The Hot Ride

A heat bomb hit me when I slid into my Chevy today, a welcome rapture after an icy winter in upstate New York. It took me right back to the tireless Nash that was heaped among the weeds in my boyhood, nested among toads and copperheads in a bungalow colony in Peekskill.

A James Deanish boy named Leif was my summer partner in crime. He was the true grit country boy, I, the city kid learning the ropes. We were just short of teenage, and that mechanical skeleton was our rocket to the moon.

We sat in the stultifying July sun, hornets circling; our souls exulted from the dusty upholstery scents as we took turns behind the hot steering wheel, the battered speedometer feeding our imaginations. The cracked and crazed sheet metal became a time machine, taking us on far journeys through states that were as yet unknown. Our young hearts baked and burned. Turn after turn, we explored, escaped as if mapping out the rest of our lives.

I have no idea what happened to Leif after that summer. Year after year, my own soul baked on: in my father’s Studebaker, Dodge; in my first car, a 1948 Cadillac hearse. That black monolith took me to California and back twice, tracing every road I had imagined in that magical Nash.

It persists. I’ve since traveled the back roads of most states. My wife, Roxanne and I continue the journey every chance we get: Cross Creek, Savannah, New Orleans, Pueblo, Greensboro, Kansas City, Barstow, Staunton, Albuquerque. Somehow, it’s always just beginning, when the sun enwraps you behind the wheel.

America is in my blood, my bones, as evinced in my writing. Check out this raw reality in the video to my song “Miss America.”
Add to Technorati Favorites
Rock Music Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Breadbasket me, baby

Kind of a dream night here in Kansas City last night.  My wife, Roxanne took me to dinner. Lucky man, KC strips at the Golden Ox on 16th and Genessee. A 40s joint in the stockyard section, wood paneling, pleated bar, live jazz wafting in from the lounge. Even a brief departure from our glowy repast when, in the men’s room, I came face to face with a panoramic photo of the yards, circa 1910. The rawness of woodframed housings and pens, tiny figures of men burning remains — The hard terrors of the cattle industry churning my gut. And, yes, I turned from it, back to the paradise of the evening, which only got better.

We summoned our adoptive Pakistani cab driver, Al no less, who sped us back to our hotel, the Westin. Now it was a bottle of Riesling in the rooftop Benton’s (named for painter Thomas Hart Benton), where another jazz ensemble was playing, the Stephanie Laws Jazz Combo, with Wayne Hawkins, piano; Bob Bowman, bass; and Tim Cambron, drums. Even sans sax, they would’ve made Bird proud, moving like a long river through standards and pop surprises like Moondance. Even closing with “Over the Rainbow,” the tune Harold Arlen wrote in a rush on his way to the”Wizard” set; the tune Harold Arlen didn’t think had a shot. Oh yes, we are in Kansas.

And all the while, behind our couch was broad a picture window opening out onto the KC skyline. The Western Auto sign conducting the proceedings like a conductor with a neon baton, avenues of light funneling downtown.

Western Auto sign, Kansas City

Western Auto sign, Kansas City

Yes, I love America, and it doesn’t get purer to a junkie like me than the heartland. R’s like me. We revel in discovering the soul of a town. I need to feel its history, its music, its people. I need to peel back its layers, hear its long tales . I need it in the raw.

That’s what I’ve done in my songs over the last decade. I write about place. I try to see a city through time. That’s what I did in my debut album, “King Kong Serenade.” After all, New York’s my hometown. I drove its taxicabs, I sang on its streetcorners, I cooked in its kitchens and I wrote for its newspapers. As a sampler, try “Crossroads of America.”