I landed in Sacramento on Thursday and ate a burrito from El Mariachi, drank some Peet's coffee, popped into Wheelworks for a chat with Joe and bear hug from Adem, and shopped for records at Armadillo.
Kevin's job with a high-end home entertainment wholesaler has made him a bit of an audiophile; his speakers are almost as big as he is. He's also embraced the vinyl renaissance, so he's got a great turntable and wax reissues of, for example, London Calling, The Queen is Dead, and Closer.
But the great discovery of the weekend were two new albums by Jay Farrar and Justin Townes Earle.
The Jay Farrar is a collaboration with the Death Cab For Cutie guy that examines the novel Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. The Beats have always been vexing figures for me: one of my mentors at UN-Omaha who helped convince me to go to graduate school is a scholar of Beat-era literature; Gary Snyder's tenure in English at UC-Davis helped put their graduate program on my radar; a staged reading of the entirety of On the Road caused one of the only conflicts I ever had with another of my UNO mentors (she thought it was a sexist affront); my first visit to City Lights in 1997 showed me that San Francisco just might be Atlantis. Subsequent visits to the city each awakened epochs of love and loss.
Farrar's "California" served as a fitting road-trip elegy for my time in California when I drove back to Omaha last year, and whenever I get wistfully "homesick" for Davis and the Bay Area, I listen to it still. But this new record is masterful. It features songs Farrar wrote for a documentary film called One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur.
This river of road,It don't flow like it used to.But it's more of a homeThan anywhere that I've ridden it to.
We used to dream togetherBut now I drink alone.From the bottle to the tumblerIs the only journey left I know.
And in my memory’s depths I retrace my steps.I cannot find where I went wrong.It was one fast move or I'm gone.
I found out at an early age I could make anything or planeDisappear or cease to exist if I turn my back to it.And that the interstates, they don't connectWhere you are to what you've left.And the ghost of our dreams haunt the roads in between.
Though nothing could compare to the love we shareIt just didn't have a place to belong.It was one fast move or I'm gone.One fast move or I'm gone.One fast move or I'm gone.
Jack's battles with the bottle are well documented, but it's the reasons for his descent that I find both attractive and repellent. Miraculously, I've dodged the genetic bullet of alcoholism by owning my addictive personality and turning those instincts toward slightly less self-destructive obsessions. But I find the addiction and recovery narrative endlessly fascinating. It informs much of my interest in Coleridge and De Quincy. But this track blames geographical displacement and lost loves for his malaise. Hmm.
Addiction also features prominently in the current story about Justin Townes Earle. Given his father's fights with the needle and his namesake's early death from substance abuse, Earle's recent cancellation of his Omaha tour stop was pretty predictable--he's entered rehabilitation.
His new record is brilliant. Part of its appeal may have stemmed from Kevin's speakers and turntable, but it sounds good even on my shitty little computer-based system.
The penultimate track is a lament for Earle's brief time in Chicago and how it failed him. I like the lyrics because they seem to examine the oxymoronic notion that attempted relocation doesn't always lead to escape. One's demons can be bound to place, too, and nights spent mourning the distance often lead addicts to another substitute for home.
I come here with hopes and yeah,Yeah.
I guess I came here with dreams
Now I'm all alone and
I can't even get to sleep
So take my heart and break it in
Send me back to the pines
Tired of lying awake and I
Feel like I'm running out of time
See my dreams before my eyes
Shadows on the wall
I ain't got no place I can fall
Snowing in off the lake
Punching holes in the dark
Through the lonely streets
Of Rogers Park
However, not all of my time in Davis was spent listening to plaintive alt-country music. Tomorrow I'll blog about cycling with the new Master's Criterium California State Champion, gallivanting through the Mission and over Nob Hill with a crazed woman, warming the new house of some dear friends, and frantically researching some alarming medical tests on WebMD.