Sunday, December 24, 2006

Route 128 by the power lines

Jonathan Richman has celebrated the landscape of New England in various songs over the years. For example, 'Twilight in Boston' is like one of those solitary, Romantic walking poems, although when you look at the words in isolation from the music they are little more than a simple itinerary: "Now we're walking up Beacon Street / Through the back bay there / Few clouds, heading for Kenmore Square.." The names acquire an aura for those of us who don't know Boston, and we want to believe that those who do know the city would recognise the poetry of the place in these bare phrases.


Perhaps the most effective of Jonathan Richman's landscape evocations is the moment in some versions of 'Roadrunner' where he breaks off to describe the way the world seems from his car:

'Can you feel it out in Needham now?
out in route 128 by the power lines
it's so exciting there at night
with the pine trees in the dark
it's so cold here in the dark
with 50,000 watts of power
we go by faster miles an hour
with the radio on...' 

A friend and fellow Jonathan Richman fan once went to Boston and brought back a photograph of a sign with those magic words 'Route 128'. Looked at here in England I knew it was a resonant metonym for something, but of what I wasn't quite sure: Jonathan Richman? Rock & Roll? American road songs, road movies, road stories...? Or just a sense of freedom?

2 comments:

Peter Silverton said...

route 128,a synonym for hi-tech, the first limited access circumferential highway in the us, the poetry of the everyday

Plinius said...

I wrote this post before you could embed YouTube clips in blog posts so I'm now (Feb 2013) doing this. I've just been reading in The Guardian that Massachusetts may adopt 'Roadrunner' as their official song.