The perfect road song is a kind of Holy Grail for songwriters.
To write it is to experience a holy striking of compositional lightning, the result of which is ideally a song magically evoking the singular juxtapositions of fear and exhilaration that inevitably define a long, possibly late-night, and certainly lonely drive.
This is something I believe all songwriters pursue.
My most recent attempt did not succeed. It is not the perfect road song.
It is called “My Car Walks On Water,” and while it is not the perfect road song, I will say in its defense that it has certainly stood the test of time. I first tried to demo an early version of this song back in 1993. 21 years later, it is still with me, still alive, still changing, still convincing me it is real, a real road song …
I am safe in here
No need to worry any longer
The rain may break the forest’s bones
But my car walks on the water
To equate one’s car with Jesus is the usual unusual nocturnal moxie of the driver driving, alone …
This new iteration is my favorite version. Somehow, with Bones …
My desert island road song is probably “State Trooper,” by Bruce Springsteen, from his dark acoustic masterwork Nebraska. The imagined conversations (or so I perceive them to be) with a State Trooper play out like a narcoleptic head play starring a driver, and no one else …
Maybe you got a kid
Maybe you got a pretty wife
The only thing that I got
Has been botherin’ me my whole life
Mister State Trooper
Please don’t stop me
And the descriptions of the passing nocturnal nightscape are desperately, dirtily perfect …
New Jersey turnpike
Ridin’ on a wet night
Beneath the refinery’s glow
Out where the great black rivers flow
My first “proper” attempt (meaning, my first published and recorded attempt) at the perfect road song was a cut called “The Drive Goes On” from my debut album Preacher Boy & The Natural Blues:
The rearview mirror shines back my red eyes
And the yawns come on, just before sunrise
I keep my eyes open, cuz accidents happen
My left leg is asleep and the right one’s nappin’
It was not perfect either, but to this day, some 20 years later, I hear the song, and I remember exactly where I was driving on that dark mountain night …
“My Car Walks On Water” is altogether a different kind of narrative animal; more compressed, bluesier, a broader reconciliation of the simple (It’s rainin’ hard, and I can’t see) and the strange (The rain my soak time’s swingin’ braids).
But is it, “The Perfect Road Song?”
No, it is not.
But it is one more humble and deeply felt contribution to a growing canon of songs that collectively represents our search for harmonic Americana Nirvana.
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