Saturday, July 17, 2010

Road Trip Music

“Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t stop drivin’ that 
Hot                            Rod                       Lincoln!”
Clearly, the greatest road trip song of all time. But even as great as Charlie Ryan’s (who sadly passed away this past February at the age of 92) anthem to the hot rod is, you can’t listen to it more than five of six times on a road trip without the danger of rebellion from the shotgun seat. So what other songs are essential on a road trip? Is, in fact, music even a necessary component to a road trip? If you drive a TR3 with Brooklands windscreens that make it impossible to hear (like we do), I’m guessing no. If your idea of a road trip involves anything that is red, Italian, and has 12 cylinders, you’ve got all the music you need from the tailpipes. If the V8 rumble and blower whine make you shout to be heard, probably not. But still, in most instances, music and road trip generally go together like Guinness and mussels in cream sauce. 
Now it used to be, before the advent of satellite radio, that half the fun of a road trip was finding a radio station. Any radio station! In the bad ol’ days of AM only radio, when there were three whole stations that were deemed acceptable to teens in LA (quick, for 50 points and a free trip to Pacoima, NAME THOSE STATIONS!) if you were off in the boonies, you might be able to catch a skip off the ionosphere (or what ever sphere it is, science isn’t my strong suit) and pick up Wolfman Jack, broadcasting from his secret lair somewhere around (so it was rumored) Waco, Texas. If you were unlucky, you got Grand Ol’ Opry. I got the opportunity to demonstrate this lost art to my daughter as we were driving her newly acquired ’62 Mercury Comet home from Hemet. We were cresting the Beaumont Pass and trying the radio. It only took 5 minutes for the tubes (Yes, TUBES!) to warm up, then with that old familiar: “WEEEEEOOOOOOOOWWWEEEEUUUUUUUOOOOO” we managed to pick up something. A traffic report. For Salt Lake City! Needless to say, my daughter was impressed! But now we have multiple disc CD players, or iPods that can carry all the music of the Western World. What do you load in for that multi-day, cross country trek? 
Obviously, personal tastes play the most important role, but still, music that is maybe a bit out of your comfort zone can enhance a road trip in ways unimaginable. Time of day is also a factor. So is weather. So is the road. So is the car. The only types not allowed in my cars are Disco and Hip hop/Rap. I’m boycotting K-EARTH now that they’ve started to play the BeeGees as “Oldies.” Puh! Overall though, the more eclectic your play list, the better the experience. So here’s some of our favorites. Its far from a complete list. That would take enough space to fill several books, and ACE won’t devote an entire issue to one topic. 
For just plain cruisin’, even if its a day long drive, proper Rock and Roll is just the ticket.  After all, that’s how we all got started. Whether it was up and down Colorado in Pasadena or Whittier Blvd, or where ever, we all cruised to Rock and Roll. Windows down, arm hanging out, Just Cruisin’. Some of the best collections can be had from a local DJ everyone around here knows as LeRoy, the Milkman. You’ve probably seen and heard him at various car shows around SoCal. He puts together some amazing CDs. My favorite is called LeRoy’s Car Tunes. It’s got almost every great car song ever, including of course, “Hot Rod Lincoln.” There’s “Little Deuce Coupe.” “409,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Pretty much what HAS to be there is there (I can’t figure out why “Dead Man’s Curve: is missing, though), but he’s included other, more obscure stuff as well: “Pink Cadillac,”  “Rocket 88,” and “Bucket T,” for starters. My next favorite of his is “Surf Tunes.” A whole CD of the greatest surfer music ever. “Miserlou,”  “Wipe Out,” “Telstar Surf!” It doesn’t get much better than that! He also has several Doo-Wop CDs available, nice for the late night cruise, when you want to dial things back a bit on a warm summer night. 
My next Rock and Roll selection is a truly varied compilation. I bought it at the Rose Bowl Swap meet, but I’ve seen the guy at other events. Its a four CD set put out by Invicta Music, Ltd., up in Quebec, Canada (of all places!). Who, knows, these may not yet be “Oldies” up there in the Great White North! Anyway, this set has 103 songs. Its at least three hours of music. Volume One begins with Willie Nelson and “On the road Again”, proceeds through Freddy Fender (“Before the Next Tear Drop Falls”), Creedence (Bad Moon Rising”),  and The Diamonds (“Little Darlin’”), before hitting Duane Eddy, Jan and Dean, and Three Dog Night. It just gets better with Volume Two. Janis Joplin and “Bobby McGee” gives way to “Sixteen Tons” and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Bo Diddley, WAR, Chuck Berry and the Eagles also show up. Three and Four are equally as mixed up. Meatloaf, The Troggs, The Boss, Foghat, and the Vogues mix it up with Howlin’ Wolf, the Doobie Brothers, and ZZ Top. Whew, makes me tired just listing the stuff. I have to tell you too, all the cuts on these CDs aren’t in my comfort zone. Neil Diamond and Glen Campbell usually get bypassed, but that’s just me. 
Now so far, we’ve stayed in an area that I’m betting is safe for most of you. Good Ol’ Rock and Roll. Let’s push the boundaries. Late at night, on a long lonely road, maybe with enough rain to need the wipers on real slow, try Jazz. Smooth, Cool, Jazz. Dave Brubeck, Wes Montgomery, Antonio Carlos Jobin. Spice it up a bit if you are really adventurous with some John Coltrain, or Miles Davis. There is something about 2 AM, an Open Road, and Jazz. 
OK, now let’s REALLY push the limits. Let’s go all out beyond what most people can deal with. It may surprise you. Opera. Yes, Opera. That-Thing-Foreigners-Do-Until-Your-Head-Hurts. In the words of Luciano Paverotti, “Controlled Screaming.” I’m telling you, there is nothing like flying down a back road with that same Paverotti belting “Vin-cher-a, Vin-cher-AA, vin-CHHEERR--ah!” at the end of “Nesun Dorma” or carving up Highway One in the fog with Maria Callas doing the Mad Scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Its bloody MAGIC! Vocal Classical a bit too much for you? Fine, try some instrumental stuff. Mozart symphonies are great stuff. Not too heavy, actually hum-able, yet very satisfying. I’d suggest Ravel’s “Bolero,” but that’s not driving music, that’s parking music! 
The last genre I advise you to look into for variety is traditional Irish Music. Not “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” or “Danny Boy,” but the REAL stuff. Try the Chieftains, especially their early albums. Its easy to tell which ones they are, they’re numbered. As in “Chieftains 1”, “Chieftains 2,” and so on. Numbers 4, 5 and 8 are my personal favorites. Other groups like Dervish, Bothy Band, or Planxty are good bets. I’m telling ya, a good fast, hard reel has just the right rhythm for slamming up a mountain road. 
Since a good sound system seems necessary for a good ride, find some good music to play on it.  That’s the beauty of modern technology, you can burn your own mixes at the ‘puter. Van Morrison, Simon and Garfunkle, the Doors, some Motown. Throw in Cat Stevens and the Beatles and the Stones with Mozart and Puccini, a touch of Cannonball Adderly, a soupcon of Charlie Parker and you’ve got the right idea. Mix it up, and keep people guessing as they try to figure you out. And like they say, if its too loud, YOU’RE too old! 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Route 66, The TV Show

I thought I’d make a bit of a departure at this point, and do more of a review than a road trip. I found myself a Christmas present at Autobooks a couple of years ago. Its an obvious choice for something for me to review: Volume One, Season One of the ultimate Road Trip Show--Yes folks, the TV series “ROUTE 66.” I saw it and of course had to have it. Since it’s the ultimate Road Trip Show, maybe it will give you the feeling of how it was “back then.”
This is one of those shows that a lot of people refer to, but I’m betting probably never saw. At best, it’s been so long that the reality of the show has faded. To the best of my knowledge, it’s never been picked up as a retro-rerun. TV Land, Nick-at Night, et. al. are too busy showing garbage from the 1970s and 80s (but what can we expect when K-EARTH is now playing--shudder--disco as “oldies!”) to pay attention to the really great TV that was available in the 50s and 60s. “Route 66” is one of those forgotten gems. 
The premise, to remind everyone, is that Tod Stiles ( played by a very freckle faced Martin Milner, later of “Adam-12” fame) is the educated, privileged guy who had to leave Yale after his father died, leaving him penniless. The only thing he has left is his 1961 Corvette (actually, in the first episode, possibly the pilot, the car is a ’60) and a need to roam. His odd-couple buddy is Buz Murdock (George Maharis), a tough guy from Hell’s Kitchen who was raised in an orphanage. Together they roam the country, working odd jobs, getting their kicks, and along the way, changing people’s lives. The show also show cased a number of future stars such as Suzanne Pleshette, Leslie Nielson, Lee Marvin, Harvey Korman, Jack Lord, DeForest Kelly (!!) and Joey Heatherton, several getting the “Introducing” tag in the credits. There were some well known people as well, such as E.G. Marshall and Jack Warden. The cast lists were really impressive.
Now to be honest, I was a whole ten years old when the first season aired--1960 (OK, go ahead do the math), and don’t really remember much of the show. I doubt that my folks watched the show that much, and back then, only the insanely rich had more than one TV.  It was probably shown later than my bed time anyway. I do remember seeing a few episodes later on, but I can’t say I really have much more than a vague memory of it. Seeing the first few episodes were a revelation. Its hard to remember when TV drama was so, well, Dramatic. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that each episode has a Title, shown in the opening credits. Titles like “The Lance of Straw,” or “Man on the Monkey Board” seem a bit over the top today, but they give us the feel that each show is its own play. The three central characters are the same (Tod, Buzz, and the Road), and (unusual for the day) there is a continuity from one week to the next, following up on previous adventures.  Each show, however, stands alone in its own right. Shot in glorious, high contrast black and white, the show had tons of close-ups on faces that showed Character, and acting that was done by performers who started on the live stage, rather than in commercials. The feel is more like “Twilight Zone” or “Combat.” This is not a show spotlighting the light hearted hi-jinx of two dudes having a great old time, which is what we’d see today. Each episode is alive with situations that require our two heros to show far more maturity than would be expected in today’s Life-Lite society. Sure, they’re attracted to some pretty girls, but not in the openly sexual way of today’s shows. They really are young gentlemen. Of course, the TV codes of the day insured that kind of respectful yearning. 
     There is also the theme and musical score by Nelson Riddle. The title track is of course famous (it is not however the song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”), and its meant to have the feel of wheels (knock-off wire wheels, in this case--gotta be one of the few ‘Vettes with that option!) spinning down the road, the feel of wanderlust. Which is of course the whole premise of the show.
The real stars to me are the settings. This show was shot almost entirely on location. It’s a postcard from the past that shows an America of small towns and big dreams. It’s a less crowded America that still has a pre-Vietnam War enthusiasm. Although most of the road shots seem like they are done on minor back roads, in reality, this is pre-interstate America. Main roads could be just two lanes of blacktop. Although the shots are generally composed so the real names of the towns are obscured, some locations aren’t too hard to figure out. Bourbon Street in New Orleans, shrimp boats in the gulf, Grant’s Pass in Oregon. All these places figure in the plot and form the backdrop for the drama. It’s as if the show’s creator, Sydney Silliphant scouted the location and wrote the story to fit. 
Now about this time, you may have noticed that Louisiana and Oregon aren’t on Route 66. Yeah. In fact, about the only time they are actually on Route 66 is in the third episode. The “Mother Road” was more of a metaphor for the wide expanse of the country. Each region of the US was still distinct in 1960, the commercial homogenization of America was only in its infancy, and the Highway connected far flung places that were rarely visited. It reminds me of the trips from LA to Sacramento up old Highway 99 to see my grandparents. There was distance between towns. Each town was distinct. The highway was the main street back then so we’d look for landmarks along the way that told us how far we’d come. “Water, Wealth. Contentment, Health” proclaimed the arching sign entering Modesto. The smell of olives in Lindsay, the Big Orange stands, Burma Shave signs with the punch line missing. My dad convinced that truck drivers knew the “good” places to eat. My sister, brother and I wedged firmly into our spots (well, nests) with favorite toys in reach to keep us busy. Who needed seat belts or airbags? They had to physically extract us and then rebury us at each potty stop. The hours long road games, like the geography game. (name a town, country, physical place anywhere in the world, no street names. The next person has to start theirs with the last letter of the last place, no repeats. Think that’s easy? Wait till some joker says, “Essex”). These treks ended when we crept past an accident in the tule fog. Christmas presents were scattered around an overturned 1955 Buick. 
     The show has this feeling of searching, of striving, of needing answers to life that perhaps are not really there. This is years before hippies and “do your own thing.” These are two guys who were too young for WWII or Korea, but will be too old for Vietnam. They are button-down collar and dress slacks, not James Dean jeans and t-shirt guys. They are rebels of the heart, not of fashion. They are not Brando (“What are you rebelling against?”--”I don’t know, what have you got?”) guys, they are searchers. They are knights errant on a powder blue steed, tilting at life’s windmills, but keeping to a code of honor that is their own. 
Get yourself a copy and go back in time. You’ll be ready to seek out those back roads and long shuttered main streets and try to peel back the layers of plastic and fast food that hide the America of our youth. After all, a bit of maudlin, nostalgic yearning is good for you,