Sunday, February 9, 2014

Goin' Down the Road Rockin' Out

     Hey folks, happy winter to all of you!  Today's post is pretty simple, and not too controversial, but I think it's something we can all relate to: listening to music while driving.  There's something about driving, either alone or with musically sympathetic friends, that is extremely conducive to music.  Yes, it can be a distraction and hinder one's driving ability, but that's true about eating, talking with passengers, or quilting while driving, and I'm not too interested in getting into any that.  What I am interested in is the idea of the vehicle as a musical vessel in the same way that the alembic in alchemy is a vessel for the purification of mind and soul.

     Obviously the start of the relationship between cars and music was the radio, and the importance of the radio can not be understated.  However, the driver and passengers were at the mercy of disc jockeys and radio commercials, as they are today.  And while anyone (like me) who doesn't have Sirius XM or access to the Grateful Dead channel is used to the fact that the only Dead we'll hear on the radio is the occasional Touch of Grey or Truckin' (I did get the NFA > GDTRFB from Skull and Roses once), the other good stuff is still overshadowed by the inevitable commercials and the 1000th playing of Hotel California.  Not to say that the radio is useless!  Even when you're on a long drive and the all the radio stations seem to be playing Toby Keith or the "Solo Cup Song" (shoot me), there's always that one magical station that starts playing a marathon of your favorite music, or something amazing that you've never heard before right when you tune to it.  I think of these as analogous to the sudden bursts of samadhi, or enlightenment to put it broadly, that is written about in all mystical traditions.  You, as the driver, didn't really do anything beyond being in the right place at the right time with an open enough mind, but the universe lined up so that you could experience this series of songs in an ideal way.

     But what makes this experience so ideal, what is the benefit to listening to music in the car?  Well first of all, it isn't that there's nothing to occupy the mind besides the music.  Hopefully when you're driving the road is the center of your attention and everything else is complementing it.  However, as in meditation, this focus on one specific thing allows the mind to perceive everything else more clearly, especially on long, uneventful roads where there really isn't much for the mind to focus on as far as driving goes (Interstate 88 in NY, anyone?).  Beyond the purification of awareness that potentially happens in a car, the sound system is of almost equal importance.  The car is the ultimate form of surround sound, and when the music is loud then there is little or no distinction between the car and the music, for a certain point of view.  You can feel the beat in the steering wheel, feel the bass in your seat, and your whole body gets somewhat synchronized with the music.  This is the case when alone, but as discussed in other posts, listening to music with like-minded friends is an amazing experience, so cruising around with your best friend listening to your favorite music is an experience not to be missed.  Whether you're both singing along or just grooving to the music, there's a sharing of consciousness that you can only get from an experience like this.

   The best way to take advantage of this musical vessel is of course with either a tape, CD, or some kind of mp3 player in the car.  Being in complete control of the music in the car frees one from the hassles of bad DJ's and commercials, although technically adds the responsibility of exactly what you want to listen to.  My favorite way of doing it is listening to an entire Dead show, which is easiest as far as changing the music goes and also, according to many Heads, the correct way to do it.  Sometimes I'll end up with a playlist that encompasses a few other artists, and guarantees more Dark Stars and The Other Ones than Peggy-O's and Looks Like Rains.  However, the playlist limits one, at least when it's an mp3 player on shuffle, to single songs and deprives the driver of transitions.  While it's nice to hear a solitary St. Stephen once in a while, I'd like to hear the Eleven that it goes into instead of it switching to a Hot Tuna song.  This also means that a lot of songs that are broken up into different jam and/or drum segments are broken up in painful ways.  You know that the Dark Star is going into a Mind Left Body Jam, but because it's broken up suddenly the Dark Star just stops dead (no pun intended) and you're left dissatisfied and yelling at technology with the guy in the car next to you looking skeptical.  Possibly the best way to avoid this is having your best friend choosing various segments of great shows, so you can hear the glory of Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > Eyes of the World in the right order, and then later hear Dark Star > Mind Left Body > Dark Star without getting a continuous succession of Drums > Drums > Drums.

     The last benefit to listening to music in the car that I'll address is something people living in the suburbs can relate to: blasting weirdness from your open windows cruising through town.  We all know that the Dead's music is weird and considered subversive by many, so nothing screams rebellion like The Other One at full blast when you're driving through the heart of suburbia.  Not only is the car a sealed vessel in which you can immerse yourself in music, but it's a great PA system to spread the word of weirdness to unsuspecting town-folk!

     Well that's all for now, let me know what you wanna read next, and what music in the car does for you!


  1. I remember being in a jam-packed car with at least 4 friends when the Derek and the Dominos record had just come out and was all over the radio. As I remember, we heard Layla several times that night, Bellbottom Blues, Nobody Knows You, Keep On Growing, I Looked Away, Anyday, etc. Well, maybe we didn't hear all those but it seemed like we did and we did NOT want to get out of that car. We kept driving and driving...

  2. My commute would be misery without music of my own choosing. Most often it is the good old GD, picked that morning from my stash of CDs. But sometimes I go off on a tangent and listen to lots of something else -- all of the Sonic Youth albums, for example. I'm in the truck about 2 hours per day, so it doesn't take long to cover a lot of musical ground. As trying as the drive can be, it is also a blessing because otherwise I don't have 2 hours a day to delve deeply into listening.

    Same goes for exercise time. I need tunes to distract myself from the torture of the stationary bike or elliptical trainer. It's kind of impractical out on the street because I want to hear traffic, etc., but in the gym it is essential.

    Good post. Keep 'em coming.