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road tested

December 28, 2012

road tested

photo Michelle Weger

I’m wrapping up this holiday break with a road trip that will take me out of the city, through winter-greened valleys, across dormant fields and finally along the breezy, blue Pacific. Besides pondering what to pack (boots or bathing suit, rain coat or sun hat – that’s the beauty of a car trip, no need to choose), I’m thinking about how to keep myself occupied (and awake) for all those miles. Local radio stations will only get me through the first hour, and while there’s a fairly consistent NPR signal following most of the 101, there are only so many sequential hours of thoughtful, golden-voiced, scrupulously-balanced programming I can take. So here’s a set list of sorts for my upcoming getaway:

One of the things I love about long drives is that initial burst of liberation you feel when your day-to-day existence fades to a speck in the rearview. That’s when I’m looking for music that speaks of other times and other places, like the swingy twang of Madeline Peyroux covering “Muddy Water”. It would, of course, be irresponsible to imbibe an antifogmatic before getting behind the wheel, but songs from the Punch Brothers’ album antifogmatic like “When in Doubt” are perfect, free-wheeling company when the road gets lonely.

Later, if (when) I hit traffic, the sweet harmonies and gentle guitar work of the Milk Carton Kids will liquidate all frustration and soothe those stop-n-go foot cramps. Once the road opens up and the cruise control is set, the feeling of asphalt beneath the wheels hearkens back to an era when long-distance ground travel meant getting on a train, and the chugging, jangling, rollicking sounds of John Adams’ two-piano piece “Hallelujah Junction” is pure motion in music.

Every car trip eventually turns into a sing-along, and my favorites come from an Ella Fitzgerald compilation of the Cole Porter songbook. It’s impossible not to belt out numbers like “From This Moment On” even as other drivers gawk and roll up their windows. Finally, after hours of staring at the horizon, restlessness becomes almost overwhelming. From its
plaintive opening to the mad, driving rhythms (oh yes, pun intended) of the Sacrificial Dance, The Rite of Spring keeps my motor running through the rest of the journey. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when both internal combustion engines and electric motors have been replaced by the kinetic power of dance music: Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the 2042 Stravinsky SLS!

If you’ve been out on the road this holiday season – over the river and through the woods, or just cruising the mall garage for a parking space – I’d love to hear what you’ve been listening to.

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