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Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin: Music

The Highway

(Jody Stecher)
Jody Stecher

Out on the road as a touring musician you come to notice patterns,  and you also develop preferences. My preference is for a hotel room where the windows will open. It’s not just that I don’t like to sleep with air conditioning. The room is a refuge but it can also be isolating. The open window lets in some of the world. I was sitting by the open window of such a room in rural Massachusetts looking at a curvy, bumpy, winding two lane highway that ran behind the motel,  and it looked just like a black snake with yellow stripes down its back. A song about the highway and its perils started forming in my mind. I thought “now, what’s the opposite of a highway? I know! It’s a low way”.  I thought that the song was going to be a moral fable about behavior and its consequences, but the song had other plans for me. It wanted to be a tragi-comic account of The Road and its impact on me and those I have known. 

 

Now one of the patterns I’ve noticed is that when you’ve got a sound crew waiting for you at a certain hour, a certain distance away from where you wake up, the most direct and reliable way to fulfill that obligation is to take the main road. But it’s the back roads that have the scenery, the history, the people, the wonders and signs. And here you are, a long way from home, and you don’t know when you’ll visit this part of the world again. So the urge to explore and get the feel of the place you are visiting is strong. But if your vehicle breaks down in Khadjekava, 30 miles from any Automotive Anything, there you are. The scenery’s fabulous but the audience is lined up, not to eat the Kabul Grinder, but to hear the band,  and there being no cell phone service out on Blue Mountain, the presenter has no idea where the band is. All he knows is they’re not there. 

 

Everything in “The Highway” is true. The first verse is about a 1965 “field recording” trip with my CCNY college teacher Henrietta Yurchenco. We were down in Mexico recording the pirecuas and abajenos and Purepecha songs of the “Tarascan” people. The American Philosophical Society gave her a grant. The state of Michoacan gave us a jeep and a driver. Henrietta was amazingly good at wangling stuff like that. We were on our way to a remote village where some good composers, singers, and musicians were said to live. There was a good road that would get us within a few miles of this place. But we’d been told there was also a direct way about 10 miles down a dirt track that went through a forest. Jeeps are made for dirt roads. Let’s go!  The first few miles were fine. Then we came to the river. There was no bridge. We could see that the road continued on the other side and the river was not deep. There were a few tribal women  carrying loads of firewood on their backs who were wading across, and the water at its deepest barely came to their knees. So we chanced it and drove down the bank, through the water, and up the other bank and back on the road. All seemed well but soon the road became several and the trees became more numerous, and at last the little roads were nothing but spaces between trees and we were just lost in the woods with no way to turn around. We were “way off the highway and gone”. That was my first lesson in weighing the charming path against the reliable one.

 

The musician in the second verse is a composite of the Road Warriors I have known. “Jake” is just a convenient rhyme for “snake”.  It’s always the same story. A musician adapts so well to the ways of The Road that being back home becomes very hard. Every one of these guys I’ve known has been a gigantic talent with an inner turbulence that keeps them restless, and although it may seem that the difficulties they’ve suffered are the result of choices they’ve made, from another perspective they are helpless snake food, sacrifices to the Road god. I salute them here from the perspective of one who understands but is not one of them. I do ok on the road, but home, family, and my own bed suits me best. 

 

The third verse is about the death of my friend Judy LeKashman on a sharp hairpin turn on California Highway 1 between Albion and Little River. This was about 1972 I guess. Now the road has been improved, but back then, logging trucks would tumble down the hillside with alarming regularity. I know the details of Judy’s death because a hitchhiker who was in the passenger seat survived the fall and told the story. Her body, still alive, was sent to the hospital in Ukiah, and the report listed just about every organ as irreparably damaged. And then it said “Heart intact”. Well, that just about undid us, all her friends. 

 

The fourth verse is about the little roads that pass through the Pygmy Forest east of Caspar, (‘the friendly ghost town”) California where I lived for much of the 1980s. The county won’t maintain these roads and when local residents would lay gravel, all it would take was a couple of heavy rainfalls and it would all disappear as there’s a whole lot of nuttin’ below the surface of that land. This verse is dedicated to longtime local residents Peter Barg and Frannie Leopold.

 

The last verse is a composite of real situations I’ve been in. Fleas included. 

 

So if anyone asks you what “The Highway” is about, now you can tell ‘em.

 

 

 

 

The Highway

© Jody Stecher, Vegetiboy Music (BMI)

 

The first time I strayed from the highway

Was the summer that I turned nineteen

Through a forest so deep in a mexican jeep

And the shade trees were wondrous green

 

At a clear river brim the road went right in

On the far bank it carried on some

Half a mile from the shore it busted in four

I was way off the highway and gone.  

 

Ch: The highway always the highway

It’s a yellow striped serpent of stone

I’ve always run slow when taking ways low

Now we’re off down the highway and gone

 

The first friend I lost to the highway

He could soothe your soul with his song

His guitar could raise your blood pressure

And the hairs on your neck or your arm

 

But he made his abode in the ways of the road

Till he couldn’t be happy at home

That yellow striped snake made a meal of old Jake

He’s off down the highway and gone   

 

Ch: The highway always the highway

A yellow striped serpent of stone

Boys, I’ve  always run slow when taking ways low

Now we’re off down the highway and gone

 

The next friend I lost to the highway

Was facing a double load truck

On a hairpin in North California 

And that’s where she ran out of luck

 

Down the steep mountain dell she flew and she fell 

Though her heart was intact and beat on

She heard the breaks squeal and she let go the wheel

She’s down off the highway and gone

 

Ch: The highway always the highway 

It’s a yellow striped serpent of stone

You’ll always run slow when taking ways low

We’re off down the highway and gone

 

Now the back roads of west Mendocino

That run through the small pygmy pines

They’ll get you to your destination 

So long as the sun gamely shines

 

You can carry on fair, though they’re mostly air

But they pothole like mad in the flood

They eat gravel and rocks, your travelin’ stops

 And you’re sunk to your axles in mud.  

 

 

 

 

Ch: The highway always the highway

A yellow striped serpent of stone

To get out of this mess will take some finesse

Now we’re off down the highway and gone

 

On the way to a gig on a back road

The engine fell out of our car

And the bright sunny morn turned to blizzard and storm

And we haven’t a clue where we are

 

Sunk in mud to our knees and half covered in fleas

And we’ll soon be impacted in snow

Sure the scenery’s grand but they can’t find the band

And the folks have gone home from the show

 

The highway, always the highway

A yellow striped serpent of stone

Boys, you’ll always run slow when taking ways low

We’re off down the highway 

 

The highway, always the highway

It’s a yellow striped serpent of stone

Sure there’s wonders and signs on the Lake County line

But we’re way off the highway and gone

 

Jody Stecher: vocal and guitar

Kate Brislin: vocal

Keith Little: vocal and banjo

Eric Thompson: guitar

Chad Manning: fiddle

Paul Knight: bass