October 19, 2004

I Get A Feeling That I Should Have Been Home Yesterday.


The music I ever owned was a cassette of John Denver's Greatest Hits.

I had a mono cassette player of the type you used to find in school libraries. I would hold it to my ear, transfixed by "Country Roads," riding around Leavenworth, Kansas, in the back of my Mom's boat-like green 1976 Oldsmobile.

I remember as a six year old being mystified as to why anything would be so compelling as a song could be. It didn't make sense to me.

By the time I was ten, even ABBA was hipper than John Denver; I was into Billy Joel's Glass Houses, Christopher Cross, and the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie. By the time I was twelve, it was Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, and, until recently, that's when I thought my musical existence began.

At 21, I was living in an apartment on Elizabeth and Spring Street in Manhattan. It was a shity neighborhood then. It wasn't NoLIta then--it was nameless. It was no longer Little Italy, it wasn't quite Chinatown or SoHo or the LES. It occurred to me that nearly everyone in the neighborhood would consider themselves to be in a different neighborhood than the next guy.

My stoner friends and I called it Laundrytown, because there were sacks of laundry stacked in the windows up and down Elizabeth Street--many of which had fake old-timey signs that said "Antonelli Musical Instruments," or "Butcher Shop," that the crew of Godfather III had put up when shooting in the neighborhood a year or two ago, which no one bothered to take down.

I lived with a 34 year old computer programmer. He would come home every night with two quarts of Olde English and a pesto slice from Ray's on Prince Street. He had a giant collection of vinyl LP's, of which I listened to two, obsessively: Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True and Toots and the Maytals' Funky Kingston, on which the Maytals cover "Country Roads."

Somehow the hipness of Toots outweighed my own percieved corniness of my childish tastes. I listened to it, again, obsessively. I taped it and listened to it at work, driving around Manhattan in a van, delivering gourmet ice cream.

Sometime after I quit Soul Coughing, I went out and bought John Denver's Greatest Hits on CD. I listened to it nearly non-stop on my first solo tour; I had a tour manager that drove the rental car on that one, while I sat shotgun, getting drunk the whole time.

I stopped the liquor, and ended up firing the tour manager in favor of driving myself, but I still went through obsessive periods of "Country Roads." I still do, actually.

I wrote this in an earlier entry: on one of my last nights in Bahar Dar, in Ethiopia, I went to a bar with a bunch of waiters, drivers, and guides from my hotel. They got shitfaced and danced; I didn't get shitfaced, but I danced with them. At one point, a cheesy house version of "Country Roads" came over the soundsystem, after either an Aster Aweke song, or R. Kelly's "Step in the Name of Love."

The whole place surged out onto the dance floor. A wild energy of abandon. What an incredible tune. I was sitting that one out, with the only other guy in our group that wasn't drinking, a guide named Genanew. I turned to him and sang along with every word of the bridge. Much to his astonishment.

"I hear her voice, in the morning hour she calls me; radio reminds me of my home, far away..."

Posted by Mike at October 19, 2004 04:37 PM
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