It's been almost exactly five years since my last road-trip and that's way too long a time. The last one was 12 days across the U.S. along semi-rural Route 50 in a rented Mustang, something I'd imagined doing since I was a kid. This one is the fulfillment of a more immediate compulsion, the object of which is a 2 1/2 month old infatuation with Jack White.
This trip is as much about discovery as it is a pilgrimage to see the man himself with his most recent band, The Dead Weather. The soundtrack as I drive encompasses not only the catalog of Jack's three most well-known bands, but also a taste of his roots- in this case, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell (Those of you in the know about Jack might ask, why no Son House? I wasn't kidding when I referred to House in a previous post as "the most awesome bluesman you've never heard of". The record store I went to hadn't had any of his music in stock since 2004. But I'll hunt some down, don't you worry about that.) Much of the music I was exposed to growing up-- The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin-- was also heavily influenced by the blues scene that Johnson and McTell were a part of. But that was my parents' music. Instead of paying attention and learning from those bands, I turned away and followed a path through punk and new wave, into heavy metal and grunge, and then, finally, back around to the blues-inspired garage rock of The White Stripes. It took Jack to open the door to the blues for me, and these hours on the road are a perfect opportunity to take my first few steps through it.
The collections that I chose for Johnson and McTell each include at least one tune covered by The White Stripes: McTell's "Your Southern Can Is Mine" and "Lord Send Me an Angel", and Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down". The Stripes' versions of the first two are nicely faithful to the originals, with simple vocals and instrumentation. The latter was a surprise to me-- The WS version is so distinctive that I had no idea it was a cover. Flying down Route 81, I broke into a huge grin when I heard Johnson crooning the chorus and recognized what it was. I had to pop the cd out and put in the Stripes' eponymous debut album, then queue up their version and grin again as Meg's thumping beat and Jack's punky voice filled the car. In McTell's music, I hear Jack being schooled in the blues. In Johnson's, I hear him taking what he learned and running with it.
As for the trip itself, it's off to a damned good start. When I got in the car this afternoon to leave, the Stripes' second album, De Stijl, was in the cd player. The song that came up when I turned the ignition was "I'm Bound to Pack It Up", followed by "Death Letter" (their famous Son House cover), both of which have to do with hitting the road. Neither of them are terribly fortuitous travelling songs (one is about running away from a relationship, the other about returning home to the death of a sweetheart), but I got a kick out of the coincidence nonetheless.
Despite a forecast calling for rain, the day has been gorgeous-- bright sunshine peeking between marshmallow clouds and casting a luminous light through new leaves on the trees lining the road.
After a few hours of such bucolic country scenery, I suddenly passed through a storm outside of Roanoke, Va, that included hailstones pinging off the windshield and skittering across the highway. (No photos of the hail. I may be reckless, but I ain't that stupid.)
Coming out the other side of that, I drove along with the setting sun on one side of the road and a soon-to-be-full moon rising on the other.
A few times today, I've had to remind myself what day of the week it is. To my mind, that's a wonderful way to begin a trip of this sort, so unaware of time that you're surprised to remember it's Sunday, to be in the moment to an almost disorienting degree. It leaves you open to anything and even the mundane can become pleasurable. Though who knows what surprises may be in store?