Posts Tagged ‘Pink Floyd’

NOTHING IS STATIC (The Great American Southwest, 1996)

November 3, 2008

The journey continues. Night has fallen and a cassette tape of Link Wray rumbles on the car stereo. Cuz’n Roy and I burn down a rather deserted stretch of desert in time with the music, the swanky and ferocious beat acting as a syncopated counterpoint to the soothing thrum of the Pontiac’s smoothly percolating 400 cubic inches of internal combustion. These are the only sounds to permeate the mute omniscience of the California moon and interrupt the stillness of the surrounding darkness.

I pull on a styrofoam big gulp of jake, thick as motor oil and twice as sour. The brackishness of the caffeine is exacerbated by the faux liquid creamer, which has a consistency and overbite reminiscent of a night in Akron, Ohio. Despite the brutality of the acidic bile in my styrofoam cup and the realization that if I didn’t drink this stuff we would never reach Black Rock, Nevada in time for Breedlove’s record runs, nothing could harsh the mellow of a night that seemed to be in harmony with the cosmic consciousness.

“The sound of a well-tuned V8 is the sound of the universe at peace with itself.”

Roy agrees. “It is the perfect rhythm section for a twangin’ guitar,” he nods, reaching to crank up the volume pot on the tape player.

Like Link Wray, Roy is a North Carolina boy and he grew up around the souped-up V8s of stock car country. He is a strapping, towheaded country mouse with a build informed by a generous helping of corn beef hash. Neither of us are particularly mechanically inclined, but we both have a profound appreciation for an internal combustion engine and all of its trappings, not the least of which was the different ways one can sound depending upon fuel type, air/fuel induction system and cam grind.

Roy can find harmonic overtones from a variety of fountainheads, but he has a real penchant for picking out the symphonies buried in thermodynamic sources… He knows that machines are part of the great cosmic om. Many times at the drag strip as I fought for elbow room amongst the bleacher bums and professional photographers Roy would just stay in the parking lot and recline in the front seat of the car, content to kick back with a sixer and listen to the different types of drag racing machines gear up and wind down across the pavement. It is music to his ears, like the sound of bird calls to somebody in the Audubon Society.

“It sounds like you are down on compression in the number seven cylinder,” he says during a lull in the cassette.

I am colored impressed. Roy’s appreciation of the sonic qualities of an eight-cylinder internal combustion engine makes sense when one factors in that his birthplace, Ranlo, is not more than a three beer drive from a triumvirate of company towns whose main industry nowadays is stock car racing and its spinoffs. In recent years, surrounding cities such as Charlotte, Hickory, Rockingham, Winston-Salem, Spartanburg, South Carolina et. al., have all blossomed and roared with commerce as garages, shops, wind tunnels, checker flag themed coffee shops and other havens for horsepower research and development for stock cars replaced or supplanted the region’s rather moribund textile industry. Each of those cities is a point on a circle that envelops the modest digs of Roy’s childhood in the podunk burg of Ranlo.

The conversation turns to North Carolina and its recent history. We talk about textile mills and relatives with missing fingers; we talk about how Link Wray and how North Carolina has changed since the days of rockabilly and moonshine. We talk about the jail terms of the first wave of stock car racers.

Ahhh, the checkered history of stock cars in the Crimson State. The phenomena that became stock car racing as an industry transpired the moment when federal revenuers and local Good Ol’ Boy law enforcement were empowered by the sudden ubiquity of inexpensive radio technology in the 1950s and 1960s. This finally allowed them to stop (or at least stem) both the rampant bootlegging of corn liquor and its co-efficient, tax evasion. Sure, a hot headed soda cracker moonshine runner could out drive the local sheriff’s deputies, but good luck in outrunning radio transmissions carried on modulated electromagnetic waveforms that travel at the speed of light. So the daredevils who were at one time runnin’ shine and who were the object of hot pursuit from law enforcement became stock car drivers. Many had gone to jail at one time or another (and another), but these days they are respectable businessmen and/or tooth-capped spokesmen for boxes of Corn Flakes and laundry detergent, pitch men racing for maximum exposure on the boob tube and catering to the needs of the racing crowd and its Fortune 500 sponsors, their tawdry occupation of outrunning the law now firmly excised in life’s trail of exhaust.

“A bonafide hillbilly guitar player can’t get a job in county music no more,” Roy muses. It seems the landscape had been gentrified with corporate stock car bucks and Starbucks, he says and in reference to the motorsport that was once the domain of moonshine runners, he adds that, “and all of those famous stock car boys can’t talk about their vacations in the big house neither.”

Stock cars in the Deep South. Corn liquor squeezin’s. Hillbilly guitar players. None too shabby a cultural backdrop for life east of the Mississippi, but for Cuz’n Roy these trappings were not enough. As a kid, he had been exposed to the surf and drag culture of California via exploitation films and sound recordings. Throughout Roy’s youth it was, by day, surf guitars mixed in with hillbilly honky tonk on a dime store phonograph or transistor radio and, by late night under the blue cathode glow of a rabbit-eared teevee set, beach movies with gratuitous dragster crashes shoehorned into the plot and then the world fell into a sine wave and a test pattern. This imported culture shaped and informed Roy’s appreciation of California and fired up his sense of wanderlust.

(Early in our friendship while watching the vintage surf and drag trashploitation flick Bikini Beach on videotape, he told me in solemn tones that, “Every time I went to a drive-in movie theater in the deep South and I saw these beach movies with dragsters racing alongside those majestic mountains, or whenever I heard a song by the Beach Boys on my AM radio, I knew there was something going on in California I needed to experience.”)

Back in those days, for kids in the hinterlands, pop culture – late night television, AM radio, surfing and drag racing magazines, etc. – taught its impressionable viewers that California was not just a place on the map, it was the end of the line for the Manifest Destiny. It represented an ideal, opportunity, the last stop on the trail that began at the Gateway to the West, a logical extension of the last chunk of real estate within the borders of the Continental US. In fact, it is where the pavement ends and where vision begins for passengers riding the American Dream, a notion encapsulated in the idiom of Breedlove’s choosing, “the Spirit of America.”

As a transplant, Roy is the natural guy to tap into what that meant, i.e., to figure out what resonance and deeper meanings, if any, could be summoned from the whole Spirit of America ethos – as a phrase, as a concept, as an approach to life. It is 1996. California had changed; America had changed… all of which is natural, as life is nothing, if not change.

The drive continues. California became Nevada. Posted speed limits are ignored. The conversation dies and the mix tape of surf music spools out. I eject the cassette and scroll through the dial of the AM radio. We find a rock and roll station out of Reno, which through a quirk of electromagnetism, is able to transmit all the way to I-15 east of Stateline, Nevada with minimal fritzing. Late night radio in the American Desert is truly freeform and tonight the screed from the deejay in Reno is particularly temporal and metaphysical…

“… Nothing-uh is static-uh,” the voice from the radio says through some static, while a disjointed organ solo section of a vintage Pink Floyd space instrumental meanders in the background. “Things move both forward and backwards, as a function of space and time, but things move, my friends. Stars move, galaxies move, everything moves away from everything else. And the further away they get-uh, the faster they move, which indicates the universe is expanding and constantly changing. Only when something ceases to move, does it cease to exist. Can I get an amen-uhh?”

We lose the station not long after that and drive more or less in silence for the duration of the trip. And so it goes into the black vacuum of the Nevada desert. Vegas. Beatty. Tonopah. Hawthorne. Reno. By 3 AM, all are road signs in our rear view mirrors. Nixon. Little Nixon. Black Rock. We spend the night in Gerlach, Nevada, with me on a pool table and Roy on the floor of a joint called Bev’s Miner’s Club, whose back door is a crack in the lip of the dry lake bed. This next morning we drive out onto a ridge overlooking the dry lake bed, share a batch of campfire coffee with some backpacking survivalists, brush our teeth with salt and bottled water, and then spit the wash on gypsum dust white as the fossils of time.



November 2, 2008


Pick Your Part

Pick Your Part


November 2, 2008

Cuz’n Roy and I are coming back from Black Rock after Breedlove’s 600 mph mishap…

“Man they just don’t write ‘em like that anymore,” I say to Roy, as the main guitar riff to “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” comes crashing back in.

“Ah-men,” Roy howls and pounds on the Pontiac’s cracked upholstery with his mammoth mitts, simultaneous to Syd Barrett banging out the barrage of interstellar power chords that propel the Pink Floyd tune to its crescendo and coda. “It’s like this guy is talking about the car crash we drove through today.”

“… And everything will keep moving until the Universe collapses into itself-uh,” the voice on the radio rattles the fabric of the speaker cones like a dime store popcorn maker. “It is a matter of chaos-uh and prob-uh-bil-uh-tee as the tendency towards disorder is the most universal manifestation of time’s arrow. Our galaxy is traveling at 600 miles per second towards a collision with in-fin-uhh-ty and oh-bliv-ee-un-uhh….”

“This guy is cool as shit,” Roy burps and rips the tab off of a beer can.

“…and there is a man in the desert who endeavored to defy physics and common sense by uhh-temp-ting-uhh to break the sound barrier in a stream-uhh-lined, jet-powered five-wheeled ahh-tow-mow-beel. He has failed… “ The station cuts to commercials about radar detectors and military-quality ready-meals.

“Well I’ll be dipped in the primordial soup,” I laugh. “This guy is talking about Breedlove.”

“He sounds just like a weird, soda cracker version of Cleavon Little in that movie about benzedrine and muscle cars,” Roy says. “You know, the one where Cleavon played the soul brother deejay, Vanishing Point.”

The deejay cues up “Journey to the Center of Your Mind,” by the Amboy Dukes.

“That’s exactly what this dude is talking about,” I say, leaning on the accelerator. “The vanishing point. Like he said, ‘the intersection of infinity and oblivion.’ Defying the physical laws of that intersection is what makes this whole trip fascinating.” I give it a beat to organize my thoughts. “It’s like we – as a society, as individuals, as gearheads, as land speed record setters, as wannabes or whatever – go racing to the vanishing point like lemmings or something, like splinters of iron drawn to a magnet, no, like an electron to the nucleus of an atom and when we get there we disappear, like the collision of matter and anti-matter.” I pull on my styrofoam cup and silently wonder exactly where from the center of my mind that last outburst came from.

Meanwhile, Roy laughs and then nods like he understands exactly what that last outburst meant. I knew that he did. Probably even more than I did, and I’m the guy who said it.

The radio show returns from some commercial breaks and the noises in the car become a jumbled cacophony of confusion and overlapping dialogue with me trying to find the intersections of the biological and cosmological imperatives, the voice on the radio riffing extemporaneously on Craig Breedlove not heeding the laws of some Grand Unifying Theory while the intro to the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” tick-tocks in the background. Apropos of nothing and everything, Roy begins speaking in tongues, which I gathered was a loose recitation of chapter and verse from either Genesis or Revelations (I wasn’t sure which…) and keeping time on the dashboard while singing in unison with the Chambers Brothers (“Time has come to-day… TIME!” and then he’d knock the rear view mirror off its axis).

Finally, the deejay ducks down the music and begins a pretty heavy metaphysical/relativistic rap about the futility of attempting to go Mach 1 in a car: “Yes, my friends-uhh, time has come today. Light is always going 186,000 miles a second faster than the person observing it, but to try and subvert time is fatal… traveling through time at warp speed and beyond will require the passage of a black hole, the massive gravitational forces of which would rip the time traveler to shreds-uhh…” The voice on the radio is on fire, briefly modulating in an intermittent tremolo interspersed with emf noise as we pass under some high tension lines. “Light is traveling-uhh at the speed limit of the Universe. No vessel bound for the stars can travel-uhh any faster than that. And no man can travel-uhh at the speed of sound in an ahh-tow-mow-beel. When a time traveler-uhh moves towards an opening in the wall of spacetime, the mass of the hole increases to in-fin-uhh-tee. So, in the end, the traveler-uhh is torn to taco chips. As of today, Craig Breedlove nearly met his black hole… He nearly met in-fin-uhh-tee…”

“There are no speed limits to the Universe, you Luddite Quaker Flat Earth philistine,” I shout at the voice on the radio. I drive like ball lightning. We have a preponderance of pavement to cover before the trip is done. As Roy begins rolling a left-handed cigarette the voice on the radio segues to a rambling rumination about “anti-particles traveling backward in time-uhh” and then it hit me…the cosmic significance of the Spirit of America and potentially breaking the sound barrier in the Great Southwestern Desert of the USA are one and the same: “I know what this guy is trying to say,” I bellow to Roy, between sips of some tepid godforsaken excuse for coffee. “By going Mach 1, Breedlove’s not only trying to subvert the passage of time and prove the cynics wrong. He is a post-atomic Prometheus, trying to steal fire from the Gods, y’know?”


“Breedlove is riding time’s arrow towards glory.”

“What?” Roy asks and stops rolling in incredulity. I had lost him and I am disturbed.

I exhale. Roy whistles and then sparks up. My stomach and brain implode and then expand like a sponge, physiological effects from a night of truck stop coffee. The radio has broken for a commercial about 1-800 numbers and hand crank short wave radios that would still function despite the advent of Armageddon. The break ends and the voice on the radio continues its exegesis in excited tones.

“…uhh-ccording to Ernst Mach and the Mach Principle acceleration-uhh can be defined only relative to the distant stars, the farthest corners of Val-hall-uhh. Ernst Mach thought the universe was mostly a vacuum. He didn’t take into account the dark matter that makes up ninety percent of the heavens.”

The voice out of Reno says that if Breedlove screwed the pooch at 700-plus mile an hour that he too would join the great void of dark matter. “Yes, my friends,” he says. “The vanishing point-uhh. In-fin-uhh-tee.”

Roy drops his lit left-handed cigarette and begins laughing. The deejay cues up “Time Won’t Let Me” and conversation stops.

“I can’t wait forever…” -FINI-