Listening to: Sterish's AWESOME mix (part I)†
This is an "atmosphere mix" and meant to express the experience of driving late at night (preferably in a 1961 Chevy Bel-Air) alone, along Blue Highways* where the only lights are from the dim indicators on the dash, headlights ahead, and the sinister glow of a cigarette. Left and right, in the distance, the hills are absolutely black, as if the horizon was torn to empty into a void, the stars and moon above creating a kind of vertigo, as if you're driving upside-down in defiance of gravity and that, at any moment, your grip on the road could be lost and you would fall into the ocean above you. Occasionally, a road sign or a mile-marker reflector blinks at you, just to remind you they're there before they pass back into the night like nocturnal beasts that caught your scent and, having satisfied their curiosity, went silently about their business.
Sometimes a distant farmhouse snags your attention, makes you wistfully imagine what it's like living in that kind of solitude; more infrequently, a sleepy town demands deceleration while you pass through, more indifferent to your passing through than you are to its passing by.
It is an atmosphere that is not really of this age, not anymore. Although the Blue Highways are still there, alive for those who live along them, they rarely exist on MapQuest searches and when they do, they are red or gray, beyond that which is highlighted in purple and devoid of any meandering urge for discovery.
It is an atmosphere that predates most of the music in my mix, an age when driving out on Blue Highways demanded AM radio (because the signals skipped off the ionosphere, going places where FM was reduced to a soft hiss), songs drifting in and out of recpetion and consciousness like spectral voices. A time when AM radio was where all popular music resided and FM was for "beatiful music". A time when, late at night, you knew the DJ was spinning disks alone in a studio because he knew you were out there, alone. A psychic thread that was immediate and ephemeral and then cut and let loose to drift in the breeze as you sped on into the night and fiddled with the dial to seek another connection.
Maybe one in a hundred who read this will understand what I'm saying. It is the cost of survival, of passing out of one generation and standing outside the next. I chose this particular meta-theme ("Driving" being the theme, "Late at Night, Alone, on Blue Highways, etc." being... see?) because it is a metaphor. Not looking back and yet, remembrance. Letting the headlights illuminate the next step but still having some thought lodged firmly where I came from, living, close enough to grasp and as distant as the stars below.
Here is the mix:
Marc Broussard, Home
One of my favorite finds of this past year, a quintessential evocation of everything I just wrote (above), "You don't know nothing about this... Take me home... Said take me home,". Added to the mix well before Katrina but now, with the disaster in the Gulf, the cut seems a bit more compelling because of the restrained rage of the song. Bluesy and, well, if you're out on Blue Highways not listening to the Blues, you might as well be snug in your Motel 6 bed and looking out for only your Continental Breakfast ("free from 6 to 9 every morning!"). The "looking behind" song that presses your toes forward on the accelerator.
Liz Phair, Baby Got Going
Press the accelerator down some more because Liz promises us um, something extremely hot and wet and hungry, definitely a reason to get there soon. And the rhythm is all about movin' on....
Man, this song chugs and chugs and chugs, like hammering pistons, not in the "whomp, whomp, whomp" of a rave kind of way (yeah, it's Underworld but a different groove, here) but after the Liz Phair, it's as if you've just taken your foot off the pedal and let the wind brush through your hair, riding the momentum, downhill, listening to the hills whoosh around you.
That's how it sounds to me. What it "means" to me is anyone's guess.
Wilco, Muzzle of Bees
Looking out at those hills, you wonder what the people in them are doing, saying, what they're thinking, too, and what they sound like. When something is universal, what we all think, what we all sound like, we write it down and it becomes art. We all hear the same thing but in an infinite variety of ways, interpretations, colors and when someone explains that to us, we call it art. Among the many excellent bands I've heard in the past 44 years, Wilco is one of the few that brings art to me. And always at night...
Sigür Rôs, Unknown
Finding a fellow Sigür Rôs fan is like finding a Firesign Theatre fan, one of those "either you get it or you don't" kind of propositions. To me, this haunting tune of incredible beauty (and oh, sonically such a perfect follow-up to the Wilco song) seems to run well short of the 9 and some minutes it clocks in at. At least I get that; those who don't "get" Sigür Rôs may find it too damn long.
Steely Dan, Rikki, Don't Lose That Number
Our family had just moved to Taiwan and I remember loving this song on the radio, endlessly, late at night, in a hotel room that smelled of mildewed bamboo, thinking about how much promise was pleaded for in this song and how much I wanted to see Ricki and give her my number.
Neko Case, Look For Me (I'll Be Around)
This spot would have also gone to Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, or Timi Yuro but Neko won out. Nothing else would have fit with the Steely Dan. Too haunting because I'm hoping this is what Rikki was thinking, with that number in her hand.
Chris Isaak, Wicked Game
I expect this song will be on a few mixes we see and I had no compunction including it on mine. Sure, too obvious, quintessential, rip the shrink rap off that cheap-o cassette you bought at the truck stop and it's on it, yup. Still, I had to include it lest I'd feel like a target for the Ministrry of Obvious Late Night Driving Mixes. Flush my Qaran but keep your jumper cables off my nutsack.
Maybe it's cheating that I was driving in the mountains the first time I heard this and the radio began to fade - I had to pull over to hear the rest and then wait for the DJ to back-track on what she'd just played so I could find out what the song was. But I pulled over because it was a "Driving Late At Night" song. Not Dove-ish at all and although I love Doves, I was surprised when I heard the cut listed.
B-52's, Planet Claire
Remember that scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent is driving after he's just shot up? This song is what we would have heard if he'd shot up ketamine instead of heroin.
Q Lazarus, Goodbye Horses
Even those of you who are powdered pasty-white and have mascara applied with a paint-gun probably only know this as "Buffalo Bill's Song". Yes, it's the song Buffalo Bill was dancing to in Silence of the Lambs as he admired himself in the mirror, tucked his cock between his legs and and hissed creepily, "Do you want to fuck me?" Friends listen to this song and ask what it is only for me to tell them and for them to then reply, "ewwww, ewwww, EWWWWWWW!!!"
Indeed. "All things pass into the night..."
World Party, All Come True
If this song doesn't sound like being out on a lonely road, no matter the time of day, you've missed the point.
Rolling Stones, Time Waits for No One
Paint It Black. Sympathy For the Devil. Angie. The Girl With the Faraway Eyes. Hell, the Stones are all about going somewhere late at night (even if it means an ambulance) because so much of their music is a soundtrack for a lonely voyage. However, this cut stands out for me, capturing the essence of what this disk is supposed to evoke.
Guided By Voices, The Enemy
Thumping your palms on the steering wheel, whether to stay awake or just remind yourself that you are still in this universe, you need a song like this to drive the rhythm as you're hurled further into the night.
Besides, how could I resist including a song by Guided By Voices, hmmmm?
Badly Drawn Boy, Everbody's Stalking
Like the Doves cut, this is very un-characteristic of the band - and perfect for this mix. With the flanged-out guitars and echo-effect vocals, the whirling tempo like a fly caught on a hubcap, this song feels as though you've taken your hands off the wheel after you've crested a hill and let the car steer itself, to see if it will keep the wheels on the road. It doesn't get more "Driving Late At Night" than that.
Boards of Canada, Julie & Candy
Like so much music by Boards of Canada, this is like the soundtrack to a lucid dream, as if you've nodded-out on someone's couch during a party and the voices in the kitchen weave themselves in and out of your subconsciousness. Julie & Candy in the next room, talking about... something. The stars become flashlight beams and try as you might to run to find out where everyone's going, your legs are frozen, stone.
Carole King, It's Too Late
With the lead-guitar line snaking ghost-like through the melody and the the chorus calling from just below the horizon, I could not leave this song off the mix. A reminder that there's many more hours before dawn.
So there you have it, my prolix explanation of how this mix creates, for me, an ambience, a sense of being somewhere at sometime but none of it specific to anything other than an atmosphere and a journey that we're all on. Hearing this mix, you'll get a sense of my own journey.
* Taken from the book by William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways are "the rural back roads that are colored blue on old maps," off the interstate highways and where, I think, the best travelling is done.
† Sterling's mix is infuckingcredible - and in three parts (three disks!). More than that, he's challenged me to figure out the "mystery" of the disk which, I admit, I'm stumped. Still, I hope he doesn't reveal the secret because I love puzzles and I'm going to spend this weekend trying to break the code. I highly recommend that you hie thee over to Ster's place and plead with him to send you copies. The mixes are that awesome.