In Looking for Alaska, celebrated YA author John Green’s 1st novel, he tells the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter who goes for the the Great Perhaps of boarding school. From there on, it becomes a less than conventional “coming of age” story. Teens expecting a travelogue realize that the sought after Alaska is Alaska Young, an enthralling yet tragic young woman. Establishing his reputation for emotional depth, one of the best stories I’ve heard about this book is my youngest brought it to read after the End-of-Grade math testing. She got to the devastating climax of the book, and was quietly sobbing into the pages. Just then her teacher walked by, and she was convinced that he thought she was traumatized by polynomials. Watching Miles, Alaska and the other characters wend their way through Bolivar’s labyrinth (an apt motif in the novel) is elevated by the spot-on language and teen sensibility that Green brings to a story that could have been mawkish in less deft hands.
Green was on to something as he titled his novel. Whether it’s Joseph Campbell’s hero(ines) [we’ll pretend he thought of women], on a transformative quest, or Sal & Dean crisscrossing the country on waves of jazz, sex and drugs, or even Kate Chopin’s Edna, readers are fascinated by the journey. “Where are you going” is cliché for making life plans, as if the point you are starting from will sweep down the checkered flag and say, “Go.”
Every decision becomes Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” and standing at the fork in the path (thank you Muppet Movie, there is always the visual), one’s choices run toward a destination sought or haphazard. Cautioned often that the journey must be enjoyed or the end will be meaningless, we look around in wide-eyed wonder as if our lives will suddenly sprout mile-markers, and sketchy rest areas.
The journey metaphor works as well as any other to describe life, though I think perhaps it feeds frustration when the reality of life mocks the linearity of the assumption. My beloved RW Emerson said, “though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” In southern girl speak, “no matter where you go, there you are.” The “journey,” is only as authentic as the traveler, the path is one blazed in experience, and experiments — never straight, never foretold — new every moment. And like Alaska, Pudge, Guinevere, Sal, Edna, and your buddy down the street — each person defines their own parameters — straight, serpentine, or circular to suit what they need in a given blink of time.
- Bright Side of the Road (Van Morrison) — hmmm, would Van Morrison like to be compared to aspirin, take one of his songs and feel better instantly? This one is all rambly and mellow
- Travelin’ Thru (Dolly Parton) — I know I’ve confessed my love for Dolly before, when she did the theme song for TransAmerica (2005), and the interviews she gave promoting it were just models of a great human.
- Lead Me On (Eric Clapton) — he could just play, and I would love him — his guitar rather sings… I don’t mind his growly voice either
- Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad (Carolina Chocolate Drops) — a fun roots-music cover, that transforms the song into a organic entity
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John) — and Dorothy, gosh, the ultimate road trip — girl traveling with brains, brawn & heart — just not all in the same person 🙂 Elton can do anything!
- Why Walk When you can Fly (Mary Chapin Carpenter) — MCC puts poetry to music in a way that few are able to accomplish — this song just makes you soar.
- Sentimental Journey (Ruth Brown) — I’m a sucker for any version of this song… Ruth’s is a little more raw, than that of Renée Olstead
- Where or When (Frank Sinatra) — He doesn’t just sing songs, he massages the lyrics into you — so that you can feel them along your bones
- Movin’ Out (Billy Joel) — I know the musical didn’t do so well, but I would have loved to have seen his music set to a lifespan trajectory — .
- Closer to You (Brandi Carlile) — If you think of most of her work as wintery, this one harks of autumn — warmer, redder and more ember-ish
- Walk On (G. Love) — G. Love & Special Sauce, with their frontman, G. Love or Garrett Dutton ramble through songs in a style slightly like Jack Johnson, but perhaps closer to the Avett Brothers with whom he recorded an album.
- End of the Line (the Traveling Wilburys) — called a “supergroup,” it was really just a jam band on steroids with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and the lovely George Harrison…
- Movin’ Right Along (from the Muppet Movie) — so I mention the Muppets and this song just was rather apt — there’s a neat cover by the Alkaline Trio on the Muppet Green Album (2011)
- Destination Anywhere (the Marvelettes) — the melody has a completely wicked hook, you will stop and listen no matter when it plays…. Niamh Kavanaugh does a fantastic cover in The Commitments, the incredible music movie based off Roddy Doyle’s book
- So Far Away (Dire Straits) — Mark Knopfler has such a distinctive voice, that one forgets you know this song by its opening chords — and it just makes you long for something…
- Cups (Anna Kendrick) — “its got mountains, its got rivers, its got sights to make you shiver, but it sure would be prettier with you” — I don’t know why I love it, but it plays & I am happy
- The Long Way Around (the Dixie Chicks) — the lovely ladies autobiographical little ditty about the fallout from the “incident” — kind of “My Way,” meets “sisters are doing it for themselves”
- China Grove (Doobie Brothers) — when I found out this was not about the China Grove on the way to Charlotte, I was SO disappointed — there’s a CG in Texas that was the original inspiration for the title and samurai movies…..
- Why did I tell you I was going to Shanghai (Doris Day) — longest title ever — charming song about blowing someone off & then realizing maybe you shouldn’t have….
- Race You (Elizabeth & the Cataput) — an indie band from Brooklyn, who hit that perfect joy in moment song
- Landslide (Fleetwood Mac) — everyone knows it, everyone has covered it — probably my favorite would be the Smashing Pumpkins take…
Je m’en vais chercher un grand peut-être..–> François Rabelais