Monday, August 22, 2011

Spiral Highway

This song, unreleased until recently-- when it appeared as a bonus track on the re-release of the One-Trick Pony soundtrack-- is a rough draft for "How the Heart Approaches."

The end of this song makes it clear, as it includes the entire chorus "After the rain on the interstate," here used as a verse. And then this: "Then I think it’s strange/ The way the body turns/ And how my heart approaches what it yearns."

Again, the song does not appear in the film or on the original release of the soundtrack; this is fine, since it not only repeats lines that ended up in a stronger song, but it also is another bemoaning of the travails of the road musician. Still, it contains an interesting idea or two, it shows another way a song could have gone, and it is a pretty number in its own right.

The most famous road that bears the name "Spiral Highway" is in Idaho. It winds around a hill, from the base to the summit, wrapping itself up and up-- or, I suppose, down and down, if you went in the other direction. Here, however, it serves as a metaphor.

In "Jonah," the speaker refers to "traveling around this circuit." This song takes that image to its logical extreme, and imagines the entire highway system as one endlessly looping Mobius strip: "Ride the spiral highway one more round," goes the chorus.

Then it gets specific: "Every bar and grill/ Every greasy spoon/ Anywhere a quarter buys a tune," the last phrase being a reference to jukeboxes. The repeated starting word "every" (employing a rhetorical device called "anaphora") recalls "Homeward Bound": "Every stop is neatly planned... And each town looks the same to me... and every stranger's face I see..."

Here, however, the thing that is repeated, aside from the music, is also another kind of performance. The idea of a "local call," and a "pink motel," Well... who are we calling, locally? Not the family, not the wife back home. Probably a groupie who was friendly last time through. And the motel is "pink" because is a not a business motel or family-friendly place, but one reserved for a rendezvous.

But even this repetition becomes meaningless: "Any time the strain begins to tell." The constant moving, setting up, breaking down, playing the same songs in the same kinds of places-- even the exact same places-- eventually takes its toll. And now even the after-show entertainment leaves a sense of "been there, done that."

Then we meet the "bone-weary traveler" watching "headlights slide past the Moon." But here, there is no longing passion to balance that image ("I dream we are lying on top of a hill..." Rather than the absent but desired lover in "How the Heart Approaches," we have a lover who is there, but no passion between them. Here, she is very "locally" ensconced in a "pink-"sheeted bed, with the exact opposite effect. Yes, here is a live a person... but no passion.

At this point, the lines "Then I think it’s strange/ The way the body turns/ And how my heart approaches what it yearns" come in. Oh, has he learned his lesson? Has the traveler answered the question "Where's he going?" with the word "Home"? Has he "turned" his "body" and started to finally "approach" what his "heart... yearns" for?

Um... Not exactly. The song concludes: "Ride that spiral highway one more round/ Ride that spiral highway one more round." He is "turning," he is "approaching" but he is not aimed anywhere. He is not yet finished with literally going around in circles.

Next song: All Because of You

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