The only truth is music. -Jack Kerouac
This post is inspired by an article my dear friend Emily wrote on her blog recently, which she called Books and Travel. It’s a beautiful post that pretty accurately reflects the augmented relationship a traveler tends to develop with the books they read. She chronicles her travels of the past couple years through the books she read, the people who gave them to her, the places she was when she read them. I even make a cameo in the article, though I’m not by name…I recommended that Emily read The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac a month or so after we met, and the Dharma Bums section of her article covers the time we spent rubbling together in Nepal. So that’s neat. In a couple weeks I’m visiting her and her partner in Colombia! Can’t wait to travel again.
Anyways, my version of this post doesn’t cover books. There are too many and I haven’t kept as good track of which ones I read where as Emily did. So instead, here is: my traveling playlist.
ANOTHER TRAVELIN’ MIX (click to listen)
Songs have come on and off this playlist, but every song spends a good chunk of time on it before getting recycled, if every. The length is also arbitrary. Sometimes it’s been shorter, occasionally longer, but it always hovers at approximately a dozen songs.
What’s special about this playlist, to me, is it’s part of my ritual of travel. At the beginning of every adventure, I listen to it. I listened to it when my flight departed JFK on the way to Bangkok in 2015, when a tin can took off from Kathmandu toward the world’s most dangerous airport the next year, and countless times in a tent in Vermont this past summer. In a way, this playlist, in all its forms, has been my only constant companion.
This song was the first, and it has never left the playlist, and it is always the first song I listen to when adventurin’ comes along. When I close my eyes and listen to it, I can see the California countryside breeze by, awash in golden sunlight, with a crystal sky, and an air conditioner that doesn’t quite blast enough chill to keep sweat from beading on my skin. That is when I first heard this song: a six hour drive from San Francisco to the San Bernardino mountains, my sister driving, my seat reclined.
Nobody really introduced me to this song per se, but the radio station that plays at my current workplace places this song nearly every day. But it resonates with me. Not only is it a catchy song but the lyrics are…quite applicable.
And when it’s time for leavin’
I hope you’ll understand
That I was born a ramblin’ man.
Over the past few years I’ve come to think of myself, sometimes uncomfortably, as a person who leaves. I’ve struggled with the self-definition of a quitter at times, and still do, and I’ve felt that I’ve rambled with little or no direction, but when I hear this song I can look back on people and places I’ve “left behind” and remember to look forward to the next step in my path.
This is the newest addition to the playlist! A month or so ago, I was telling my boss the story of how my trip to Sweden that got cancelled due to missing a connecting flight, and how I spent an unexpected night at an airport hotel in Istanbul the same month that city had several small-scale terrorist attacks. In return, my boss recommended this energetic and somewhat hilarious song about Istanbul (not Constantinople).
Sindhupalchok. It’s a place I will never forget and holds a special place in my heart I simply cannot compare to any other place I’ve been. If you listen to no other songs on this list, please listen to this one.
There are a couple other songs that remind me of Nepal that aren’t on my list, though both have been at various times:
Sunny Sunny, a hit from an Indian Bollywood film. The lyrics in the chorus, Aaj blue hai paani paani paani paani paani paani, mean literally, The water is blue. Water water water water water. This song was everywhere in Nepal, and on one particular evening the staff of Hotel Melamchi Riverside Inn played it five times in a row. I love the song now, was constantly annoyed by it back then.
Om Mani Padme Hum, a lovely (if extremely repetitive) rendition of a famous Buddhist mantra meaning (roughly) Hail to the jewel in the lotus. This song played from many music shops in Kathmandu, adding to the smell of spices. In the video, the actual chant doesn’t start until 1:25.
Sindhupalchok, another song taking the name of the region, which was almost as popular in Melamchi as Sunny Sunny! Not on the playlist link because I can’t find it on Spotify.
Recommended to me by a good friend from my old life as a State Theatre Usher. I played it once on a plane and cried for no reason I could (or can) articulate, and ever since it’s had a permanent spot on this playlist.
Some songs on this playlist don’t have to do so much with traveling (though as this one is about a girl in a car I suppose it sort of does), but instead remind me of periods in my oft-shifting life. This song reminds me of the period I’m in now–working hard at grad school, working hard at Trade-ing Up, working hard at a local shop to save what money I can. It was recommended by one of my current bosses simply on his belief that I might like it. And I do.
Son of a bitch! sing/yells Nathaniel Rateliff in the chorus of another song of his (aptly titled S.O.B.). That song I first heard swinging a sledgehammer through the ruins of a school in Sindhupalchok, Nepal. That may have been the best day of my life, by the way. It was also the day aforementioned Emily and I came up with the hit single, I’ve Been Working on the Rock Line All the Live-Long Day. The team was being led by a farmer from Canada who worked harder than any person ever. I don’t think I’m even exaggerating, like, at all.
So the music of Nathaniel Rateliff always reminds me of sunny days, lots of sweat, and good folks. S.O.B. was my introduction to him, and the next time we were in Kathmandu I downloaded some more of his songs, including this one, which quickly became my favorite song. And still is.
This song and the next are unique to this playlist in that they don’t have specific stories or even impressions of people attached to them. They are currently on this playlist by the simple virtue of being, in my opinion, good songs.
This song and the previous are unique to this playlist in that they don’t have specific stories or even impressions of people attached to them. They are currently on this playlist by the simple virtue of being, in my opinion, good songs.
I first heard this song in the 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy. Now it seems so hard to believe! It seems vital to my identity as a traveler! How could I not have known it? Marvin Gaye sings of mountains and valleys and rivers, and I think of a vast, majestic country. Like the first song on the list, there has been no edition of Another Travelin’ Mix that didn’t feature this song.
If Champagne Corolla, Istanbul, and Ramblin’ Man were the most recent additions on the least, Ain’t No Man is the one that most recently was added as a direct result of travel. When I worked as a crew leader in Vermont this past spring and summer, my crew had to do a lot of driving from our HQ in Richmond to our worksites throughout the state. And at the end we even had a stint in the Fingerlakes, a six hour drive from HQ. As a crew, we made a collective playlist. It started where we each suggested 10 songs (and I’m certain I suggested some of the songs I listed above!), and as the summer went on we’d add a couple songs here, a half-dozen there.
This was a song one of my crew members added to our crew playlist, and now it always reminds me of the gorgeous Green Mountains, and of driving to a new campsite, and of spending weekends at one of many Vermont’s natural wonders.