Sunday, December 2, 2007

heartworn highways

It's December, which means that even in Los Angeles we can now sort of pretend that it's almost maybe the time of year to wrap oneself in soft blankets, curl up in front of the fire, eat way too much pie1 and cookies, listen to comforting music, and try to resist the impulse to change your last name, relocate to another planet country, and pretend you never met any of those crazy people who claim to be related to you. Or is that just me?

Another common symptom of this time of the year is nostalgia. Luckily for us, there's Hacktone Records, which resurrects forgotten albums of past decades and re-releases them to hopefully find new and perhaps more profound relevance in modern times. One of these projects is Heartworn Highways, a soundtrack painstakingly compiled from the 1976 Americana documentary of the same name.

It is at this point that it may become necessary to trade in that imaginary fireplace for an imaginary campfire.

As someone who has long been a self-proclaimed American history geek and relishes history in most of its forms, the realization that I've never really contemplated the history of American music as an isolated entity is kind of disturbing to me. You can feel it pulsing throughout these songs -- written and performed by various artists: Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, David Allan Coe, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and others -- even though, by 1975, the lifestyle they consciously or subconsciously sought to evoke had long since vanished.2

With dialogue interspersed throughout the twenty-six tracks, the album itself becomes its own sort of documentary, one that for me, personally, recalls actual people and places not so dissimilar. (I spent a brief interlude of my post-high school life working as a groom at Emerald Downs in Seattle. Many of those characters still exist -- horse people don't change very much.) As I said, remembrance is in many ways what this time of year is all about, and it's fitting that the album's culmination is on a Christmas Eve thirty-two years ago.

mp3: "Silent Night" by Rodney Crowell (and friends)

1Wait, did I just say too much pie? Surely that's not possible.
2In effect, that makes this nostalgia for nostalgia. I love it.

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