top of page

Entry date: 1-30-2024 – Long Days Deserve Long Drives – Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,


It occurs to me that I really like driving across the country. I’ve been missing it lately. The destinations are always nice to arrive at after some long hours behind the wheel, but I miss being out there and experiencing the country.


I think there is something about traveling by car across the United States that really connects you with being an American. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means to me. Perhaps it is all the propaganda out there and fear mongering. It might also be that my students don’t really seem to have a “national” identity. Who knows. Maybe it is all the Northern Exposure reruns I have been streaming.


The “American” identity is talked about a lot on that show through the lens of Alaskans. Either way, though, it’s been on my mind, and it has kept popping up that I’ve felt more like an “American,” whatever that means, since I’ve been traversing the country the last three years. I really like being out there with the dog, my kids (or Dad or friends), just taking it in.


Yesterday was one of those head scratching, “What the fuck” days at school. The kids were just not having it and since I’m feeling about 45% better than I did last week, I was ready to rock and roll. We couldn’t find the beat, though, and I found myself thinking about getting in the car and just going. As I was driving home, it hit me that the perfect life for me would be that of a snowbird. Winter here in Phoenix and summer in Maine.


I like the idea of moving to Maine a lot until I remember that it shrinks our circle by about 1000%. I know could come visit here and people would come to us, but I love knowing that I can see someone I love within five minutes if I want to do so. I’ve moved away before and that was the hardest part. My people were not where I moved. They were here.


Here’s a good place.




At some point in 1996 or 1997, my buddy, Jason, went to the movies with my mom, Joe, and I after work one day. The memory of the film itself is a bit hazy. What I remember most about that day is Jason and I talking after the movie and he told me, “The next huge band is going to be this band called Modest Mouse.”


Those might not have been his exact words. Jason is much more eloquent than that, but I have always respected his musical taste, so I jotted down a big mental note for the next time I was at the record store. I picked up two CDs by the band, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About and Interstate 8, which had just come out.


As per usual, I unwrapped This Is a Long Drive and popped it into my CD player in the truck. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it. If I’m being honest, I didn’t really like it. I kept listening, though, and it started to grow on me.


As I think back now, it was Isaac Brock’s voice that rubbed me the wrong way right off the bat. I liked the mellow riff of “Dramamine,” the albums opening salvo, but I just couldn’t see how this was going to be the next “Big” band. I remember telling Jason as much and he urged me to stick with it, so I did.


Unlike other records I have written about so far, Modest Mouse did not hang out in my CD player for very long the first around. I had an even harder time getting into Interstate 8 off the bat, so I circled back to This Is a Long Drive. It took me seeing the band live to really decide that I liked them.


The way the songs were presented on stage allowed them to open up for me in a similar way that letting a nice bottle of wine breathe for a bit before you take a sip will open up the flavor. When I popped This Is a Long Drive in the CD player again, I had a different experience.


For one thing, at the time, I was playing in Hillbilly Devilspeak and we weren’t getting the type of reaction I had hoped for the band. We had some success and a small, loyal crowd, but I was watching my friends, like Jason, who were in these great indie rock bands getting all the love. The wisdom of hindsight lets me see things a lot more clearly now, of course, but I was still a relatively new musician in those days and super competitive. I wanted all the shows and all the love.


I was a little bitter about “indie rock” for a while and a band in that genre really had to blow me away for me to give them a lot of my attention. I wanted my music to be heavy and weird and full of anger or angst or both. My first impression of Modest Mouse was they were, well, mousey.  Almost as if I could reach out with my hand and crush them if I wanted to do so.


“Custom Concern” was probably the first song that really grabbed me off This Is a Long Drive. Something about the line where he sings about having to “go to work and getting a job” or something like that. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but it struck me. There is also this really cool, climbing riff that sounds like it has a cello in the background. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that. I also kind of love how the song just abruptly ends.


In a way, “Custom Concern” is a kind of the song where the album starts propelling itself towards something better and maybe even a little darker. “Might” is a quickie, but “Lounge” has such a jangly, disjointed riff. A little bit math rock, a little indie, like a quantum universe version of Donnie and Marie where country and rock and roll don’t exist.


“Lounge” also really evolves as the song unwinds. It gets really spacy, which I’ve always liked, and that cello comes back, too. The guitars on “Beach Side Property” change the mood a little again for another sprawling song. Brock seems so completely uninterested in the world when he sings this one. He’s just sort of shouting for the sake of shouting early on, but it works. Like its predecessor, though, it devolves into a contemplative middle before bringing back the angst.


Not a fan of “Ionizes & Atomizes.“ Skip it unless you absolutely love Modest Mouse. It’s a bit of filler on this record. “Head South” and “Dog Paddle” are also wastes of time.


I do like “Novocain Stain” though. It’s probably one of the strongest songs on the second half of the record. “Tundra/Desert” is pretty choice, too. I love the guitar tone on this one. It reminds me a bit of Archers of Loaf’s guitar tone. The energy, too, is reminiscent of Archers, as well. The song, like most Modest Mouse songs, has many moods.


A few years earlier, I got really into three bands that my buddy, Geoff, turned me onto: Fly Ashtray, Truman’s Water, and Uncle Wiggly. I feel like “Tundra/Desert” has nods to all three of those bands in one song.



The rest of the record, and this may sound like a bit of a copout, kind of just keeps repeating the same formula. I want to write something interesting and different about songs like “Exit Does Not Exist” or “Space Travel is Boring,” but there is not much new to say. I do love the title of “Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset.” I’ve become such a sunset junkie after seeing the ones from the deck in Maine that I find it even funnier now than in the late 90s.



That’s actually a pretty great song, to tell the truth. A bit of a palate cleanser in how it starts, but like Modest Mouse is wont to do, it meanders all over the place. I sound like I’m bagging on them, but I’m not. Modest Mouse meanders. A lot of people love that.


I am very thankful for friends like Jason, though, who make an effort to share good music with their peeps. It makes the world a better place and it’s a really easy thing to do. If you find something cool, share it. Others might like it, too.




See you tomorrow.

As I was looking for pictures for yesterday's blog, I stumbled across this one. I remember thinking that it looked like Tobey Maguire. I don't remember the painter, but it was hanging in the Art Institute in Chicago.

28 views0 comments


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page