Sunday, June 8, 2008


Now that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon in the States, and about $1.35 a litre in Canada, what is going to happen to that staple of North American car culture – going out for a drive? For as long as I can remember, that’s been one of the most pleasurable activities life had to offer. Ah, the freedom of the open road. Back in the ‘50s, when I was very small, we spent summer vacations with my grandparents in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan), and would take a long leisurely drive upstate. And once or twice a summer we’d all pile in the car head out of Detroit and drive to Howell for its famous cantaloupe melons. Of course, we could have bought them in the grocery store, but we always packed a picnic and made a day trip out of it (back before the network of expressways expanded into the ‘burbs, that was pretty much a given anyway). Then later, when I got my own license, I took naturally to the world of teen cruising. Talk about having no particular place to go! My girlfriends and I made the rounds of the drive-ins, or just plain drove around seeing what there was to see. Somebody had a cottage at the lake; we were on the way! When I went away to university in Kalamazoo, I drove in my mother’s old hand-me-down Valiant. With my own set of wheels, I could come home for the weekend any time I wanted. Okay, maybe that one wasn’t a huge priority…but you get my point.

These days, everyone is effected, but the ones I really feel sorry for are the teens. We could quickly be entering a time when the fun of aimless cruising around with a car full of your school pals will no longer be the rite of passage it once was. But the situation could have even more far-reaching effects. If this dark looming future comes to pass, what will become of road songs? Will anyone still be inspired to write them? Can you imagine a world without the Beach Boys “I Get Around”? Or Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away”? Or even Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike” (‘cause you ain’t gettin’ a ride if nobody’s out there drivin’). Just think about the hundreds of cool songs that are yet to be written. Who will climb in behind the wheel, turn the key and write another classic? And we haven’t even begun to consider the road movies yet. They too are a much-loved part of our shared experience. There could be some lean times ahead!

Still, bad as that sounds, things may not be completely hopeless. We just have to reinvent the road song. Find the musical equivalent to bunching your shopping necessary trips together, and finding routes with less traffic, fewer left turns and stoplights. We need to think of road songs in a different, energy saying way. I think we even have a few oldies that we can build on.

Melanie, Brand New Key
This one went to Billboard #1 in Dec. 1971, back in the day of plentiful, relatively cheap gas, and quad rollerskates. I used to have a pair of those key-operated skates. They were really heavy and cumbersome, but once you got up some speed you could sure make sparks fly going down the sidewalk.

Fats Domino, Walkin’ to New Orleans
A great little road song of sorts, written by Bobby Charles for Fats, who had a hit with it in 1960. Bobby was a big fan of the Fat Man. When they met in Lafayette, Fats invited him to come visit him at home in New Orleans. Bobby told him he didn’t have a car, and if he did visit, he’d have to walk there. Then he turned that thought into a song.

Well, there you go. I hope I haven’t brought everybody too far down with this. Here’s one more song to leave with you on a happy high note. It’s a later one from the Beach Boys, with a great YouTube video – a real tribute to the internal combustion engine!

Still Cruisin’

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