Last night when I played Paul Simon's "American Tune" to cap off the 4th of July Terrell's Sound World, I was trying to explain to my co-host Laurell what that song means to me. Probably didn't do a great job doing that.
But then I remembered something I'd written on the old AOL No Depression Music Board back in 1999, a ranting that later was published in No Depression magazine (Issue #22, July 1999).
Here's the significance of "American Tune":
It was the fall of 1973; I'd just turned 20 years old (that was actually in Columbia, Missouri, at a bar called the Loading Zone; I'd just learned of Gram Parsons’ death), and I was on my first great hitchhiking adventure across these United States. Somewhere outside of Madison, Wisconsin, I got picked up by three fools from Connecticut in a VW Bus they called Lightnin’. The Lightnin’ boys were like me: out on the road to glimpse Kerouac's vision before things started changing too much.
We traveled together several days, had a great time, got chased out of South Dakota from a little drugstore town. Back on that first night, traversing southern Minnesota at night, we had dinner at a truck stop and purchased two 8-track tapes: Rock 'n' roll Is Here To Stay by Sha Na Na, and There Goes Rhymin' Simon by Paul Simon.
Whenever I hear “American Tune”, my mind goes back to that bus called Lightnin': "We come on a ship they called the Mayflower/We come on a ship that sailed the moon…” But I just see this crowded VW bus, driver Bruce chugging bourbon while outmaneuvering the pursuing rednecks in South Dakota, or chugging up an impossible hill in Montana. I see Nixon in the White House, just starting to talk to the statues. Agnew was being prepared for the sacrifice... “We come in the age's most uncertain hour/To sing an American Tune…”
I recall us convincing the ranger at Mount Rushmore to turn on the lights even though it was way after hours, and all of us, maybe even the ranger, singing "America The Beautiful" when the faces were lit. Singing "Days Of ’49" in a campground restroom; hearing the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" in almost every other car that picked me up. And Sha Na Na: "If you don't like rock ’n’ roll, think what you've been missing…” I hear it all in "American Tune".
"Still tomorrow's gonna be another working day," Simon sang. Yeah, before we all knew it, just about every day would be another working day. But damn, the adventure was fun while it lasted.
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