Subscriptions to South Dakota Magazine make great gifts!
Subscribe today — 1 year (6 issues) is just $25!
Songs for the Road
Aug 31, 2016
I realize this has become a recurring theme in my columns. Like Willie Nelson’s classic hit, I was “On the Road Again” in August. I like to take back roads across South Dakota whenever possible. I enjoy seeing what a “new to me” road has to offer. I also like to turn up the music and roll down the window if the weather allows.
Have you ever noticed that some of the best songs are about the road? From classic rockers like Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” to the Hank Williams early country hit “Lost Highway,” there is a wide gamut of music that we love to crank as the miles disappear in our rear view. The first songs I play are rockers to match my enthusiasm for the journey — Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” I get a little sentimental about halfway home, as I cross the Missouri River and gaze upon the familiar West River country. That’s when country music starts sounding really good. That’s when I turn to Johnny Cash’s first full album, With His Hot and Blue Guitar. The miles melt away to the signature rockabilly sounds of the “Tennessee Three.”
Being home can also put me in a ’70s and ’80s state of mind. I spent a lot of time in a tractor working the fields for Dad, and the old AM radio kept me company. I’d watch the sunlight play across the Moreau River hills while listening to CCR sing about being stuck in “Lodi,” or Christopher Cross “Ride Like the Wind.” In high school, we used to cruise up and down Main Street, and Eric Carmen’s “Make Me Lose Control (Turn the Radio Up)” takes me back there every time I hear it.
The first time I ever attended the South Dakota State Fair, we drove the family’s new (to us) Oldsmobile 98. It had a diesel engine and a cassette player. Dad bought an Oak Ridge Boys gospel album, The Statler Brothers’ Greatest Hits and a Mamas and the Papas Greatest Hits collection, and Mom got a couple John Denver cassettes. Those tunes are pure gold to me now. They take me back to when all six of us piled into that car on the way to Huron and then on to Lake Benton, Minnesota, to visit my aunt and uncle.
On the back half of the journey, I tend to like songs that are more heartfelt and lyrical. You know, the ones where the singer is lamenting about being on the road while his family is growing up without him. John Anderson’s “Wish I Could Have Been There” is a good example. There is a Texas band called Jason Eady and the Wayward Apostles that has song called “I'll Be Home Tomorrow” that hits the homesick note just right. Patty Griffin does a beautiful yet haunting cover of Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” that uses the metaphor of driving in the night as a way to escape a bitter and confusing life. Deep stuff.
My all-time favorite road album is Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town.” Like many of us growing up in small towns in South Dakota, he somehow captures the angst of wanting to get out and see the wide world, balanced with the blues of not being home when you want to be. The song “Down the Road” has a great opening line: “On the blue side of evening, when the darkness takes control, you start looking for a reason to take your lonesome on down the road.”
I realize this column is supposed to be about photography, and in a way it still is. Enjoying life on the road is a big part of my world of capturing photos in South Dakota. The beauty of the scenery is simply enhanced by the music that accompanies me. Hank Williams’ granddaughter, Holly, recorded a song called “The Highway” where she longs to be back on the road making music again. That is often how I feel when I’ve been in one place too long. That’s usually when the road (and yet to be captured photos) starts calling my name.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.