I spent the last three weeks at home ---all three of them: the Atlantic coast of South Florida, North Carolina’s Outer Banks and the ever-proud capitol of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. Each leg of the journey enjoyed its own specific soundtrack comprised of songs chosen because they serve to soften the blow of the kind of going home it is oft said one can never do, or, contrariwise, songs that heightened the potency of the nostalgia I felt at times like I was happily drowning in. These are essentially comfort songs, great candidates for the secret cache of music no one but you ever knows you have. Last night, for example, I caught a fellow coworker pouring over the inner sleeve of his new MC Hammer CD while waiting for the bus ---not that I was looking to catch him looking at anything--- and yet he made at least two excuses for having it in his hands before I had enough time to inquire, “What’s up?” We shared a laugh and bonded over our so-called “guilty” listening pleasures.
However, I have trouble keeping my secret listenings secret. Perhaps I have my deep love of karaoke to thank for that ---if karaoke were a sport I’d have Olympic potential. The truth is, I love my rock music like I like my cheese: both soft and hard, as occasions dictate. Michael McDonald and “Diamond” David Lee Roth are revered beings in my world; give me the Alan Parson Project's “Eye in the Sky” and I’ll give you Motley Crue’s “Looks That Kill.” I love that I can say that my experience working in music retail is extremely valuable to me in that it has contributed something from just about every genre to my ever expanding personal library of music, but there is no escaping my weakness for songs like Survivor’s “The Search is Over” or Judas Priest’s “Livin’ After Midnight.” Those karaoke-friendly, FM rock hits can turn my knees to jelly, get my motor running and take, take me home simultaneously.
And so I spent most of my vacation indulging in the easier, cheesier comfort tunes that somehow make everything feel alriiiiiiiight... for the most part anyway. Whether whipping through tobacco fields on my way to the beach or doing time checking out the old and new thrill rides at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg (known for it’s “Europe, only closer,” slogan and its five kick-ass roller coasters -- all named for mythical beasts) I had rock ‘n’ roll on the brain. It’s impossible for the mind to avoid rockin’ summer jams while you quite literally feel like you’re being taken for a ride into the danger zone, especially when visiting theme parks. The things those thrill ride designers, engineers or imagineers are building these days: bonkers! Plus, Peter Frampton just happened to be playing a live outdoor concert at Busch Gardens that night. Hearing the strains of his hit single "I'm In You" sailing on the humid evening breeze while, at the same moment, losing my breath riding the newest extreme roller-coaster adventure Busch Gardens has to offer, the Griffon, was without a doubt a high point of my summer vacation. It was so Wayne's World I almost hurled.
As far as hot August nights go, I’m happy to have discovered more than one summer jam on the Melvins' new album, Nude With Boots, while driving around at night. The back cover of the CD sports some interesting artwork reminiscent of all of the pirate flags that fly everywhere up and down the Carolina coastline, particularly that of Edward “Blackbeard” Teach. Blackbeard and his glamorized, self-made legend of the “golden age of piracy” is still alive and well in the Outer Banks despite his being killed there hundreds of years ago. There being the setting for my initial acquaintance with the Melvins' new record, I’ve developed an association between their unique-sounding, salty heavy rock and all things piratical, which is cool because I believe that pirate enthusiasts need something other than re-worked chanteys and Disney-dipped show tunes to round out their swashbuckling playlists.
Otherwise, it seems August music, as far as I'm concerned, strays from the soft-rock common place to the kind of rock that requires manual transmission and a sun roof to the obtusely unhinged fringes of rock ‘n’ roll definition, or, the weird stuff. Enter Ariel Pink’s deranged melodies, which always enjoy an almost constant rotation every time I visit the Outer Banks. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the beach road speed limit is an unwavering 30 mph or that I’m crazy from the heat when I’m out there, but somehow his music seems to remind me of the natural high I get by just being there. There were times when all I wanted to listen to was my parents’ definition of beach music: the Drifters and Chairmen of the Board and other do-woppy songs to shag to, but I’d always be drawn back into the crazy world of Ariel Pink with his fuzzy, faded sounds that perfectly match the weathered wood and sun-blasted sandscapes. The thing I love most about being at the Outer Banks is that I feel as if the time I spend there is like prescription that needs be filled annually in order to maintain my sanity for the rest of the year. That being that case, it makes me laugh to think that the only thing I want to listen to when I'm there is the most mind-warping, disconnecting music I happened to bring along for the trip. Maybe it’s just another method of cutting loose, which is fine by me because it’s easy and free like the wild horses that roam the Southern Shores of North Carolina.
Waiting another year for the annual trip home via the Outer banks will be tough, but I’ve got the music and the means to go there upstairs, given the proper headphones and a willingness to let everything else go. It’s like that movie Afterlife by Hirokazu Kore-eda where everyone goes to their own personal version of heaven when they die by eternally inhabiting their favorite life memory. Given the choice, I know I'd choose to be there on the Outer Banks in August, listening my August playlist, wearing my August clothes with my August family and friends, making August decisions about August food and fun. It's difficult to believe there are only two more days of this, the best month of the year; time to pack up and pack in those mix tapes and jean shorts 'til next summer.