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The American Road— Part 2

Kai Carlson-Wee grew up on the Minnesota prairie. He received his BA in English from the University of Minnesota and his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first collection of poems, RAIL, was published by BOA Editions in 2018. He is currently the Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford University. Kai […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
We have our road music back on for part two of our show with Kai Carlson We about the American Road.
Does this music remind you of something that you can't place, can't quite make the connection?
Think easy rider the first five minutes of that movie.
We'll be talking about that road movie in a little while, so stay tuned to entitled opinions with Robert Harrison and my guest Kai.
poet and Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford.
For those of you who missed it, in part one Kai and I began by discussing journey narratives in general.
Before turning our attention to the fundamental, if not foundational role of journeys in America's national mythology.
From the crossing of the Atlantic in the early 17th century to the novel Lolita to Kerouax on the road.
We talked about the western drift of American history in the past couple of centuries and the undertone of sadness that haunts the testaments of our American wafares as they crossed
and crisscrossed the continental expanse.
You would have to be tone deaf or blind or otherwise oblivious not to sense in the American landscape all the hardship, misery, violence and tragedy that accompanied the nation's drive toward the west coast of this continent.
Where my guest and I are now doing this show.
The trail of tears is seared into the land and the bones of the dead buried or unburied.
Still haunt the roadways, railways and waterways under this boundless western sky with its promise of gold.
It's promise of fortune that more often than not ends in misfortune.
Of course the American road is not uni directional, it leads in all directions and in our show today.
We'll be discussing American road movies and road music and road photography.
So much for the recap, Kai, welcome back to entitled opinions.
Hi Robert.
So if memory serves in our first hour, I don't think we mentioned the Mary pranksters, but we really should say a word about them.
If only because in the early 60s Ken Keezy was like you were just a few years ago a stegner fellow here at Stanford.
That's right.
And I love Ken Keezy, the author of one flew over the Cuckoo'sness.
And while he was here, let me just mention to our listeners, they might not know that when he was here he worked as a night aid at the psychiatric ward of the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital.
An experience that he drew on heavily when he wrote Cuckoo'sness.
He was also a volunteer for the LSD experiments that the CIA was conducting at that same Menlo Park Veterans Hospital.
And that led to the famous Kool-Aid acid sessions over on Park Lane a couple of miles up the road from here and later in La Honda.
And then there's the famous 1939 International Harvester bus that Keezy purchased in 1964.
And that's what took his band of Mary band of pranksters as he called them all around the country on multiple road trips.
So, you know, that bus was incredible. It was psychodelically painted inside.
And I actually had this experience, a friend of mine from Italy was visiting and he had been around the world for the past six months.
And San Francisco was his last stop before he went on to back to Rome.
He was putting together a book that he called around the world in 80 faces.
All these different places around the world he met individuals who were so strikingly original in one way or another.
And he had photos of them in their life stories.
And here we are, I'm showing him Stanford and in the Stanford Oval, there's a psychedelic bus.
And I don't know if it's the original further bus or a successor, but there it was.
And Ken Keezy there on hand and we went there and I introduced Keezy to my friend, George Romeschietti.
He was very interested. The guy was Italian traveler.
And it was a farewell tour for the prankster bus going all around the country.
And anyway, my friend George Romeschietti now did unfortunately.
And it was publishing this book where we're, end up having 81 faces around the world.
And 81 faces, Ken Keezy was the last lady first.
So what would you like to say about the married pranksters before we move on?
Yeah, well, Keezy was at Stanford in the program and the creative writing program, but he was apparently sort of disliked by Wallace Stegner.
And so there was this little bit of rivalry going on between the two of them.
And he was a young writer coming up and he wanted to be involved in the program and Stegner thought he was a little radical.
And so there was some contention there, but he was definitely a force now and is recognized in the program as being part of it.
But I think at the time there was it was a little more fraught.
Yeah, it was just approval. Yeah, big time. Yeah, but yeah, that tour that trip across the country that they took in 64, I think, is one of the things that I believe people name as being the beginning of the 60s.
There are all these events that happen. There's a civil rights movement and there's MLK and JFK being shot and that kind of thing.
But drugs, drugs, yeah, drugs.
But there are the magic bus trip or whatever across the country is one of the ones that people say kind of kicked off the 60s.
And I think one of the unique things about that is it was an emphasis on the journey as experience.
It really was about kind of collective group of people coming together to just experiment and see where things took them and do a bunch of acid.
Neil Cassidy was driving the bus, you know, he was on speed and driving all night. Apparently, I've seen video of it.
They have a couple of documentary films that have been made out of that trip.
Well, yeah, the point was also to photograph it.
The film, everything, there's 142 hours of footage. Exactly.
So that recording and that document of the experience itself was something that I think bled into a lot of counter-cultural stuff.
Definitely things like Easy Rider, the film we're going to talk about in a minute.
That was influenced, I think, by this trip. Also grateful, dead concerts, music concerts, big events that became about the experience of going on these trips.
And camping out somewhere and seeing a band over the course of a number of days.
I think this was one of those things that kicked all that into gear and probably inspired things like Woodstock and now, like, Lala Palooza and these big confluences of artists and musicians and people trying all these different things to have an experience.
And even the cops were chill in those days. They got stopped all the time.
And the cops, you know, it was all the cannabis and the LSD and they said, "We're making a movie here."
The cops just let them go. Imagine today what would have.
Well, yeah, I think that people just didn't know what LSD was at the time.
And I think they had it mixed in a bunch of orange juice in the fridge or something.
Well, it used to be cool laid up here on Park Lane, a little lane that unbelievable stuff happened.
That's the Stegner Fellows' Robert Stone and Ken Keysie and others they lived on this street.
And they would spike their coolant. Anyway, we started with the Steppenwolf song, The Pusher, which opens the easy rider movie.
So maybe if we're going to talk about movies, why don't we start with the easy rider?
Sure, yeah. Well, easy rider, again, just a classic kind of Americana iconic experience and event that it had come out in '69.
'69. Everything I've heard about that is it was just this big counter-cultural event and people flocked to theaters.
And I think it was produced by Columbia or something and they had no idea that this was going to be such a hit.
Because it really was. When you watch the movie, it's a little slow.
It's two guys just motorcycling across the country, trying to take drug money down to New Orleans.
And they really are kind of trafficking in a lot of vague, stoner ideas and kind of idealistic about some things.
These two guys are kind of counterpointed and there's the Peter Fonda character who is idealistic and he kind of is like the carowack on the road or whatever.
And then the other guy who's Dennis Hopper, Dennis Hopper. So Hopper is just like the comedian and the rabble-rauser and is trying to stir things up.
But he's sort of like the Neil Cassidy and it's just really a western film.
Instead of them riding horses, they're riding motorcycles and experiencing all this American landscape and these grand sweeping shots that you get in a cowboy western.
And they're going against, well, they're going countercurrent to the western because they're starting in California.
It's sort of like a fear and loathing road trip. They're seeking out the real America. They're searching for some authentic piece of American culture and they go to the hippie commune and that seems to be sort of a failure and then they hang out with Nicholson, you know, Jack Nicholson's character and he represents maybe a 50s America that's kind of adjusting to this countercultural thing.
But what makes it, you know, partly a western is that it ends in violence and they get beaten up, they get killed in the end.
And there's this sense of kind of a wild west and an irreconcilable sides of America.
It's already a civil war in a certain sense where America's at odds with itself and I think it'd be at non-mores raging in '69.
There's also a big difference between '68 and '69 in American culture of the time where '68 was still Woodstock.
And '69 was Altamont with the Rolling Stones where the Hell's Angels and you had some deaths there at eight things got darker.
A little bit more pessimistic.
And here in the movie you have the communes which are already revealed as not being able to sustain themselves because things are getting too anarcho-less.
And people are really on edge, their nerves are afraid and the drug use is showing its consequences and you have an idea that the communes are not going to blast that much longer.
So there's been a turn I think in the last year or two of that '69 year where the violence and these two Americas are at odds with one another.
Yeah. And you definitely see that in the drug trip scenes.
You know, because there's the initial scenes in that film where they're smoking pot and things are kind of rosy.
And then when they take acid in the New Orleans cemetery it's just like a very dysfunctional scene and they're going through these various states of psychological terror.
And I think that really comes through in the film and Peter Fonda kind of has a premonition that they're going to die and fiery motorcycle.
And I think it definitely was representative of that shift in American culture toward the dark side of the city.
There are a lot of flash forwards to the final scene of the death in the motorcycle fire.
That scene in the New Orleans cemetery that appeals to me the least in the movie. I don't know if there's something about being on the road.
Oh yeah. That feels more. Oh yeah. Seeing them on their motor cycles in this incredible landscape of the Southwest and they got their, you know, their Harley's painted in the American flag and all that.
It's just, it's a, yeah, it's this American, this other America that they're looking for.
And Jack Nicholson's performance is unforgettable obviously. Oh yeah.
That kind of launched his career in a lot of ways I think.
And a great soundtrack. Oh yeah, great music. You got to step in Wolf and Jimmy Hendrix.
Do you remember when that came out and when it was in theaters? I do.
What was the vibe like? Well, you know, the, I was young enough that I actually already knew step in Wolf and Hendrix and so I knew I was steeped in that music.
So it was just, it was nothing like it. I mean, no one had seen a movie like that that I could recall.
That was so much about the kind of people we were surrounded by, what you call them hippies or counter culture or computers and it, you know, for a kid, 14 year old, it was really magical.
Magical. Yeah.
Well, it's kind of funny because the, you know, the keysy trip just didn't really work out as far as the filming that they were trying to do.
Some of the audio didn't sync up and a lot of the footage was kind of damaged and like, it seemed like they were trying to make a film like easy writer that then got made five years later or something.
Well, that's good enough if they, if they were the rehearsal for easy writer, then it's all well worth it.
Another movie that we decided that we would mention is Badlands, very different kind of story and I think it takes place at Decade or so earlier, if not more.
What makes Badlands a great movie, at least I think it's a great movie. I don't have to agree with him.
Yeah. Well, Badlands is one of my favorite movies. It's Terrence Malick's first film. He had just finished a road scholarship, I think.
And this was, you know, what he was going to do after that, after that phase. But it's really one of the, I think, iconic American road movies because it, it pits these two characters together that have no business hanging out.
You mean him and her? Yeah, it's Martin Sheen and Sissy Spaceick. He's a little older. He takes place in the 50s.
He takes place in the 50s in Iowa and he's a, he's a garbage collector and he doesn't really have much going for him and she's 15 years old and she's just in high school and living with her dad.
And her mom has passed away and their house, the house that she's growing up in is sort of shrouded in the grief and the death of her mom.
And her father is a painter and he has collected in the house a number of sort of like European artifacts and is, is really obsessed with the past and with the death of his wife.
And so Martin Sheen's character comes in and just represents an escape for her and when those two meet the movie kind of begins and what ends up becoming a Bonnie and Clyde kind of murder spree across the country gets kicked off and it's really a film about this idea of Americans trying to reinvent themselves in the wake of grief or in the wake of an array of
history. We're talking about that last time about how that's a theme that you see a lot in not only American culture at large but definitely in these in these road trip stories.
But what happens is the two of them just try to kind of create this little fantasy world with just the two of them being in love and they kind of fantasize about the fame that they can one day achieve in American culture in these various ways.
And this is after he murders the father. Yeah, he okay. Yeah, so and they have to get on the movie. Yeah, he to kind of leave town. What ends up happening is the dad doesn't approve of their relationship.
He comes home and finds Martin Sheen in her bedroom kind of packing her stuff up and he says, you know, what are you doing and he pulls Martin Sheen pulls out a gun and shoots him.
And that just kicks off this road trip. Yeah, this road trip and it becomes a kind of murder road trip across the country where they gradually get involved in more and more amoral stuff. But they do it can complete naivety and in exactly.
And that's what's so astonishing is that they seem benevolent and childlike and right innocent. Right. And these murders seem like they don't he doesn't even know what he's doing when he shoots these people. Right.
He doesn't really know what he's doing and she's just sort of a long for the ride. She doesn't really want to participate but she's also sort of still fascinated with this guy and her dad's dead now.
He's the only person that she has and they just they end up getting more and more lost in the American landscape and in the American West in the Badlands in the Badlands, which you know, traditionally were places that outlaws would go to hide out and escape from the law.
So there's that and the other theme that's really interesting in that film is this idea that they have that they both have of their celebrity and of their notoriety and their fame.
And while they're going across the country, they're taking, you know, news clippings of things that have been written about them and the end scene when he finally gets caught and she has kind of escaped from this trail of terror and.
He's being chased by cops and he gets away from them. He gets away from them but he knows that for him to become this famous American outlaw that he's envisioned for himself, he needs to get captured.
So he shoots the tire of his car out pretends like he got a flat tire and these cops come and man handle him and put him in the back of the car and the funniest scene is when they're driving him back.
To town or you know, back to prison. The prison that where he's going to go, one of the cops says that he looks like James Dean and this is this smile creeps over his face and this is just the exactly what he wants to hear.
And at that point his narrative is complete and his purpose has kind of been fulfilled. And I think those all those aspects together make it this really great comment on American culture and definitely obviously the dark side to American culture.
But in spite of this amoral territory, in spite of these murders, in spite of this just random killing spree there on, he still is focused on celebrity.
And yeah, we talked about that last last time when I were discussing Lolita and this celebrity worship, right, that is all across American culture and he definitely has the mark of an American in that regard.
He's so delighted that he looks like James and then he conducts, he gives interviews with the journalists and completely charms them. Oh, they love him at the end and he's thrown out his comb and he's you know, yeah, he is.
And the only way to be a superstar in America is after be either a politician or an assassin, right.
And he chose to be an assassin, right. I think that the innocence, this weird incongruity between the killing spree and the innocence of the characters has a lot to do with the fact that it's narrated in the girls voice.
She is telling the story as we're watching the movie and she has a girlish voice and she's very naive and then the landscape extraordinary, you know, bad lands at night time also and it's really quite a wasteland in many ways.
Right. But it's freedom. Freedom from the law.
It is freedom in all of these films, traffic in that. I mean, that's the goal. That's the goal of a lot of them and bad lands has this sort of spiritual and religious, thematic web that's woven around in it.
And I think that one comment that I didn't make last time, but I think should be made is that one of the important things about this road narrative in American culture, I think is that it has stood in for a kind of American spirituality that I think has been lost in a lot of other areas, at least, you know, traditional religious beliefs and any sense of kind of unity around a natural community.
That's not really there. And I think that the stories of the road and this quest for freedom or this quest for self discovery have sort of become a very important spiritual centerpiece to American culture.
Well, the other movie, Thelma and Louise that we want to talk about, I don't know if it's a spirit, it does have a spiritual quest kind of narrative in a certain sense. If it's not the primary, then it's at least a secondary motif.
But I'm glad that you agree with me. I love that movie and I think it's one of, it would be in my top 10 for sure for a number of reasons.
I think Ridley Scott is just the eyes through which we see the road trip, the characters America in the back towns and that it almost takes a foreigner to see this America in the way that that movie shows us that America.
And here we have a story about two women who also become outlaws through no kind of fault of their own if you want to say that.
They sort of stumble into that story and again, it's a counterpointed character set up with Thelma and Louise and they are just trying to go away for the weekend.
And because of various aspects of their lives in the present and in the past involving men, they end up becoming violent and end up committing a murder and going on a similar road trip that you see.
Yeah, but it's violence but you could say that it's counter violence. Yeah, because reactionary. Yeah, there's a there's a guy trying to rape Thelma and so Louise shoots him right and then do they shoot anyone else actually.
They rob a story sure. Yeah, they rob a story they take the FBI on a white, you know chase the sad the really sad thing about that film is how a press.
How oppressive the patriarchy becomes over the course. And at first it's just Falma's husband and Louise's troubles with guys in the past and she's been raped in her past.
That's why she's she wants to they have to avoid Texas because it's the straightest route to Mexico would take them through Texas. Right, but they have to do a detour because if she goes into Texas and gets stopped, she's wanted for a murder or something.
We don't know exactly what she did in Texas, but doesn't want to be caught in Texas. Right, but there is that implied that that had happened to her in the past and that is what is fueling a lot of this this journey and I think as the film progresses, it's just every male character that shows up ends up taking advantage of them or ends up fucking them over in some way.
And the only guy that's trying to help them is the detective of course who starts to realize that these aren't just two people trying to murder people and harm people on the way they are.
have been subjected to a lot of male violence in the past and as this goes on and as this continues, they go down to the Grand Canyon, they're winding around through that beautiful country in Arizona and the landscape becomes larger and larger and larger and at once more difficult to escape from and more oppressive and in that it kind of becomes a version of the patriarchy, but it also becomes their redemptive moment at the end where they are.
And where they make a choice to either be captured or you can drive off the cliff. Well continue the road trip, which means going off the cliff right I don't know if it's a redemptive moment, but it's certainly.
You know, they have a stark choice either to not only go to prison, but even if they were to get out of a conviction they would be going back into a prison, certainly thelma in her marriage and she's been liberated by being on the road.
So she doesn't want to end the road trip because for her it means a freedom, it means a new self. It really means a rebirth and a resurrection in her case and you.
But in the sense that she's wide awake and both of them are I remember a scene where it's this kind of a rural dawn. It's actually pre dawned because it's still dark and then thelma asks Louise are you awake?
And she says yes, I'm some awake and she says I've never felt this awake in my life. And then you have all these vivid colors and I think it's through some special filters, but the land just and the sky and everything is just brilliantly
a live, right, a state of awakeness which is that spiritual, you know, the vitality of being totally in the world with wide open eyes and it's that state of complete wakefulness that just juxtaposed to the general kind of slumber and oblivion that most people live in.
And once you've been that awake, you know, you just want to stay in that condition. Yeah.
Yeah, it's true. And I always cry at the end of that movie when I see them make that choice and go off the cliff and partly I thought about why I have that emotional reaction and partly it's because of the way that they film the movie and if you go back and look at it in almost every scene regardless of what they're doing, there is some mail in the background exhibiting some form of masculinity.
And it's, you know, somebody working with a car, somebody, there's one scene where there's this guy just pumping iron in the background inexplicably and there at some roadside and he's just muscles are pumping out and it's just this thing that they can't seem to escape.
And I think that that's true of a lot of women's experiences in America and has been for a long time and definitely I hope that things have been changing recently with things like the Me Too movement.
But this was before all of that. This film came out when that position maybe wasn't as common. Yeah.
The end is, well, it's so enchanting on the one hand tragic on the other, but as my sister once said, the Buick should have gotten the Oscar because it's really the protagonist at that car that they drive cross country.
And I think it was a brilliant move on Ridley Scott's part to stop it before the downward trajectory in the air.
I mean, it's starting to go down, but you don't have that sense.
Right. It does feel like a liberating moment. Yeah. And it's slow motion. I think who is I think?
The German port Novali defined grace as beauty and motion. And there's something so graceful about that leap of the car over the cliff.
And it is, you could say it's redemptive in the sense that there's such grace in the beauty of motion.
Then it's suspended. That's therefore becoming eternal. Right.
Yeah. Yeah. You wouldn't want the movie to end any other way, would you?
It has to end that way. There's a feeling of inevitability.
That's something you see in a lot of these films that even if they don't end in death, they end in a return.
And I think that's one of the things that is important to note about this road trip narrative that we're talking about is that although all these stories take place in geography and landscape
and we're talking about the grandeur of the American West and everything, they're really psychological stories. And the reason that they all end in these kinds of ways with a death or a return home, and death could be a metaphoric kind of thing returning to heaven or a state of pre-birth.
That's really a return to the self and it's a return to the self after this trip has happened. So it's a changed self, but it's the same self that was left behind at the beginning.
Yeah. And one last thing on the movie, when you mentioned that there's always some mail in the background, you also have the trucks, trucks play a big role.
They're not flash forwards, but at the beginning of the movie, even before they're on the road, you see these big, large, big trucks just hanging out.
And you know what's going to happen. If you've seen the movie, you know that an hour later, there's that pig who's always behind them and being vulgar.
When they blow up, it's whole truck. But the role that these anticipation, these pre-figurations of what's going to happen in terms of these, nothing more quintessentially symbolically male of the American male on the road than these huge trucks that are going across country carrying their heavy load.
And the lightness of the older and the weasen, they're convertible, you know, be you know, juxtaposed that heavy truck. Right. And I think that heaviness and all that that male stuff in the background does create in the audience this sense of a similar kind of oppression or a similar kind of inescapability.
And then when we see that at the end, it is a catharsis because, you know, in the background, we felt how constrained they felt or unable to kind of just exist autonomously.
So I got a song playing for us that we want to say something about because it's in terms of our themes.
I think I could talk over it because I think it's very well known to most of the people in this show like this.
Why is this such an iconic song kind for the road team?
Well, this is like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. There's a number of historical reasons why it's iconic because first when he went electric and there was that situation at the folk festival where they tried to cut the cord with an axe because this song was playing and it was too loud.
But, you know, this song is about a self-judgment or a self kind of having to reflect on oneself with the same kind of judgment that they used to apply to other people that were in different positions and or less fortunate positions.
And I think what I really like about this song is the emphasis on that line, how does it feel?
And that doesn't just make it about kind of socioeconomic, it makes it about an interchange and an inner journey that this character is going through and is kind of being called out by Dylan.
And he's saying, you know, you used to be in this sort of class in America and you had these judgments about other people that did things differently and now you're in that position and how does it feel?
And I think that, again, speaking to the 60s when this came out, this was a question that a lot of people were asking not only of each other and not only of class in America,
but also of themselves. And they were saying, how does it feel to know that, you know, friends of ours are in Vietnam or how does it feel to know that we're being subject to these strict rules and regulations that developed in post-World War II America and the 50s and everything.
And this kind of unchangeable quality to American suburbia or something.
And how do you relate all that to the motif of the Rolling Stone, which is obviously a traveling as a journey, it's a Rolling Stone, it's moving.
Well, it's just, I think it stems from a phrase, you know, Rolling Stone gathers no loss. So, and there's a line in this song, you know, when you have nuts and to lose,
or how does it go when you got nuts and you got nuts and to lose.
And I think that there was just, it's just a theme of a lot of these traveling stories that when you go off on these journeys, you're kind of leaving behind a sense of identity, a sense of like, whatever moss you might have gathered up.
And you're finding yourself alone.
So this is the first track of maybe its most famous album called Highway 61.
What is Highway 61? Why is this such a myth? It's become a myth, no, along with Route 66, which is another famous highway or pre-highway where you have another
other road movies like Tulane Blacktop, is that what it's called? That's with James Taylor here.
Yeah, that's on Route 66, I think, I think it is. Yeah, two cars racing across the country on.
Yeah, but this is Highway 61, 61.
So this highway runs north-south as opposed to the east-west that we've been talking about.
And it's broken up now. It's not a continuous highway anymore, I don't think, but when Dylan was younger, it's a highway that stretched from Ontario all the way down to New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.
It went right through his town, Hibbing, Minnesota, where he grew up.
And I think he drove on it to get down to Minneapolis and play his early gigs and whatnot.
But I think for him, it represented a trip down through Blues history and Blues culture into the south.
And there are a number of weird things that happened on this road.
I think muddy waters grew up there and the famous Robert Johnson deal with the devil supposedly went down on Route 61.
In fact, I did a show, a two-part show on the Blues with our colleague of KCS Hugh here, Bird.
And he talked a lot about that highway 61 is connecting the deltas of the north.
And the Blues happens really, I mean, the migration of it from south to north.
That's right. Yeah, I think he was playing on that. And it's also paralleling the Mississippi River.
But this album was really about a reinvention of American myth and a reinvention of myth itself.
And I think he, Dylan, was reading a lot of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot at the time who appear in the last song, Desolation Row.
But he was, I think, interested in what was happening in American culture to define a myth and to define the quality of the time.
And there's a road trip aspect to this album.
But there's also this deep psychological component where you see in like Tombstone Blues and you see Ballad of a Thin Man.
You know, yeah, I forget this. I play it while you're talking. Yeah, Desolation Row.
Yeah, well, this song is just this montage of historical references that some sort of American and some feeling very like minstrel kind of south.
And then, you know, European kind of traveling troubadour vibes. Yeah, I mean, if there's a troubadour, American troubadour is him.
Yeah, Dylan, traveling mince, minstrel, right, singing and its poetry. I mean, I wasn't so astonished that the Nobel would choose him to give a prize in literature.
Everyone said, well, this is not literature. It's music. Well, what about the troubadours? They weren't just reciting poetry.
They were singing their poetry, a song and poetry of them. Have a, you know, have a common origin. So anyway, it's, you're right, a new American mythology for that had to be reinvented for its own time, no?
Right, exactly. And this song, Desolation Row is just this kind of, you know,
here on a miss Bosch kind of garden of delights, with all these contradictory American characters.
And it's imageistic and it's surreal and it's bizarre. And I think it's kind of, if this is a road trip album, this is Dylan's version of home now.
Or maybe Hell, maybe Heaven. But it's sort of this inferno type landscape that all these characters are coming and going in.
Well, Kai, you can either hear another track or we could move on, maybe we want to say a word about photography and the road.
Yeah. If only briefly, because that's an important part of the myth of the American road is photography, not only film.
Yeah, well, photography has had a road trip aspect to it in the 20th century. And that began with a few projects, mainly in the wake of the invention,
and I say invention because it kind of became a commodity that was sold, but the invention of the American highway as a thing for families to go and explore.
And everybody in the 30s and 40s started to buy automobiles and Kodak cameras and with the automobile and the tourism industries that were popping up along all these highways, these famous roots now,
and the family road trip became a thing that everyone had access to. And that also was a thing that sort of solidified it in American culture as this really significant narrative.
But you had all these photographers who were going around the country taking photos of America.
I think at that time when the highways were first developed, there was a sense that people were exploring to see what America had become.
I mean, there wasn't a mystery about what America consisted of when it, you know, back in like the days of Lewis and Clark exploring, but I think what American culture was was still a little bit of a question.
And the photographers that went and did these trips across the country were significant in defining that like Robert Frank.
We have to mention because his project, the Americans, was really seminal in creating what contemporary photography is today.
And yeah, in what way?
Well, so again, like Nabokov, Robert Frank was a European coming over to America and he was able to view the American culture in the American road as an outsider.
And he could see a grittier side or a more contradictory side than I think is sometimes possible for Americans who...
So like Ridley Scott a little bit. Oh, exactly. Yeah, exactly. So his portrait of America, I think he got a grant to do this, maybe a Guggenheim to travel around the country and take photos.
And he was just taking black and white 35 millimeter photos, but he was viewing it as an outsider. And the shots that he got are just brilliant and incredible in their contrast and contradictions.
But he created this really sad portrait of America. And when I look at it, because it does feel like an outsider's perspective, it's not a patriotic project.
It's very cynical in a way, but also very sad. And when I look at it, I think of the Tolstoy quote, "all great literature is one of two stories. A person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town."
And that quote is really interesting because it positions all great literature and I always scoff at those comments. But those quotes, but it positions it as either a change in the exterior, a change in the interest.
And the significant agent there is change. And the funny thing is that, you know, if you look at the quote one way, it is about the person going through a landscape and the landscape changing. And if you look at it the other way, it's about the landscape saying staying the same and the person being the different agent and enters. But really they're the same story. They are the self kind of looking at itself from different perspectives.
But I think Robert Frank really was a stranger coming to town kind of in this way. Even though when you look at his project, the Americans, everything is extremely familiar. You see the American flags. You see race divisions in the South. You see celebrities vying for power and attention. But it's at this kind of skewed perspective that throws it into the same direction.
That throws it into stark relief and develops.
Yeah, it's quite remarkable collection, right?
I apologize for the abrupt termination of my conversation with Kai Carlson-Wee in the original recording. I went on to ask him to read a poem from his collection, "Rail."
And this led to some interesting personal narratives, so Vittoria and I decided to take that final segment of the recording and turn it into a prologue to the two-part show you have just heard.
That prologue was posted as a separate show called "On the Railroads with Kai Carlson-Wee."
I'm Robert Harrison for entitled "Pinience." Thanks for listening.
Every bit of fun, I'm the rest of the week, and I'm the feeling that I'm the end.
Yeah, I got it for me, but I'm the world and I love you, and I'm the world.
I want to look back to what's in it's loaded with space.
I love you too, I'm the nature's child, who we were born, all of you are, who we can climb so high.
I never want to die, but want to be wild, but want to be wild.
I love you too, I love you too.
(upbeat music)
♪ There she is around it
♪ He had on the highway
♪ I looked and forth in truth
♪ In whatever comes I'll wait
♪ I'm going to England, England
♪ Take the world and the young and brave
♪ Fire all of your guns and won't take
♪ It's a blow to the space
♪ Said I took your own nature's shine
♪ We were lost for the rewrite
♪ We can climb so high
♪ I never want to climb
♪ We're going to be wild
♪ We're going to be wild
♪ We're going to be wild
♪ We're going to be wild
♪ We're going to be wild
♪ We're going to be wild
♪ We're going to be wild
♪ We're going to be wild