Independent Motors Roadtrip Mixtape

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01 Andy Wagner – Driver’s Seat
02 Santah – Springfield
03 Jason Eckerson – Anna Marie
04 The Sun – Cold Hands Clap Louder
05 Jitney – Love Draws Blood
06 Jonny Rumble – Toe The Line
07 Brother Truck – Time Will Show
08 Steve Eck – Boll Weevils

 
As you head out of Vegas going southeast, the direction you would take if you were going to Phoenix or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or even Albuquerque, the number of radio stations dwindles quickly. This is on past Hoover Dam and on past Kingman, out in that vast expanse of the Arizona desert where the highways have no meaningful speed limits and you can spot the silhouettes of mountain goats on the side of the road against the setting sun.

Out there, only a few radio stations come in on the AM or FM dials, and they’re all caught in a time warp: early Elvis, Marty Robbins, probably a Tom Jones song. It’s like a Tarantino soundtrack. You can smell the cigarettes and the moth-balled polyester spread collars.

Which is appropriate. That is old Vegas, regardless of how much that might be obscured today when another glitzy Steve Wynn hotel goes up or when Andrea Bocelli comes booming out of a giant fountain. Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown are the distilled essence of that old town that mafia money first built.

Out in the desert, among the chicken ranches and the Area 51 truthers in beat-up RVs, the ripples from that era of Las Vegas can still be felt, or at least heard, like cosmic background noise left over from the Big Bang.

At it’s best, music can contextualize your sense of place better than any map or guidebook ever could. Sure, music also soundtracks an impressive view to give it a cinematic quality, it fills in the gaps when you’ve run out of things to talk about, and it gives whoever is riding shotgun license to try out his or her falsetto should “Bohemian Rhapsody” come on.

But more importantly, the right song anchors you to a specific place and time. With the right song, Des Moines becomes more than a collection of buildings rising out of the Midwestern flatlands. Big Sur becomes more than, “Oh yeah, this looks like those BMW commercials.”

The right song is a big, red tack on your mental map that when you touch it floods your mind with information: The length of the shadows in the afternoon sun, the smell of the air, the wind on your face.

A good song is your definitive claim to a certain place and time in the universe. That’s why we labor over our mixtapes so seriously.