When I was six and my sister was zero and my parents were like thirty and my dog Cookie was three, we moved from Bettendorf, Iowa to Streamwood, Illinois so that my dad could take a better job and so that I could grow up near a decent shopping mall. Okay, the last part might not have been part of my parents’ original motivation, but I’m thankful for it anyway. Ninety-five percent of my relatives continued to live in various small towns in eastern Iowa, which meant that for the next twelve years I accompanied my family on monthly road trips “back home”.
Now a three hour drive may not seem like a bona fide road trip, but for a kid it’s a twenty minute adventure followed by a 160 minute test of ennui endurance. Grownups can sleep during a long drive, but kids don’t have that luxury — they don’t believe in sleep and therefore fight it with everything they’ve got.
Playing with the usual toys just wasn’t the same in the car so music became a very critical component in my quest to stomp out boredom. I had three tapes* that I played. Three tapes; the same ones on every trip. My parents never once complained (to my face) about having to listen to the same music every time we got in the car. They were probably just thankful for the peace and quiet afforded them by my preoccupation with closing my eyes or staring out the window as I “watched” the music videos (starring me) that I directed and produced inside my head for each song.
*Cassette tapes are ancient forms of soundrecording. They consist of two spools around which magnetic tape is wound, all encased in a platic shell. When inserted into a tape deck, the magnetic tape moves across the spools and, through magical and complicated processes, plays beautiful music. Tapes have two sides: an A side and a B side, which contain different sets of songs.
Same songs every trip, same imaginary music videos reeling, but it never got old and I never fell asleep because this was exciting. I mean, I was in a music video, for crying out loud. This rush would keep me awake and happy until we reached our destination.
The three tapes that I played time and again for my family were:
Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO) – Greatest Hits Although I generally assume that all songs are about me, I was especially convinced that BTO had me in mind while writing “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” which had the lyrics, “and then she looked at me with those big brown eyes…” Given that, A, I have brown eyes, and B, my parents confirmed that yes, mine were definitely big eyes, I had all the evidence I needed.
John Cougar Mellencamp – Scarecrow For the longest time I believed his name was really John Cougar Melonhead because that is how my dad referred to him. I watched a documentary on JCM once and the only thing I recall from it was him stating that he always starts up his next cigarette before his current one is cashed, and he never stops smoking while he’s awake. Recalling this, I had to head over to Google to make sure that he was, in fact, still alive. He is, but Wikipedia does not provide an explanation as to how this is possible.
Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All
This is the album with the legendary country hit, “Achy Breaky Heart”. Maybe it was his only album, I’m not sure. I loved and memorized every word of every song on that tape.
When my parents bought a Winnebago, I was pretty excited because it would give us lots of room for activities and it just seemed like such an extravagance to me at the time. It had a fold out bed and a little coffee table, even a tiny black and white TV mounted from the ceiling. I mean, this thing was high class. We might as well have been traveling with BTO, rocking out in our tour bus.
Once I went inside the van, however, I decided that I was not happy about it. It had a new car smell, which I don’t think I had ever smelled before. My disappointment did not last long once my dad showed me the tape deck, which flipped a cassette from side A to side B (see earlier notes regarding the anatomy of a cassette tape) ON ITS OWN! While still INSIDE the tape deck!
Suddenly I could not wait for the next road trip — I needed to get my John Cougar Melonhead on!