What staggers me about the American landscape, beyond its beauty and scale, is our ability to read it, no matter where we come from.
It all seems, somehow, familiar.
Canyons, railroad crossings, grasslands, red Dutch barns, telegraph poles, reservations, mountain ranges materialising from plains and dust billowing trucks motoring long straight roads receding into distant horizons. All of it familiar; familiar through the extraordinary soft power of American cultural influence.
On a personal level, the epi-centre of that cultural influence is song, but it may also include literature, cinema, art, photography, and that most commercial of American activities, advertising.
Like many of us, the landscape of my imagination was filled with the USA long before traveling there. Most vividly beginning with images buried within the songs of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits; before digging deep to unearth gold in their influences and the people they influenced, in the sounds of Folk, Jazz, Blues, Country, Rock n’ Roll and Rock.
The list of influences is inexhaustible but could include: Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers; JJ Cale, Little Feat and The Band. And it was all brought home through the “Where the Delta meets the Tyne” creations of Mark Knopfler, the Celtic soul of Van Morrison and the music of countless others.
From this enormous reservoir of imagery wide-screen-snap-shots of striking cinematic potency burn into the imagination:
Song lyrics such as these provide anchors, reference points in landscapes, song-lines that stir the soul to the extent that you may even wish to see the places for yourself!
Taken as a whole the American songbook might inspire the urge to get your kicks on route 66, take everything down to Highway 61, make your way to sweet home Alabama, sleep in the desert tonight, roam a thousand miles of track or call long distance information from Memphis Tennessee.