From the back of a Chevy Express, a singer reflects on life on the road
By Joan Tick
After a year-long tour in Europe, our band is back in the U.S. for a three-day stint through the Northeast feeling especially rejuvenated by the sunlight of spring ahead of us and the tail end of winter floating off in our rearview mirror. Our first show is at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a small crowd is waiting. Most excited to see us play is a group of science graduate students. We hang out with them before and after the show listening to them talk about their respective focuses in environmental preservation. One of the guys studies populations of wild animals all over the world by training dogs to follow the scat of specific packs to reveal migration patterns, diet, and so on. He is in the field of understanding how groups survive in the wild.
The following day we are driving up I-91N in our white Chevy Express listening to a late drummer’s only solo album. Along the highway only about half the region’s deciduous trees have bloomed. There are no clouds. Woody, our drummer, is at the wheel. Quinn, our guitarist, is in the passenger seat talking to him about the music—that the record, released in 1977, essentially went nowhere. They can see why. It was destined to be appreciated years down the line. It couldn’t entirely fit into the landscape of its own time, they say.
It dawns on me that this is what we are aspiring to do—find a place in the landscape. In one moment it is as simple as looking out the van’s long backseat window to count the blooming trees, the leafy proof that I can again feel warmth after a long winter. It is my discovery of season, of joy, and a sense of my own body that reminds me that all this—touring, making music, making anything for that matter, has to do with space—sharing it, investigating it, having a piece to show. It’s not a space you can easily explain. You get a sense of this as the music fills the space in our van now.
I begin a daydream where I follow the grad student and his team of dogs into a tropical jungle. There is no trail. You have to listen. You have to make sense of little particles that your trusted dogs, your companions, have led you to. You’re following something you cannot see but that you trust is out there. You have to believe that all the scat will lead to something grand. A new species of animal, perhaps?
A crow has just swooped low across the road—reminding Woody and Quinn up front that they saw a UFO on our drive to Northampton last night.
“You’re just now telling us that?” Laura, my fellow singer asks indignantly, rising up from the seat and from what we all thought to be a deep sleep. Her curly dark hair is covering half her face and she lies back down to hear the story. Quinn describes the UFO as a bright turquoise light that fell like a shooting star and then hovered above the black tree line before disappearing.
Believing in rare discovery is what you do on the road. It’s a feeling you love and long for when the van rides come to an end.
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Joan Tick is a writer and musician who has spent months at a time touring as a singer and keyboardist. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and lives in Brooklyn with her longtime partner, Caleb Lindskoog, with whom she shares the band Magmana. Watch Magmana’s new video for “Rabbit Holes” a track from their upcoming album, Fiend.