On the Road Again

On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again...

Today, I get to do one of things I love to do most--hit the open road. I'm driving west with my friends Adam and Denny for two weeks or so. We'll hit Nashville, Albuquerque, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and other places in Utah, Idaho, the Dakotas, and Colorado.

Denny sent me and Adam a text last week that said,

"We have to think about what albums and podcasts we want to share with each other. And also some stuff we can fight about. I like to plan ahead."

I asked Denny about country music, and judging from his strongly-worded response, we'll have plenty to fight about.

Here's the thing: I love country music.

Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" has popped into my head almost every day for a week now. That song is one of the first songs I ever remember singing as a kid. It's fitting that country music intersects my love for the road--some of my favorite memories as a kid were involved sitting in my dad's truck on our way to fish while we listened to country.

Country music reminds me of early mornings and the smell of my Dad's coffee he would grab at the gas station on the way out to our next adventure. We'd stop at a bait shop and get live worms--and keep them in the icebox. Sometimes they'd still be there at the end of the day, and my mom would find them and freak out. (I reminded her of this a few days ago and I could hear her shuddering through the phone). If I was really lucky, we'd grab a bucket of minnows, and I'd watch them dart past each other in the water.

Country music reminds me of how my aunt and uncle would throw a rock into the water of the lake while I wasn't looking, and then tell me, "Paul! Look! It was a shark!" I believed those were sharks until fourth grade when I got into a fight with my teacher about the existence of sharks in Pennsylvania's freshwater lakes.

Country music reminds me of the ice cream stops we'd make at Dairy Queen on the way home. I would get a chocolate or twist soft-serve cone. To this day, I still, given the choice, only prefer twist soft serve.

 Country music told stories. Another one of the first songs I ever remember singing was "There's a Tear in My Beer" by Hank Williams, Jr.:

There's a tear in my beer / Cause I'm crying for ya, dear / You are on my lonely mind.

I remember being fascinated by the sad story of the song, and grossed out that he kept drinking beers he cried into.

I'm surprised, in a way, that it's stuck with me for as long as it has. Country music represents a little bit of the contradictions that a biracial kid has to grow up with. This is what happens when your dad is white, has lived in Atlanta, and longs to move below the Mason-Dixon line again and your mom is Korean and plays the piano. Contradictions. I love the formal arts, and I also have a desire to put on a cowboy hat, grab a cooler full of beer, and check out a NASCAR race.

I know country music's corny. I know it's not for everybody. That's the thing about music, though. You can appreciate some music for its technical musicality. But there's a broad range of other ways music connects with us--with emotional value, or sentimental value, or entertainment value.

For me, country music simultaneously says home to me and reminds me of the open road.

There's something both familiar and strange about it.

And so, as we set out today, Willie Nelson will be providing the soundtrack. Probably in my head because Denny's not having any of it.

On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends

And I can't wait to get on the road again
On the road again

Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again

And I can't wait to get on the road again