The Displaced Nation

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Music for a road trip? Anything but a certain song…

Mothers of school age children can spend hours at a time in the car — a mini road trip every day, ferrying the kids between school, karate, swimming lessons, music lessons…

This piece, originally titled “California Guys”, first appeared on my own blog, Marmite and Fluff, after I had heard a certain song on the car radio once too often..

I confess to a certain love of Coen Brothers’ movies, especially The Big Lebowski, and in particular the scene where a taxi driver hauls Jeff Bridges bodily from his cab and drives off in a fury. Bridges’ character, “The Dude,” had been stupid enough to ask the driver to change the radio station, because he’s had a rough day and he hates the f***ing Eagles, man.

Dude. I sympathize. I used to like the Eagles. Our scratched vinyl copy of their Greatest Hits proves it. But some years ago – the month we moved to America, in fact — everything changed. It started with the purchase of a Dodge Grand Caravan, an FM radio, and ten programmable presets. After two days we took the car back to the dealer. “There’s something wrong with this radio!” we complained. “It only plays ‘Hotel California’!”

The repairman twiddled with the dials, humming all the while about a dark desert highway and cool wind in his hair, and shrugged. “Seems fine to me,” he said. “That’s what it’s supposed to play.”

Later that day, pushing a shopping cart through the orange juice aisle, I heard Don Henley’s voice on the supermarket speakers, telling me that I could check out any time I liked but I could never leave. By now, I’d heard him say this so often that I was beginning to believe him, so I abandoned the juice and cart mid-aisle, in case he was serious.

After that, I could only listen to one Eagle at a time. Glenn Frey and “The Heat Is On”? You bet. Don Henley and “Boys Of Summer”? Bring it on and turn it up! But the Eagles ensemble telling me to Take It Easy would – paraphrasing slightly – Take Me To The Limit of my endurance.

Most listeners of American FM radio will know what I mean. It’s not just Eagles, of course; Elton John, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, to name but three — all played ad nauseum. Sometimes it’s as if those artists’ peers never existed. Sometimes it’s as if the Nineties never existed. Ironically, that was what I initially loved about American radio, because I’d never graduated from Eighties’ hairbands to Seattle grunge. So I learned to live with the Eagles et al, because they’d occasionally get off the turntable and let Van Halen have a spin.

Eagles airwave-saturation could even have its advantages. No matter how much I wanted to kick The New Kid out of Town, it also seemed that Cliff Richard, a singer beloved by British radio for fifty years, and shunned by me for — well, not quite that long — was practically unknown over here. Never again would I have to listen to the Cliff Richard Annual Christmas Hit! No more Cliff Richard Recycled Golden Oldies to put me off my morning oatmeal! It was an ill wind, indeed.

And so it remained until my Dodge developed terminal transmission failure and we bade farewell. Enter another car with satellite radio. Enter the Hairbands channel, the Soppy Songs channel, and, to my kids’ dismay, the E Street Channel with 24/7 Springsteen. One day, they will avoid “Born to Run” as much as I avoided “Hotel California”. However, the driver of the car was happy, and that was the main thing.

But nothing lasts forever. Something was missing: a sparring partner, perhaps. The turning point came when I heard a new Eagles’ song and thought, “Darn it! I like this!” I found myself genuinely disappointed that I’d be Too Busy Being Fabulous on vacation at the time of their Connecticut gig. I’d come full circle. It was time to make my peace.

It’s been a gradual process, of course. I can listen to entire lesser-known Eagles songs without changing channels mid-track, but still haven’t managed all of Hotel California. Give me time. At least I no longer want to Kill the Beast.

But everything comes at a price. The satellite radio, my once-savior, turned against me. When I pulled into the garage last night, a song started playing in the car — a song I haven’t heard for a long time. Not since I listened to BBC morning radio, 3000 miles and a decade and a half away. Cliff Richard, sneaking onto American airwaves with a Golden Oldie. He wasn’t supposed to follow me over here. That wasn’t part of the deal.

Or as John Goodman in The Big Lebowski might put it, “This is not ‘Nam. There are rules.”

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