice, the sign at the beginning of the valley – just before the stepping stones over the icy stream – should’ve just said “Crack on, bro” for that were the desire of the Dept of Conservation (hereafter DOC), and so we duly did…

stream of consciousness #1

January 19th, 2009

Apologies in advance for what follows – not an attempt at Kerouac(k)ian prose, just the only way to write with brevity about the past fortnight, hold on, here goes, Day One’s mission is to reach the Glacier! And so the Grand Voyage begins, Sean – drives, Geoff – photographs and is enthused by all, Ann – creates her cosy corner and enjoys it all, I – sit and think, and cough, and my ears they do pop: off on State Highway 6 – this runs past the very street I type from – out, way out west, from Nelson to Murchison, all guns blazing, I feel like a trailblazer in this landscape, very quickly all greens obscure other colours bar the skies blues and whites – logging country, boy – then “Murch” and Breakfast #2 (eggs) and coffee outside a cool little hub in the centre of town, a little hippy-ish, great Sunday morning feel – a few good hangovers were conceived here last eve, I’ll be bound! ON! and to some young rapids on the Buller River where we watch a young semi-aquatic optimist becomes suddenly more pessimistic as their raft captsizes and they drift downstream away from the guide’s safety rope, let’s hope that doesn’t happen to any of our party this week, eh? (read on, for it surely does!) And so through more breathtaking landscapes than I would care to shake an un-shitty stick at to the wondrous glory of…Greymouth, where we had KFC: boo! Nowhere else seemed to be available, it was a straight fight for our affections between the Colonel and the Clown: clowns never win. So, away from a strange place – although probably good and cheap – with a sea wall obstructing what would surely/shorely be the best view: the shoreline and sea, etc…and on past beaches of incredible beauty. I’m told it rains on the West Coast – not on our day through, it looks tropical to me, as I’m also told, it is! A sign warning of penguins stirs the curious mind, but I get the impression, anything can and frequently does co-exist down here. On to Haast – greedy with the “a”s, eh? past the elephants graveyard of driftwood washed up and bleached on Hokitika beach and then inward to giant hills…hell, let’s call them mountains, they deserve it, and to Franz Josef Glacier…how queer! That was Sunday…

les sealy and the case of the world’s biggest burrito

January 3rd, 2009

A week in new zealand’s south island and the nelson area – where to begin? Les Sealy, the stinking seal sunbathing around mine and Sean’s sea kayak? Maybe…the world’s biggest burrito from “Go Mexico” in Nelson? Could be…green-lipped mussels at Picton Ferry watching the Interislander ferries leave for Wellington on my birthday? possibly…

All this and the hospitality of Sean & Faith (plus Sean’s folks) and the news that Stephen Fry spent New Year in NZ(!) has made it a right flamin’ cliché, eh? I’ve got tanned, insect-bitten limbs, and am on the obligatory antibiotics after a stealth attack while playing golf yesterday. Only 72 over par, not bad for my first go?! Even playing sport is hampered by the views, how’s a guy supposed to birdie the 10th when there’s a Tui hooting away in the trees (beautiful) and the stream chuckles on it’s course down from the surrounding valley-sides (more beautiful)?

So far the friendliness has been amazing, nothing is too much trouble, everyone seems to have an extra 24 hours in their day to spend chatting, relaxing, generally leisuring it up all over the place – a good way to be – except when 2,000 pissed up Kiwis (and us) are waiting to see 3 of NZ’s biggest bands play in a “room behind a pub” and the portaloos haven’t turned up yet! No flamin’ worries, it’ll be “sweet as, bru” cos we’ll just start later, keep the bars open and let everyone get properly leathered – late licenses? Who cares? The Riwaka Hotel is in the middle of acres of orchards with no one around anyway: yes, a good night.

I heartily recommend spending your 37th birthday with Sean & Faith as you get scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast on the balcony, a drive on the Queen Charlotte route through mountains and amazing bays, a rack of ribs for your tea and a day sea-kayaking around the Abel Tasman National Park the next day – check ahead for bookings!

<p>So tomorrow morning, good and early, we’re off on tour for a week of South Island joy in the shape of glaciers, BIG mountains, white water, Queenstown, bungee jumping even! Will report back, hanks to all for xmas, birthday and new year messages, please comment away should the mood take you!