An American Odyssey in Song, The Route Map and Simon & Garfunkel

Well, so far I’ve not been able to commit to the discipline of a series within the pages  this blog but a bit of synchronicity has come about which has made me rethink. Last week over at Yeah, Another Blogger, Neil wrote about how he was going to get back into the discipline of reading books and I commented that in 2015, the year before I took up blogging, I had set myself the task of reading my way around the 50 US states. The state always had to be the main character, and it was great. First I read my way round the Southern States (e.g. Fried Green Tomatoes…. , Gone With The Wind, The Orchard Keeper) then for a change of scenery, I headed up to the Great Lakes and started to read my way round the states up there (e.g. Shotgun Lovesongs set in Wisconsin). I had a route map and everything but sadly when I discovered blogging at the start of 2016, due to time constraints, the journey ended.

img051The wonderful post written by Rol last week over at My Top Ten about the song Wichita Lineman reminded me that when I myself wrote about that song (along with Galveston and By The Time I Get To Phoenix), I had mentioned that my plan was to do a series at some point, journeying round the 50 states in song, and here we are at last – My reading journey may have come to an end but my “50 State American Odyssey in Song” is about to begin!

As a bit of background to this obsession with travelling round the 50 states, whether in book form or in song, I think it’s because it had always been a dream of mine to actually make that journey at some point. I am however starting to think it might never happen. As a kid growing up in rural Scotland, I watched an awful lot of films and telly set in what we called, “America”. On wet Sunday afternoons when there were no outdoor chores to be done, my dad and I used to watch classic MGM Musicals, and Westerns starring John Wayne, set in every corner of that vast land. Also, the music I loved as a kid usually came from Americans such as Elvis, The Monkees (Davy Jones being the exception of course) and The Mamas & the Papas. Oh yes, as soon as I was old enough (maybe about ten), and had saved up enough pocket-money, I was going to buy one of those Greyhound bus tickets and be transported from one real life filmset to the next……

But then I grew up. The childhood dreams dissipated and Europe became my destination of choice (although sadly I’m not sure how welcome we’re going to be after all the “triggering” that’s been going on of late). Despite a few far flung trips over the years, none have been across the Atlantic, and (not wanting to offend any of my American blogging buddies), that 50 State Odyssey is no longer at the top of my real life bucket list. It will therefore have to be of the virtual nature, and in song.

Where to start then? As it turns out this is not going to be as easy as I thought. I wanted to complete the journey only entering and leaving the same state once, but the original route map I put together for my reading challenge started in Florida and ended in Maine – Having racked my brains and even done a fair bit of “Googling”, I can’t find any songs I’m familiar with that mention place names from either of those states. Likewise, when I find artists who were born in either state (e.g. Jim Morrison of The Doors was born in Florida), it turns out they moved around a lot, so can’t really be associated with any one place.

For this first post therefore, where I’m simply setting out the rules, I will just include a song that tells a tale of someone, who unlike my 10-year-old self, did actually take the plunge and bought a Greyhound bus ticket for a trip across America. In my digital music database the most common song title to pop up in different guises is in fact America, but this one by Simon & Garfunkel is my favourite. Although released as a single to promote a Greatest Hits album in 1972 it was written by Paul Simon much earlier, inspired by a 1964 road trip he took with his girlfriend – Perfect for this post, and I wonder, did he indeed “find America” on that trip?

America by Simon & Garfunkel:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I am excited about this challenge and I love researching the back story to the songs that have formed the “tracks of my years” but in this case I may need a little help. I think I’m ok with most of the 50 states but if I’m going to follow my continuous route map without cheating, I’m going to need some input from my blogging buddies. The starting point for the journey could be either Florida or Maine but at this rate, left to my own devices, it’s going to be something by Miami Sound Machine for Florida or something from the musical Carousel for Maine and I really don’t want to go down either of those routes. A song that refers to a place name is the way to go, just as Jimmy Webb used Wichita, Galveston and Phoenix in three of his very best songs – Oh Jimmy, where are you when I need you?

Any suggestions for songs (that I’m likely to be able to write about) associated with Florida or Maine would be gratefully received – You know where the comments boxes are. Once I get started it should be fun, it’s just that first step…….

America Lyrics
(Song by Paul Simon)

Let us be lovers,
We’ll marry our fortunes together.
I’ve got some real estate
Here in my bag.
So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner’s pies,
And walked off
To look for America.

“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days

To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
“I’ve come to look for America.”

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces,
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy.
I said, “Be careful,

His bow tie is really a camera.”
“Toss me a cigarette,
I think there’s one in my raincoat.”
We smoked the last one
An hour ago.
So I looked at the scenery,

She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.

“Kathy, I’m lost”, I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
“I’m empty and aching and
I don’t know why.”
Counting the cars

On the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.