Saturday, November 1, 2008

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive



I've never been a great one for travel - bit of a home lovin' man myself - so perhaps it's no surprise that my choice of travel-related songs has a bit of a melancholy feel to it in parts - I make no apology whatsoever for the easy-listening, guilty-pleasure nature of certain tracks on the list.

Let's kick things off with The Go-Betweens' Here Comes A City which is about a frantic flight (from a relationship?) by train and just happens to contain one of my favourite lyrics of recent years:
And why do people who read Dostoevsky always look like Dostoevsky?

Second on the list is the first of two James Taylor songs. While I was in my late teens and many of my contemporaries had jumped onto the punk bandwagon, I was happily listening, first to prog rock (Jethro Tull, Genesis, Caravan, Hatfield & The North) and then to what you might (in your less-charitable moods) call MOR adult-orientated rock: Stephen Bishop, Andrew Gold and Simon & Garfunkel were all there, but at the more respectable end of the market I can claim Steely Dan, Little Feat and James Taylor. I still listen to lots of JT - I think he's a wonderful songwriter and he has an amazing voice. A large proportion of the characters featured in his songs, as I mentioned over on the mothership, tend to have itchy feet and seem unable to settle in one place. This track, Wandering is from his 1975 album, Gorilla, and is a fine example of JT at his wandering best.

Next up, we have Glen Campbell's classic By The Time I Get To Phoenix - a Jimmy Webb composition (nothing wrong with that) which tells the story of a man, imagining his wife's reaction, as the discovery that he's done gone left her, slowly dawns. They don't write 'em like that anymore - well, perhaps Jarvis Cocker does, but there aren't so many storytellers around these days.

Dean Friedman next with his beautiful song The Letter which is written from the point of view of those left behind by a friend on his travels. Try to get past the voice and listen to the lyrics - the man's a genius I tell you.

Another act which I've always felt deserves R-Recognition (see what I did there?) is The High Llamas. Sean O'Hagan's post-Microdisney project (essentially it's a solo thing with a little help from his friends) is responsible for some of the most beautiful and inventive music of the past eighteen years (I just looked that up). Basically, if you like Brian Wilson, you'll like The High Llamas. This track, Dressing Up The Old Dakota, is taken from the 1996 album Hawaii (this is the one I'd recommend to all High Llamas virgins) and covers the rather unlikely - but somehow typically High Llamas-ish - theme of aviation in the jungle. (fp - I think you'll like this.)

Track number 6 is one I've 'Spilled before and I know Maddy loved it (I seem to remember that it made the B-list on songs about happiness. It's certainly one of the happiest songs I've ever heard but it's also got a travelling home theme to it, which I think fits in pretty nicely this week. It's Lindy Stevens' northern soul floor filler, Pennygold.


Penulitimately, we have the weekly, almost-inevitable ToffeeBoy contribution from Jonathan Richman. You're Crazy For Taking The Bus is one of the standout tracks on his 1990 country album (checkout the cover! Edit: at sourpus's suggestion, checkout the back cover as well...) and it's Jojo at his impish best.

We're back to James Taylor for the finale. This is his take on the Stephen Foster classic Oh! Susannah. I think he got it just about right with the jazzy acoustic guitar and the under-stated vocals. Let me know what you think...

And finally, because we all love a question, what's your all-time favourite journey?.

8 comments:

Abahachi said...

Favourite journey? Plattling to Grafenau by the Waldbahn. No, I don't imagine you've heard of these places... Grafenau is the place we regularly stay, and I go for peace and quiet to write, in the depths of the Bavarian Forest (Bayerwald) in south-east Germany. To get there, change trains at Plattling in the Danube valley (noted solely for its large paper factory and sugar beet processing plants). The Waldbahn heads north to cross the Danube at Deggendorf, then up into the hills, doubling back on itself several times to gain height; when it turns a corner, nice views back across the valley, and on a really clear day you can see right back to the Alps. Depending on the season, fresh green leaves and flowers, general green and lots of bird life, an autumn display that rivals New England (last trip) or snow and icicles.

Change at Zwiesel after 50 minutes, or the train takes you on to the Czech border. If the connection isn't for an hour, the station cafe serves excellent coffee and usually has a 'Kaffee und Kuchen 2Euro' offer. The train to Grafenau climbs even higher, through the proper forest; occasional glimpses of lakes, valleys and little towns, and a wide panoply of interesting characters getting on and off. Then it crosses the watershed and starts to follow the river down, and you know you're getting close. Across two level crossings, round the hill and finally it pulls into the station; end of the line, and only 200 yards to Cafe Fox for, depending on the time of day, Bayerisher Knoedelsuppe, more Kaffee und Kuchen or a beer, knowing that there is at least a couple of days of peace to come...

sourpus said...

Its a lovely cover, no doubt about it Toffee old man, but you need to show the other side of the sleeve as well, to get the full joy of it. It shows Jojo walking awkwardly away outside the shop with the cowboy boots on his feet. Postcard humour. Tsk.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ abahachi - that sounds like a fantastic journey. I don't have anything to rival it, but the drive from Frankfurt airport to our holiday home in the Pfalz is always something special. As we climb away from the industrial clutter of the Rhein valley, and gradually find ourselves surrounded by vineyards and picture book villages, with the low range of mountains (well, hills really) in the background, it's difficult not to feel inspired by the landscape.

Nobody else have any favourite trips to share?

FP said...

Hi Toffee! Here are mine per country:
GB: The train ride up the coast from Newcastle to Edinburgh. Right up the North east coast with great sea views of Berwick. I knew this journey backwards when I was a student. Also flying from London up to Newcastle if you take the coast flight path. You turn inland right over St. Mary's Lighthouse and get a wonderful view of the beaches I played on as a kid.
FR: Landing at Nice airport. the runway is a square piece of land jutting out into the sea. You have to sweep in a large circle out the sea to get to it and you get a great view of the Côte d'azur. Basically, if the pilot doesn't brake properly when you touch down, you fall off the other end into the sea. So I'm always concentrating hard when we land...
DE: The half hour train ride from Freiburg up to Titisee (yes that is a real place name). You leave the city behind and climb up through the snow and pine trees. Somehow very "Where Eagles Dares", gel, Nilpferd?

ToffeeBoy said...

@ fp - donds to the Newcastle/Edinburgh train journey. Only a madman would build a railway along those cliffs. I love looking down into the bays along there and seeing basking seals and abandoned houses perched precariously on the rocks and, even stranger, seeing inhabited houses and wondering how the hell the occupants get to those houses and (kind of) wishing that I lived in one of them. Must be hell in the winter, though but...

FP said...

And then the last bit where you curve round to the left and see Auld Reekie in the distance and then arriving at Waverley and the smell of the hops and breweries.. Waaaaaaaaaaaaah

Shoegazer said...

No chance to listen yet Toffee, but these are some journeys I have fond memories of:
1. LA to San Fran on the route1 coast road.
2. Frankfurt - Strasbourg - Maastricht - Amsterdam & back in a borrowed Porsche.
3. Steam train between Warsaw & Katowice in the 70's, but seemed like England in the 30's.
4. 3 mile canoe paddle across jellyfish infested loch to nearest pub, somewhere in Western Scotland near Ft. William.

alimunday said...

I agree the East Coast mainline is great but have you ever travelled down to Cornwall, via Teignmouth, by train? That's a lovely coastal journey too. But my favourite journey is any that takes me back 'home' through the Gloucestershire countryside to smelly old Bristol. Sad, but true.