Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Traveling Sounds

It should be a Grammy category. Good Drivin' Music (GDM) is a tradition as old as A.M. radio - but it has evolved quite a bit over the years. Here is River City's completely subjective guide to GDM and our quest for the best provider of GDM.

There are two categories that define real GDM. The first is the most obvious: Songs, and especially albums, that mention driving, cars, and all things automotive are the best start for GDM. Bruce Springsteen is the benchmark. Whether driving a stolen car, driving through the desert, or born to run, for chrissakes, Springsteen's GDM factor for this category is staggering. Every single album involves road adventures to some extent. The man must write songs from behind wheel, maybe steering with his knee (like I do when I'm playing the crossword ).

Others have boldly produced GDM from this perspective as well. Neil Young (see: Harvest Moon) is an old pro. Bob Dylan was never scared of the road. Don't forget Dire Straits. Readers will shout out "Willie Nelson" and countless old country performers. Fathers of classic GDM, all of them.

But these days, the circle is not complete until you look at the second, more controversial factor. GDM is not just about driving. It has to be flowing and hypnotic. Real GDM is an entire album, and it helps induce the Driving Trance (DT). This isn't always easily done. Long songs often do it best - stretching, surrealistic, mind-numbing songs that allow you to forget just how much damn further you have to go. Songs like the 17-minute gaelic instrumental epic at the end of Joe Strummer's latest, "Global A-Go-Go." Some DT-inducing music is exalting, like Spiritualized; others subtle and moody (I'm looking in your direction, Yo La Tengo). Even bands like Pink Floyd can, technically, rank high in this category of GDM - but only to the point of inducing a good Driving Trance.

Combining the two is the real art. And until recently, River City wondered if it could be done. In search of the perfect GDM band, we decided to focus on Washington weirdo-rockers and River City faves Modest Mouse.

The evidence is compelling. Begin with the song "Dramamine:"
Traveling swallowing Dramamine / Feeling spaced breathing out listerine
It's on the album This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. Said album also includes "Ohio," featuring the following pearls:
Rows of lights to illuminate lines / Why don't they turn them off and let us see night /Drove crazed grooming my lies /You can't look in on one way eyes, Ohio.
Another good touch is the album cover of highway scenes. Several elements of GDM - but it's not quite there. The album is full of harsh, snap-you-awake rough spots that break the all-important DT.

On to Building Nothing out of Something, a strange album - but it has the song "Interstate 8:"
I drove around for hours, I drove around for days/ I drove around for months and years and never went no place /We're on a pass, we're on pass /I stopped for gas, but where could the place be /To pay for gas to drive around /Around the Interstate 8.
Compelling, as is "A Life of Arctic Sounds," in which Brock sings:
100 miles is a long drive inside a car, 200 miles is along drive inside a car, 300 miles…
…you get the idea. And the music gets into some strands of hypnotic space-rock, at least in stretches. Excited, we moved on.

Things looked promising. Ready to crown the king, we advanced to The Moon & Antarctica, arguably Modest Mouse's best album. It's enigmatic, spirtually stirring, both disturbing and enlightening. It induces the DT from the first song and never lets go. And as we listened, we tried to think through the trance, searching for the driving references.

Patiently, we waited. Nothing. Song after song, no cars, no whacked-out drives into oblivion. How could this be? A band that seemed to be building its catalog on road trips and surreal highway adventures had created their best work yet, but completely neglected an ENTIRE CATEGORY of GDM!

Dejected, River City wonders, wistfully, if the perfect GDM band is a dream, just out of reach. We want your thoughts. Send your nominations to us and make a good case. We've got another road trip coming up soon, dammit!