Road Trip Anyone?
In a big country, dreams stay with you.
Like a lover's voice fires the mountainside.
… and The United States of America is a big country, a very big country indeed. And its size is frequently defined by… yes, the road trip. Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Jack London all authored pivotal works in the cultural history of America’s long obsession with road travel. Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon have done the same, but as singers of songs. Here’s another one for you then.
A great songwriter drops a cinema right inside your head; and, make no mistake, Alison Leah is a great songwriter. Her vocal kicks in at just shy of three seconds; hell, we’ve not even had time to order the Pepsi and Popcorn. And, it’s just the most evocative intro I’ve ever heard.
‘We're on the road now, and all I see is an endless sky in front of me’.
The way she sings those first lines. The timbre, the colour, the fragility of the piano/vocal with which she sets the scene is so well judged. My internal cinema screen flickers into action. I see the Colorado River; great brown father of waters, rolling down from the Rockies like a torrent of broken souls. I see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land. The Grand Canyon. Hoover Dam. Red Rocks. I see Buffalo Bill astride Lookout Mountain. And, I artfully misquote Rickie Lee Jones and The Orb ‘What were the skies like when you were young? They went on forever and they… when I lived in Colorado... and the skies always had little fluffy clouds’.
‘My car is packed and I have a map. I start to go. I hit the gas and say… Colorado’
We’re out on the open highway now; tearing up the tarmac, top-down, hair flying free, pedal to the floor. If you want a road trip song, and if you’re not paying too much attention to the words, then this is a true-blue classic of the genre.
But, dig into those words a little, and it’s so much more…
When I first heard this song, the initial comparison brought to mind was ‘At Seventeen’ by Janis Ian. Both are built of bricks that are wistful, contemplative, and full of longing; an aching-heart sadness inside them. Yet, in their own ways, they’re both laid upon a foundation of hope and a yearning for absolution.
Yes, Colorado is more than just a road trip song. It’s a coming of age song. The road trip is a metaphor. In fact, both songs are coming of age songs, but whereas ’Seventeen’ looks backwards, Colorado’s time-machine is eyes front, heads-up, and throwing questions at the future. And like all the best songs, the best movies, the best stories - there’s love, there’s heartbreak, there’s self-doubt. There’s sadness yes; but more than anything else, there’s an underlying positive optimism for life.
Cause I don’t know where my life will lead.
I don’t know where this road is taking me.
But I’ve got you in the passenger seat, sitting beside me.
So I think I’ll keep driving.
So, where’s this optimism coming from? I wonder if there’s a story behind the story?
Well, I wrote this song at the piano after having a conversation with a friend, who was literally in his car driving across the country to start a new job in Colorado. I started playing, closed my eyes, and sang what came to mind. The song just spilled out, melody and all, and I’ve never altered it since that day. Initially, it was all about my friend moving to Colorado. The person in the passenger seat was actually the person he was leaving behind. But, as I worked on the chorus(es) it grew into an anthem celebrating personal change. I’d just graduated from college and was moving towards the next chapter of my own life. So that’s in there somewhere too.
The song begins with that fragile piano vocal I mentioned earlier, and you’re not sure where it’s going, what it’s telling you. You may feel the sadness. You might even feel a little of the optimism. But, until the chorus hits, you’re really not certain. Then, a beautiful sense of hope arrives as guitars and percussion begin to drive the song forward. For all the world you could actually be bowling along that highway to Colorado.
Hey, we’re all on some kind of journey, some kind of rocky road to redemption. And we all need at least one coming of age song that we can hold onto forever.
Road Trip Anyone?
Colorado appears on Allison Leah’s 2018 EP ‘Fly Home’.
Recorded/mixed at ‘Chiller Sound NYC.
Mastered by Scott Hull at MasterDisk.
Musical direction by Doug Derryberry.