My life usually has a musical component, so it's not shocking that my vacations have many musical memories inexorably tied to the trips. I'm sure most music lovers have had similar experiences.
My family went to Washington, D.C., every 4th of July for many years when I was growing up and The Beach Boys always played a free concert next to the Washington monument. These late ’70s/early ’80s gigs are what I've always considered my first concerts. The memories are vague but deeply entrenched. I'll never forgive my folks for not letting me watch opener Joan Jett (at her "I Love Rock & Roll" peak). I was about 11. And I was pissed!
I have many amazing Lollapalooza road trips memories, from the first-tour Cleveland stop in 1991 when fans charged the gates as Nine Inch Nails played an early set to getting seriously beaten by bouncers (then evicted from the premises) after telling them not to be dicks during my trip to Indy for the Beastie Boys/Smashing Pumpkins headlining year (1994). I also had a personal rebirth on a trip to the standalone Lolla in 2007, feeling inspired by seeing Amy Winehouse, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Patti Smith under the mammoth Chicago skyline.
But many musical vacations aren't concert related, nor intentionally "musical." I vividly remember "Rhinestone Cowboy" being played on the radio nonstop during a trip to Atlanta as a child. If I hear that song now I can think of nothing but being 6 or 7 years old, flopping around in our un-air-conditioned, early ’70s VW bug's cubby hole, the small compartment between the backseat and the engine. We not only didn't wear seatbelts or sit in carseats back then — we were allowed to play in literally the most dangerous spot in the tiny death trap.
I remember an L.A. trip the month the Beastie Boys dropped Check You Head. I played it nonstop on a Walkman and arrived in Los Angeles to discover everyone dressed exactly like Adam, Mike and Adam. I found the summertime wearing of winter hats hilarious. It seemed all based on one music video and an album cover.
That same trip I developed a supernatural bond with Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking and Smashing Pumpkins' Gish.
I've had some great odd music-related coincidences on summer trips, as well. As I giddily drove over the horizon on my summer journey to New York City to intern for several months with an editor and caught my first glimpse of the always jaw-dropping skyline of Manhattan, the dance remix version of "Miles Iz Dead" by personal hometown heroes of mine, The Afghan Whigs, just happened to come on the terrestrial radio station to which we were listening. It would be the no-brainer soundtrack selection had it been a scene in the movie of my life.
My vacation from which I just returned, a trip to the deepest-south Alabama, was filled with several interesting coincidences, all related to a single, singular musical icon, a fascinating man I learn more about every day.
I only connected the dots when I got home. Had my memorial trail actually been evident to me as I journeyed along, I would have explored more, to connect even more dots.
As it stands, it was a fun if inadvertent adventure, even in hindsight. An accidental pilgrimage of sorts.
Gradually, I pieced together evidence Hank Williams spirit-guided me on my recent trip:
1) Drove through Butler County, Ala., and saw signs for Mount Olive, birthplace of Hiram Hank Williams, as I later discovered.
2) Drove past Montgomery twice, where Hank cut his teeth and launched his career.
3) Drove a stretch of highway officially dubbed the "Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway."
4) Admired the massive shipyards along the bay in Mobile, where Hank worked during World War II.
5) Held in my hands the heavy vinyl version of the The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams (2011) compilation in the building headquarters of the record company that released it (Third Man Records in Nashville).
6) Nearly bought a weird old Hank Jr./Hank Sr. split LP at another Nashville record shop and walked past Roy Acuff's record store (where the above photo was apparently taken).
7) Touched and was awestruck by the grandeur of God's Own Listening Room, the Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry when Hank performed there (and was later banned for life).
8) Roamed Broadway and the alley beside the Ryman where I am fairly certain Hank once frolicked pre- and post-gigs.
9) Walked by the current Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Hank was among the first three artists to be inducted in the Hall's first class of inductees in 1961.
10) Returned to work this morning, seated four floors above where Hank Williams recorded "Lovesick Blues," a crossover smash that cemented Hank's status as a superstar, as well as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and other classics.
There's a piano down there Hank probably played when he was in town. I think I'd like to go down there, tickle those ivories and see if Hank's ghost wants to hang out and chat for a while.
I do believe these are all merely fun coincidences. Maybe it was all subconsciously strung together to help keep my sobriety in check. Hank's a musical hero of mine, but not a role model. He's a cautionary tale; I am an alcoholic who would likely have met a similar tragic fate as Hank's had I not stopped boozing.
Sometimes great vacations can take you down more than just literal new paths.
But if Hank is my life journey's Sherpa, I'm more than ready. I only insist that he doesn't drink while we're driving; that shit's frowned upon nowadays. And it didn't end well last time.