The drive is always longer after a loss, and we had the bitter taste of defeat in our mouths as we headed east on I-94. (Or was that the Metrodome bratwurst?) Twins over Brewers. I never liked the sound of that.
It was pitch dark. Jess was in the cramped back seat of the pickup, wedged between a travel bag and a guitar. Now who's gonna complain about that? Zach was behind the wheel, steering us toward the old homeland of Whitehall, Wis. I was riding shotgun, and I knew full well my responsibility.
Zach turned on the overhead light and flipped me a bulging CD case. Without saying anything he was saying: Find something to keep us going.
It's an awesome responsibility. I quickly flipped through the case, recognizing some CDs that gave me great comfort. Steve Earle. Now that would be a good choice. But too predictable -- way too easy to grab "I Feel Alright'' and rock on down the highway. Creedence? Guaranteed to get you down the road, but it didn't seem quite right. Motley Crue? Where did that come from?
Then I spotted the blue CD label and knew I had it. It's not always banger music that keeps you going at night. Sometimes -- especially on a black night over a long haul -- you have to reach for harmonies that weave together and whisper in your tired ears. And delicate chord voicings that have you playing along in the fretted patchwork of your weary mind.
Whiskeytown's "Strangers Almanac'' is that kind of album. I used to love Ryan Adams before he became Ryan Adams. Know what I'm saying? I miss the fiddle of Caitlin Cary and her sweet backup vocals that lent support -- even propped up at times -- Adams' strained musings.
"Inn Town'' is one of those great lid-lifting songs. The opening guitar riff draws you in, and then the song just plain takes over.
Parking lot, movie screen I can't feel anything
Cigarette, beat up TV I can't feel anything
Now that I, I am in town
I feel fine, fine for now
We were gonna make it to the old Hub. As we clipped along Highway 53 between Osseo and Pigeon Falls I thought about my high school class reunion coming up later this summer, and I wondered about some old pals I haven't seen in, what, 40 years? And I strained to hear the lines that always bring me back here, even when I'm 1,500 miles away:
Hang around with the people that I used to be
Hang around on a corner waiting to go, have a seat
I might have to come back for the big Four-Oh.