Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Gillian Welch – I Dream A Highway.

A while ago, in a fit of late-onset adolescent angst that has embarrassingly been immortalised in print, I wrote that the song that best epitomises this life was "Other People's Lives" by Modest Mouse. "They just don't seem to understand," I wrote, "That this narrative free droning is a hell of a lot like this life; always building up to something without ever actually doing so, patterns constantly in repetition, minor variations on the theme and voices incomprehensibly shouting disjointed and meaningless sentences across the noise."

Now that I'm older, and perhaps slightly less angsty, I'm inclined to suggest that another twelve minute epic, Gillian Welch's "I Dream A Highway" is the song that best captures the essence of existence. Like "Other People's Lives" there are patterns repeating, themes that emerge and re-emerge, intertwining with other threads from other directions. Yet unlike the Modest Mouse song, which considers us outsiders, watching as our own lives unfold before us, "I Dream A Highway" reminds us that we are not standing alone. Citing freely from the history of country music, Welch places us – our misguided meanderings, our long drives late at night to destinations we are unsure of, our confusion and our trouble and our pain – on a continuum that includes us in both our future and our past. Johnny Cash kicking out the footlights at the Grand Ole Opry, Poor Lazarus stepping into the light, Emmylou Harris dueting with Gram Parsons – Welch knows that these myths are part of the texture of who we are, give us a sense of identity as much as those we create ourselves. Driving from Canberra to Sydney, leaving at 1am, fuelled by shitty truckstop coffee, everyone else in the car asleep. The moon is full in the rearview mirror, the stars clear pinpricks of light ahead. As we drive on the road gets blurry, dreamlike. I'm texting anyone who is awake, trying to keep myself from drifting off. All the mistakes I've made, all the lessons I've failed to learn are coming back to haunt me – 3am being the natural enemy of those who can't come to terms with their regrets – but when I disregard danger in order to listen to "I Dream A Highway" on my ipod, I'm reminded that I'm not the first to fuck up, and I won't be the last. And more than that, she reassures me that at some point in the future I'll find the right direction, will find a road that leads, eventually, to something like redemption. We arrive in Newtown at 4am, falling out of the car and into our temporary beds, alive and bewildered and whispering our stories to each other as sleep finally comes.

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