Get your motor running…

John Kay, Bakersfield Civic Auditorium 1975

Get your motor running . . .

I’ve been following with great interest thus far the commentary on On the Road at In a Dark Time. In particular, Diane’s isolation of the themes and Loren’s observations on the geography involved made me think about how difficult it is to capture the past, because as humans we are constantly shifting in perspective. That is definitely the case with my perception of the book and I wish I had time to read it again right now. I’ve been trying to figure out how old I was when I first read it, but I’m pretty sure I was sixteen. It was around the time I took the photograph displayed above, which was 1975.

It was the first concert I ever attended— Steppenwolf at the Bakersfield Civic Auditorium with probably around 4-5,000 people in attendance. I felt like I did fairly well for a rookie. I’d been taking pictures less than six months, and I borrowed an old Mamiya Sekor 1000DTL with a telephoto lens from school. I picked it because it had a spot meter. Good choice, I found out. Concert photography, especially in big arenas, is tough.

Who knew that about 13 years later I’d be photographing a dozen bands a week? Photographing this concert convinced me that I didn’t want to do it anymore; it was too much work. For the thousands of concerts I went to in the dozen years that followed this, I never took a camera. I just enjoyed the show. That is, until I discovered that photographing musicians in bars rather than stadiums had its own rewards. But that part of my history is well documented in the galleries around here. I was thinking about how much I loved Steppenwolf as a kid. I was thinking how this became almost an embarrassment when punk-rock rolled around. Punk rock changed my life. The Minutemen pushed me over the edge; I turned my back on “hard rock” around 1984.

On the Road is like that for me too. It became a guilty pleasure, once I discovered how incredible and complex literature could be. The beats were just, well, a beat— the pulsation of an artery— as Blake would say, which seemed like a lifetime in the long trip down the road of discovery for me. I’d say the same for the Surrealists. These things, for me now, are self-defeating delusions of youth. A sort of “rite of passage.” I grew out of them, but I remember them fondly. There’s much more to say, and I have entries in my head concerning Kerouac, Robert Frank, and Herman Hesse. These were like towns I passed through on my way down the road.

The omnipresence of that road, in that so many people of my age ended up on it, is astounding. I took an upper level history course on US History 1945-80 a few years ago, and it shifted my thinking about the late 50s and early 60s significantly regarding the motivation that so many have felt to hit the road. I’d like to apply that lens to some of the problems with On the Road but I have a headache too severe to attempt it right now. But I stumbled across the photo of Steppenwolf, at the far edge of this mess of thoughts, and it was strange. The last mix tape I made for my car included a song from John Kay’s 1972 solo album Forgotten Songs and Unsung Heroes.

I bought the album for 50 cents at a massive album sale in the mid 80s, and several of my friends made fun of me for it. But I still had a soft spot in my heart for the guy in leather pants, even though I was smarter then. A girl I knew told me a story about how John Kay was an asshole who slobbered all over her at the Country Club in LA, and turned several shades of green when I said I liked the album. This album wasn’t “born to be wild,” just moving folk-rock. A song from it has been playing in the car for weeks now, and I feel strangely close to “Many a Mile.” It has a bit of the spirit of On the Road

I’ve damn near walked this world around—another city, another town
Another friend to say goodbye— another time to sit and cry
And it’s many a mile I have been on this road
It’s many a mile I have gone.

I’ve seen your towns they’re all the same— the only difference is in the name
And the only life I’ve ever known has been my suitcase and the open road
And it’s many a mile I have been on this road
It’s many a mile I have gone.

There was a girl who knew me best— you know she gave my poor heart rest
She was my world, my joy, my dear— and now she’s gone to god knows where
And it’s many a mile I have been on this road
It’s many a mile I have gone.

So I fill my glass up to the brim
And through my glass the world looks dim
But I know outside there’s light somewhere
Maybe my rambling will take me there
And it’s many a mile I have been on this road
It’s many a mile I will go.

The road, in the Kerouacian sense, ended in the seventies. This song was written by a Native American named Patrick Sky in the sixties. The road became a commodified dream, and there isn’t much looking back. That’s progress for you. The quest has moved inward once again, and in most ways, it’s a better thing. But there is an incredible nostalgia to it, but anyone who aspires to dreams such as these needs to be reminded of the perceptive observation of Bob Dylan: nostalgia is death.

1 thought on “Get your motor running…”

  1. that was a cracker of an entry 🙂 great stuff. and gotta love the photo above it 🙂

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