What is it about maps? I could look at them all day, earnestly studying the names of towns and villages I have never heard of and will never visit… I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city.—Bill Bryson
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.—John Steinbeck
We are the same. There is no difference anywhere in the world. People are people. They laugh, cry, feel and love, and music seems to be the common denomination that brings us all together. Music cuts through all boundaries and goes right to the soul.—Willie Nelson
THE US of A
I love this country. I love every inch of it. We truly have the terrain of most of the world right here in our backyard (granted, it’s a monster of sprawling miles). The wide-open skies of Kansas and Nebraska look entirely different from the endless rolling hills of the Appalachian or Rocky Mountains. Parts of Carmel/Big Sur look like Ireland in the family photos. Mount Rainer is so dense, you would think you have traveled back in time. Troops train in the California desert because it recreates the Middle East—not a tree in sight and scorching temperatures. One of the main reasons to put up with earthquakes in Los Angeles is you can literally be in the mountains in 15 minutes, at the ocean five minutes later, and then be in the snow in a couple of hours, even when it’s what seems like 70 degrees year-round. I compare this with my childhood growing up right outside Detroit, and it’s no wonder California seemed like a foreign country (and heaven on earth).
Anything you want, you can find if you are lucky enough to have a little money and will make the time to travel.
I’m not sure where the road took control of me. Maybe it was growing up watching perfect road films like Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, or Planes, Trains & Automobiles on a loop. I’m sure a good shrink could surmise that since some of my closest and limited moments with my pops were road trips across the US that I might be chasing that old feeling too—but I think it’s built into the machinery. Some folks love to stay home year-round and some have alexithymia (yes I had to look up how to spell this). I stole this weird and magical word from The Sopranos—”A shark has to swim or it dies.” As long as I can remember, I have yearned to hit the open road, to collect and study maps, to shake up my life and put myself into a new situation every 24 hours until I’m so tired I want to crawl back home and hide out for a while. And thankfully, “Little America” is the perfect country to do this in. We forget how lucky we are to cross dozens of borders with no stops whatsoever. Most countries have never had it so good.
SETTLE DOWN, SON
I have been told by sensible, successful people that as I get older, I will settle down. A couple of industry vets who have worked with artists making 100 times what I make have told me that eventually we all come off of the road.
I think of two things right off the bat…
- After dozens of tours and some absolutely brutal failures, I am more excited to travel now than ever.
- Willie Nelson is playing 100 shows a year at 85.
I have read several bios of my heroes, and most of them do eventually get sick of the road. It can rip apart strong families, and it can feel like déjà vu if you don’t balance it with home and people you adore who know exactly who you are. Most of the musicians who get burnt out seem to tour too long at once. (Willie does two weeks on, two weeks off—what a dream that would be.) Maybe it’s ’cause some of them got the Prevost bus and the 1,000-count threaded sheets in the penthouse young and have lost the hunger, but I believe it’s more likely that some of us are just born to be gypsies. We don’t pick this life; it picks us.
And even when you are absolutely miserable, stuck on the side of the road, no place to eat, no sleep, no cell service, no etc., when you look back over the trip, you are glad you made it. Often you don’t know what you have at home till you hit the road and get away from it. There is usually more to be grateful for than we even scratch the surface of and leaving it all can help you snap back into reality.
I GOT A MEAN MAP COLLECTION
Maps give me the feeling that anything is possible. So much unexplored terrain. I heard that Tom Waits posts them on his walls when he is in the studio and will just grab a town at will and stick it in a song—making up a whole world for it on a whim. I recently inherited a sizeable map collection from my pops, including more national park maps than I knew existed. These are treasures above all else to me. Electronic navigation takes a lot of the fun out of it—you only see what’s in front of you, not the terrain, not the amazing names of places. Spread out an old map on the floor, grab a highlighter, and highlight where you have been on it, and follow the road with ink and real attention. I bet you get more out of it than you can imagine.
WHAT’S YOUR WIFE THINK OF ALL THIS?
Since I travel mostly for work, a question I get constantly is how my wife puts up with any of this. That sort of assumes I didn’t tell her exactly who I was when we met—or that she can’t be alone or has her own interests outside of my insanity. The wisest move I ever made was picking an independent, strong woman who enjoys me getting the hell out of her space from time to time. I’m not as strong as her on any front—we always joke that I leave for months, and when I come home, she’ll go to the store for five minutes alone and I’ll text her like 10 times from the house. We were together for eight years before being married the last four. It was always full disclosure. You can absolutely find your kind of crazy in a partner. Thankfully, I chose a wife who loves to travel too, but two things keep us apart more than I would like:
- She knows just how unglamorous touring with an indie rock band can be. On one of our early trips together in 2010, she slept on a bass amp after we played a military base to 10 people as most of the troops were deployed.
- We bring stray dogs home (no, not musicians—actual dogs). We currently have three, and we spoil them so much, they HATE it when we both leave.
As much as it seems strange to me that people assume two folks who adore each other can’t conquer a long-distance relationship, the questions are 10 times harder for the woman in the band, Erin O Neill, as often the questions are wrapped in some old-school assumption that she must eventually come off the road to take care of her husband, raise children, or do whatever men aren’t expected to do in equal measure.
WE HAVE MORE IN COMMON THAN WE THINK
I am very lucky to interact with those who don’t share the exact views I do. I’m also so lucky to hang with people who don’t come from the same background as I do—people who don’t look or sound like me. The beauty of it is, the more I meet people the news tells me are OTHER, the more I realize just how much the same all of us really are.
Most of us want to work hard, want our families safe and sound, want to blow off some steam at the end of a long day. We want purpose, want to be loved, to understand ourselves and the world around us a little more.
Many of us don’t have the luxury to afford to travel far and wide (which is one of many reasons I love the idea of a mandatory Peace Corps/service for a year), and that is a real loss. I truly believe if we all got to travel a little more, there would be a lot less division in the world. It’s so easy to let the fear coming from our news feeds and TV sets convince us the world is such a terrible place full of people who aren’t anything like you and me. Well, that’s garbage. Of course there are some truly dangerous people in the world, in all places, but there is so much more good than bad. So many kind souls in every area of this world. When I’m working in the studio for weeks and there is no way to get away from it, I at least try to get outside, walk around, and talk to my neighbors. I disagree with many of them politically, but I love and learn from them, and they are some of the kindest, funniest, and most hardworking people I’ve ever met. My news feed is a liar. When you put down fear, you learn there is a whole other world out there—one to be so grateful for. We have real problems to solve, but we don’t get there living in our own bubbles, hiding in our living rooms, and separating ourselves from the rest of the world.
Here’s to the ramblers, and here’s to the road dogs. It’s a disease, but I welcome it. I’m living proof that wanderlust doesn’t always let up, and that’s OK. I have learned more about the world and more about myself than I ever could have imagined by putting myself out there, by getting out a map and somehow convincing myself it’s not crazy to toss a guitar in the back of a vehicle and trust that someone will listen and throw some money in the ring.
We light out again in September. Let’s go!
PS I went to high school with a cat named Rolf Potts who is a brilliant writer and world traveler. If you are looking for a book that will not only inspire you to take the road by storm but also give you fabulous tips on simplifying and being ready for anything, check out Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. One of my all-time faves.
Gooding writes a new post every Wednesday. Please like and subscribe on all social media sites with @goodingmusic. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed at http://goodingmusic.com/blog/feed/.