[23 March 2004]
Music was made for lots of things, and one of them is driving. Interminable stretches of asphalt are transformed into splendid Cinerama when the right kind of music is bleeding through the speakers. Now, where I come from, when people think about driving music, they tend to think of insufferably bad blues-rock anthems from the ‘70s, like “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors and “Radar Love” by Golden Earring. For some people, the idea of good driving music is tied up with a need to hear songs that are literally about driving.
The truth is, when a singer describes in first person how, despite his most backbreaking efforts, he just can’t drive 55, he’s doing the listener/driver a serious disservice. He’s compromising the most thrilling thing about highway burning, and that’s escapism. Rather than letting you dream your own dream about who you are and what you’re doing between the double yellow lines and the shoulder, he’s asking you to play a role in a prefabricated story that, lets face it, probably isn’t very good.
I mean, did it ever occur to you while listening to the Eagles that maybe you’re not crusin’ down the road trying to loosen your load with seven women on your mind? Have you ever suspected while listening to REO Speedwagon that, come to think of it, maybe you’re not ridin’ the storm out?
The music on Eleventh Dream Day’s Prairie School Freakout is for those who don’t want to limit their driving daydreams to the imagination of the guy who wrote they lyrics to the song. If this whole concept is new to you, and you’re really interested in trying it out, but just aren’t sure whether you’re really ready, then this is a great starter CD. There’s even a song called “Driving Song” that’s unambiguously all about stepping on the gas, forgetting about the past, and haulin’ ass. You can take it out on the highway and let it rip with without worries of becoming confused or disoriented. You’ll know exactly what’s going on.
Once you feel you’re ready to move on to the abstract, rich pleasures await you. Because when Eleventh Dream Day made this record back in 1987, the gods of the abstract highway song were speaking through them. Rick Rizzo and Baird Figi play blistering, barbed guitars, while Douglas McCombs and Janet Bean breathe down their necks with ceaselessly insistent rhythm accompaniment. Rizzo sings with the harried voice of a guy who is ready to get far away from wherever he is, if he could only figure out where the hell to go. His first words on the album suggest as much, as he bellows: “We’re wasting our time, watching candles burn / We’re caught from behind / We’ve got a lot to learn”.
Every single song on this album is perfect road fodder in its own inimitable way. The slide guitar flourishes of “Tarantula” make it the ideal magic hour cruiser. The rumbling bass and hypnotically repetitive skronk guitar line that runs through “Through My Mouth” will suit you perfectly on one of those irresponsible, post-argument-with-the-mate hellbenders. And if you can keep your head from bobbing enough to drive safely during “Beach Miner”, it’s the perfect track for those “rag top down so the hair can blow” days.
Eleventh Dream Day hailed from middle America, so they know something about the need to get away. It shows on this album. So once you’re ready to graduate from Tom Petty and George Thorogood, give this, their first proper album, a listen.