Monday, April 20, 2015

highway 61 revisited

in about an hour i turn sixty-one, so i'm revisiting old classics - the dylan album, the allman brothers doing "highway 61 revisited," other highway songs. i was thinking of revisiting that old road outside of iowa city, but it turns out that one isn't sixty-one, and maybe never was, as sixty-one goes up the river over toward maquoketa, and in iowa at least, i wasn't all that familiar with it. the sixty-one i knew best, i caught up with going south out of iowa city, down across the quarter-bridge at st. francisville, south into missouri where i caught up to sixty-one, and took it down through hannibal and down into st. louis. the other sixty-one i'm familiar with, same one really, is the one that goes north from duluth, through two harbors, and up into the split rock lighthouse (which is now the symbol of this page and the press)...up there, one is on the north side of lake superior, and looks back over into the continental united states, and that lake seems so cold, so blue, i can feel it now.

when dylan wanted to name his album "highway 61 revisited," he got lots of flak from everyone around him, but he used his muscle with the recording people, and they eventually let him do it. his idea was that the delta blues from highway sixty-one, down in mississippi, where robert johnson allegedly sold his soul, were at the root of his blues, and he wanted the world to know it. dylan apparently would take highway sixty one, in the old days, from northern minnesota down to new orleans, and had more than one story about getting caught up along the way. interstates weren't as ubiquitous those days; taking a two-lane along the river made a lot of sense, was perhaps the fastest way. there's no telling how much of the two-lane he really knew well; i have no idea when exactly he was even on the road. but it's not hard to imagine him on the same road i was. he sings about missouri, and about new orleans, and about the darkness and the endlessness of the road. lots of road to revisit.

these days i watch a lot of baseball; my son plays on the pirates, who often lose, and even lost big ones against the phillies and indians recently. knowing that i loved the indians more than anything, he asked if i would be for the indians or for the pirates. of course my loyalty lies with him and his team, and i told him so. the images are good in this league - the kids dress up like the pros, with pro uniforms, pro hats, etc. it's high class baseball at its best. the whole thing reminds me of being a kid - when everyone wanted to be a pirate, as we lived in pittsburgh - how i insisted on being an indian - how our little team won it all - this was the high point of my experience in little league, but i played literally days and days of baseball, out in a field, behind our house, and a place technically owned by an orphanage. if one hit it far enough, it went into the woods, or, if foul, down into a series of parking lots. it's impossible to recreate the kind of fun i had with baseball, to give my kid that kind of experience, though i know it can be had in some places, somehow. our present little league isn't quite doing it, but he's still touched by it, i think. he says he wants to play baseball from now on.

my band will play on my birthday, just the usual jam session, two hours in the back room of the coffee shop, pure bluegrass, the best in town. i play the blues, alone here at home, because that's what i don't play when i'm out, for the most part, though they do play highway forty blues, which, in my mind, is another missouri song. these songs all revisit highways for me; sometimes i just hear an old radio in a beater on an old country road, but i'm still revisiting a highway. i love the band; sometimes i even say so, but we won't be together forever; one member is retiring and moving to georgia soon. i fantasize about where i'd go next - blues maybe? i've always loved blues, and could just as easily play with any band that was as easy to get along with as these guys.

i've decided to take "revisiting highways" as a year-long project. my day, tomorrow, is totally full, until the gig, at which time i'll bust forth with that fiddle and let out the stress of two meetings, a class, and a couple of writing-lab shifts. life goes on, birthday or not, one has to do one's job; i will, however, as i always do, refuse to let anything bother me. that's my right, i figure, on my birthday of all days, and that's a useful attitude to take into a meeting. i've found this exercise - of not letting things get to me - a good thing to cultivate and practice. there's plenty of time to revisit highways. the time, the pressure, the end of the semester - this is what's happening now.

my son found the old 1995 world series, with the indians, a game which they may have won. this is what we do, sometimes, when we're just relaxing, before bed. sometimes it seems like he's into baseball to please me, says his mom - other times, it seems like he takes this knowledge of baseball, and uses it among his friends, hating yankees, for example. though i must point out, hating yankees had a different meaning, back when i was growing up, than it does down here. i point out that, on a pure level, hating a baseball team is not the same as hating people, and just means you want them to lose, no matter what team they are playing. but i do notice that in all the little league leagues, there are no yankees. there are several pirate teams, at least one indian team, but no yankees.

listening to the old classics - dylan, grateful dead, allman brothers. various versions of "highway 61," or songs that were on it. but i'm laying low; i won't put these on my facebook. i'll ruminate, sing them in my head. then, at the coffee shop, i'll let fly. to a new year!


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