But Still They Lead Me Back to the Long and Winding Road

Last week my wife and I were in London, where we were treated to a private tour of Abbey Road Studios and seats at the premiere of Ron Howard’s new film about the Beatles, Eight Days a Week. It was, as you can imagine, a remarkable experience. We were shown all the corners of what might be the most famous studio in the world, and later that night we walked into the Odeon with Eric Clapton.

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For me, it was particularly special. If you’ve read my book, you already know that I am an enormous fan of rock ‘n’ roll, folk, and the blues. So much so, in fact, that I made them the “soundtrack” of my book.

And I really mean “soundtrack.” The lyrics I chose for each defacto chapter title are meant to provide music to accompany your reading. This is because no car-age journey through America is complete without music. And while country music could be added to the list of genres that provide for the traditional soundtrack of the American road, well . . . I really didn’t know enough about it (and still don’t) to use it substantially in my book. Though I like much of the old standards of the genre (much more than the current music, in fact), dipping into it would be like pretending I now know London inside-out. Regardless of how many people ask me for directions (yes, this phenomenon is international!), I’m really not the one they truly want to be relying on.

In An American Song, then, it’s mostly rock ‘n’ roll and folk. And each lyric had been carefully chosen. Not only do they play upon the trope of singing that is central to the book, but they link the stories I am telling to a broader cultural narrative. That is, the songs in the book pair with the songs I chose for the titles. Some are thematically parallel. Others reflect the way in which a song might speak to a listener about a related topic. A few are used as isolated bursts of independent meaning in the way a line of poetry might find resonance exclusive of the overall objective of the poem. And every so often one is provided to establish or reestablish the mood of the binding narrative of the book itself.

This isn’t to say the book can not be read without the music. Clearly it can. But I do recommend that you consider playing these songs– in the least because they are great songs, and many are ones you may not be familiar with, but more so because my vision for the book includes them, and they add important elements to the words. Think of it as integral to the surrogate road trip the book offers. Sure, you can drive across the country without music. But would you? Aren’t the scenes of the American road– and the scenes of the American people busy at their lives– intrinsically tied to the music that accompanied the emergence of the open ride as our cultural birthright? How different would Easy Rider be if there was no music in it, after all?

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I’ve had “Eight Days a Week” in my head on and off for the past week now. It’s not that the song was featured more prominently than the others in the film– I don’t recall that being the case, in fact. It’s that the title of the film I went to London to see is now intimately tied to one of the great experiences of my life. What matter if the song is about a love affair and not a touring band (and certainly not a man remedying his wanderlust)? It is the connection that assumes significance– that replays the notes of disparate circumstance and grants them a binding meaning. Music has that effect on the postmodern mind. And it is right that we allow it to.

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