I was always the “wheel man” when I was a kid. Some folks thought I drove a little too fast or too dangerously close to other objects when I slipped between two cars or trucks or whatever. But pretty much everyone recognized my driving skills.
On my first movie as a “professional” actor (i.e. not student or “underground” or avant-garde flicks, which I started acting in at the request of filmmakers when I was a kid and continued to over the years until I decided to finally get paid for it at almost 40) I replaced the stunt driver when the director saw that I could “stop on a dime” (i.e. the “mark” designated for the car to be shot correctly) better than him.
I always feel good behind the wheel and often through the years when I was down or confused or had to think things through by myself I’d jump in whatever vehicle was available and take off.
I hated driving in L. A. by the time I left there, when it would take an hour to go somewhere that should have taken twenty minutes. But I still dig driving in Manhattan, where I learned to maneuver traffic when I was a kid starting out driving, and I love driving up to the Berkshires on the small country roads I prefer to the big highways.
Like I did yesterday. I drove back down to Jersey from Western Massachusetts on one of the most beautiful days I’ve experienced at any time of my life. I’m not big on camping out or trekking through the woods getting eaten up by bugs and all that, more of a city kind of guy that way, but I love being in the presence of beautiful natural landscapes.
One of the reasons I moved back to the East Coast from the West was to live among the natural landscapes of my childhood that I sorely missed. And there is nowhere they are more beautifully preserved than in the Berkshires.
There are stretches of scenic routes that cause me to gasp with a stunned sense of nature’s perfection, or thank God or the Spirit of the Universe or the Life Force or whatever you call what led to such beauty.
And yesterday the sky was so perfectly blue, as in my memory it seemed to be a lot in my younger years, with billowy pure white clouds floating amid that blue. I just rode in silent communion with the world for a while.
Then I turned on the radio and instead of hitting scan to find the few radio stations I can get in the countryside up there, I decided to turn the tuning knob by hand, like you had to when I first started driving, only now you just turn the knob a hair and it clicks into position, locking onto the next digit down on the radio station numbers.
The closer I got to New York City, of course, the more stations there were until everyone of those clicks seemed to have a unique perspective on sound.
But still up in the country, the few stations that came in clearly played “rock”—often screaming derivations of what was new and exciting in the late 1960s and now seems played out to me. With the occasional more “pop” singing that sounds these days, to me, like the vocalist is having trouble finding the right note so they decide to try all the notes in the area.
But eventually I stumbled on a station playing the Beatles’ album REVOLVER, which the DJ informed me and whoever else was listening was voted the greatest album ever by rock critics in 2003 I think he said. It made me wonder if I agreed or not, though it certainly would be in my top ten.
Not too much later I stumbled on a station playing the Rolling Stones from the same period, or not long after (LET IT BLEED) and once again thought of the contrast between those two groups that defined attitudes and style and taste in those years.
I dug both of them but preferred the Beatles because I identified with them in more ways. They seemed like working-class guys, with at least two of them being descended from the Irish (Lennon and McCartney) who believed “love” might be the answer to the problems they had faced before, and even after, they made it.
Jagger on the other hand was a college boy who had a degree in business, the way I heard it, who tried to sound like he was African American (in contrast to Lennon and McCartney who copped the approach to singing of many “American” rock’n’rollers, both African- and European-American but retained their Liverpool accents etc.) and also tried to sound like he was “bad”—even “evil”—but then when confronted with true evil at Altamont couldn’t handle it (and an “evil” he and the Stones unleashed in many ways with their songs and attitudes and glorifying of negative attitudes and behavior (that sounds like a parent talking, but I felt it at the time as someone who, like the Beatles, had actually experienced some street fighting and confronting of those out to do actual harm)).
The contrast between those two groups, or earlier between the writing of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs or even earlier still between the poetry of William Carlos Williams and T. S. Eliot, always made me think this way.
The critics love the dark, cynical, bitter, negative approach to life that often comes, ironically (and the critics never seem capable of recognizing this, or at least pointing it out) from the privileged artists who rarely have to face anything darker than their own taste and thoughts.
Burroughs was the scion of a wealthy WASP family who had some kind of allowance for most of his life that he could rely on. Kerouac was the working-class, ethnic guy who knew what it meant to face those odds. T. S. Eliot had a job in a bank and then in publishing, while WC Williams was a doctor serving the lower class ethnic families of Northern New Jersey and seeing things that probably would have made Eliot faint.
Yet somehow Eliot, in his sheltered life, represents to the critics a more realistic and intellectually rigorous perspective than Williams, whose work to some was seen as pedestrian and common, though in many ways William’s was the more revolutionary writer (as you can probably tell I feel like I have a personal stake in this argument because my poetry has been dismissed by critics over the years as not “literary” enough, too much about working people concerns and not enough about intellectual ones, etc. as if they were incompatible, which is what Williams and others have faced as well).
Anyway, that’s where my head was led by my turning the tuning knob now and then as I drove the back roads of the Northeast on one of, if not the, most beautiful day(s) of my life. (It made me think of McCain vs. Obama as well, where the political operatives for the Republicans are doing a great job of positioning the wealthy privileged McCain as the “regular guy” and the welfare raised Obama who embodies the real “American dream” story as some kind of privileged elite—and unfortunately the Democrats are letting them get away with it).
But as I said, closer to the city it became more interesting as I found more and more stations I’d never heard of before, including one playing Russian music and speaking Russian (or so I guessed from the sounds and the few words I could recognize), many Spanish music and language stations, one show that featured the Irish language and music sung in it, though a lot of the talk was in English (“Radio Free Erin”), and Asian ones, and ones playing Afro-Caribbean music etc.
It made me think of the news recently that “white” “Americans” will be a minority in two decades, and how so-called “whites” and “blacks” and the other categories that are more social than natural are becoming even more diversified (with immigrants from places different from where many of our ancestors came from).
Some of the forces of the future are unstoppable, “good” and “bad.” Just like they were in my past, and will always be. The secret to happiness, at least in my experience, is accepting that and getting on with life (and not being afraid to work for the “good” as you see it anyway, and even helping make a difference in how that “good” and “bad” get worked out).
Or at least getting into a car (hopefully a hybrid like my Prius, and with passengers, like that ride usually includes for me so that I don’t feel too bad about the gas used and pollution contributed to) and listening to the sounds of, well, no longer just “America” but the world—in “America.” It brought a grin to my face, I can tell you that.