When one lives out West, in the open spaces, one can develop a curious appreciation for country music, even when country music used the be the only kind of music one did not like. Now, when I hear the call of the lonesome steel guitar and a voice that sounds like it’s haunting a desert, I long for places in which I used to dwell.
I miss the hollow, steel cold beauty of the winding Columbia River where I drove more than once through the night to get to the Oregon Coast, the Seven Sisters of the Cascade mountains looming in the distance like great ships. It was on one of these drives that I first fell in love with the music of Neko Case - and in the desert along the Green River* in Utah, where I first came to understand that a song can be a place. I was on a five-day river trip with friends when I poked my head out of my tent one cold morning to find Neko Case’s song “Deep Red Bells” staring at me across the parched landscape. A skeleton tree stood windblown, and the land stretched beyond it, hues of dull pink and gray hanging on the horizon. I froze, like the dead tree, as the song lured me toward the edge of something I still cannot fully explain. I could call it misery, but it was something I longed to be a part of forever. I felt as if I had seen a unicorn, as if I was one of the fortunate few to be able to see a place that was a song, even for that brief moment of my life. That vision followed me for the rest of the trip and for many years since. Whenever I hear the song today I get an ache in my gut to see that mythical animal again.
One always longs for something that can never truly be grasped.
How has music mystified you?
*Ironically, it was the Green River Killer of the Seattle/Tacoma area that inspired Neko to write "Deep Red Bells".