My fellow fans of the folk singer and songwriter Dar Williams know that travel is a recurring theme in her work, but will hopefully bear with me in the following paragraphs. (Alternatively, for those of you inclined to skim or skip over stuff you already know, or if for whatever you want to avoid reading the most broad, sweeping, and generalistic parts of my introduction, there's some personal musings about this particular song after the indented quotes. A paragraph later there's some fun trivia, so now you know where else you might start reading this writeup if you're so inclined.) For one thing, she has written a series of three songs with "Traveling" in their titles: "Traveling Again (Traveling I)", and "I Love, I Love (Traveling II)" from her first full-length album, The Honesty Room (1993 or 1995, depending on whether you're counting the Razor & Tie release or the earlier, even more indie, version), and "Iowa (Traveling III)" from her second, Mortal City (1996, Razor & Tie). But those are only the most obvious examples. Just off the top of my head, I can also think of "The Ocean" on the latter album, and "What Do You Love More Than Love", "Spring Street", and "Calling the Moon" on her 2000 album, The Green World (still Razor & Tie) --- and that's without even checking track lists, let alone considering the ones that use travel in a more metaphorical way, which might well be all of the songs Dar has written.
"Road Buddy", track 9 of Dar's 1997 album, End of the Summer (Razor & Tie again), fits right in with the travel theme, as does the almost-title track, "The End of the Summer". Like so many of Dar's songs, this piece is about a voyage of self-discovery (see, there's that travel as recurring metaphor again) as well as being literally about a journey undertaken by its narrator and the title character. The introspection begins to emerge clearest in the fifth verse (or stanza, if you prefer: a lot of Dar's work can be characterized as poetry set to music rather than songwriting, although the distinction has never been very clear to me):
And those cliffs are the same
as in the magazines I have at home.
And the tall grass reminds me
of the same dreams I had at home
I thought life was a road and I wanted to begin it
I said, my friend and I are going on a trip
I can only stop a minute...
If you ask me, however, the very last lines of the song really encapsulate the narrator's travel and learning experience:
And there's something I finally faced
I finally think I come from someplace
This is not a romance with the road.
This song is especially poignant for me because its lyrics make me remember and reflect on the time I spent traveling with my best friend during the summer of 2002. It turns out, as this song details all too clearly, that all the little stresses of traveling can put a strain on the best of relationships, ("You drive so bad I lost my patience/ Pass the chips and turn the station") but it's important not to lose faith. On a more introspective level (which, as I've mentioned before, is entirely appropriate here), the lines about knowing where you came from is haunting to me because by the end of our trip, I felt more like I came from nowhere (and wanted more than ever to be able to identify as a citizen of the world) than ever before. Strange.
But on to the promised trivia. This song was featured on the soundtrack to the 1998 independent film Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre from a script written by Native American author Sherman Alexie, who adapted it from his own short stories in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and in particular "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona". When I saw Dar perform at Central Park Summerstage in the summer of 1998, she was very self-conscious about the fact that Smoke Signals was being critically acclaimed, particularly in underground art-flick circles, since mentioning her contribution to its soundtrack sounded like name-dropping. Interestingly, according to an interview Dar gave with Vin Scelsa on his free-form radio show Idiot's Delight in 2000, her song "I Won't be Your Yoko Ono" (on what was at the time her latest album, The Green World) was also inspired by a bit of dialog in Smoke Signals, although it did not appear in the film.
All blockquotes taken from "Road Buddy," copyright Dar Williams, 1997 (likewise the music that remains unquoted here, Burning Field Music (ASCAP).
Reproduced without permission.