Road Songs

A long drive through the fog this morning to Connecticut to visit a possible summering place, listening to road music on the way, the other cars ghosts on the pavement. We took a curvy highway through the country, passing gems like this weathered, crumbling wooden barn at a gas station.


Road Runner, the best of all the road songs. Joan Jett does it justice, substituting New York City for Massachusetts and FM for AM but growling the melody with the passion it deserves. Then back to the bible, Jonathan Richman, his ecstatic warble about driving past the Stop and Shop…

In Gil’s long history with cars, two were formative, his grandmother’s two-tone Studebaker Hawk, which he was allowed to sit in but never drove, and the 1949 Dodge pickup he painted red and black with a broom in front of his honeymoon apartment on Washington Street. He built a poptop out of wood with a canvas flap and slapped a yin yang symbol on it and drove out to Boulder to follow his dreams.


Neil Young’s Long May You Run, the finest love song to a machine. Your chrome heart shining in the sun.  It was a hearse.

I never had a car growing up. The three of us ran my mothers Impala into the ground instead. I always liked gazing out the window, and falling asleep with my head lolling on my chest. But I lived in Manhattan long enough that my license expired, and it took me years to love to drive. Anyway I never had a favorite vehicle – I’ve always thought we should go back to horses for daily transportation.

Cars and music are naturally enmeshed — when I listen to Springsteen’s Racing in the Street, now that I am old and soggy rather than young and snappy, the image of young people like I was once cruising in the dusk pierces me. Or when Tom Waits sings Diamonds on my Windshield, which he compares to tears from heaven. Or L.A.Freeway, delivered by Bill Hearne, with its chorus of escape and flight: If I could just get off of that L.A. Freeway, without getting killed or caught.

One of the finest musical moments in a car comes in the screen adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery when writer James Caan has just put the finishing touches on his latest novel, sipped champagne, toked on a ceremonial cigarette, and started down a blizzarding mountain road to deliver his opus. On the radio, perfectly timed to his mood: Shotgun by Junior Walker and the All Stars (misremembered by me today as Flash Light by Parliament, an oddly similar song that would be equally suited to manuscript completion: Everyone’s got a little light under the sun.).


And skidding into the ravine, as we witness it in the movie, the writer goes to break both his legs, he was feeling just too good about his book.

What’s your favorite road song?


Filed under Jean Zimmerman, Music

2 responses to “Road Songs

  1. Hack Attack

    I’d have to say another Tom Waits number, The Pontiac, which is (he says somewhere in an interview) his father-in-law talking about all the cars he’s ever owned. “Let’s see, we had the Fairlane…”

  2. Lori

    Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name” comes to mind. “Movin’ me down the hiway. Movin’ me down the hiway! Movin’ me, yes, so life won’t pass me by.”

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