30 Days of Songs: Day 6
day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere:; James Taylor: “Sweet Baby James” (Route 90 from Northampton to Boston)
In Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer, Kate comes out of a movie she has seen with Binx that takes place in New Orleans, where they are. Kate looks around the street and says, “Yes, it is certified now.” Binx explains:
She refers to a phenomenon of moviegoing which I have called certification. Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, a a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.
[Walker Percy, The Moviegoer (New York: Vintage, 1989 (1960): 63]
I’m not sure I agree with Percy (and Binx) exactly, but there is something compelling about seeing places you know on film. And I think it’s the same kind of attraction that makes me want to hear songs that mention places I know, especially when I am listening to them in those very places. Which is probably why whenever I’d make the 90 minute drive on the Mass Pike from Northampton to Boston, which I did frequently in my last year of college and, in reverse, in the first year afterwards, I’d pop a James Taylor cassette into my dashboard.
Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frostin’,
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go.
I love the landscape of western Massachusetts fiercely. When I left, I felt physical pain from my separation. And I fight back tears whenever I return, following the river up Rte. 91 from the Turnpike. I love those hills, those old mountains. I love the trees, the buildings and love every river. There is no place more beautiful to me than the Berkshires in October.
Whenever I listen to “Sweet Baby James,” I’m always a little surprised by the first verse, the cowboy verse. Because to me, it is a song about my love of western Massachusetts. No matter how many times I listen to this song, I forget that the song begins elsewhere.
I drove to Stockbridge once. It was a mistake. I hadn’t had my car very long and, with a carload of friends, I got pointed the wrong way on the turnpike. Once you pass the closest entrance for Northampton going west, there are no exits for a long while (or at least there weren’t then), so you might as well change your plans and go somewhere else, or you’ll have wasted over an hour just turning around. So that day, we went to Stockbridge. Because of James Taylor and a mistake. On the way home, we sang along with the entire album. And when we ran out of songs, we flipped the tape over (Do you remember flipping them over?) and started again.