Strange things happen when worlds collide, when the spheres of your life overlap, creating something like a Venn-diagram with its ever-intriguing shaded center. It can be something simple like seeing a friend from school visit you at work, or catching up with a friend you met London in Auckland. But when it happens, you can feel your brain in a mad dash to sort it out, to shuffle things around and maneuver among the set categories of your life. I almost think the same thing could be said for genres of art – literature, film, music, etc. Like I said, it could be simple, like seeing a movie based on your favorite book, or hearing a song you love in a TV show – and the scenes or lines you know in your mind are suddenly before your eyes, existing visually and not just in the space of your imagination. But it can get stranger – when two things connect in a completely unexpected way – and that, I would argue, is the magic of art.
When I first moved to Christchurch, I couldn’t wait to find a flat and have a proper address, for several very obvious reasons, that whole “getting settled” thing for one. A reason I’m more hesitant to admit, though, is that I couldn’t wait to sign up for a library card. I’m the kind of reader that isn’t satisfied without a queue of ten books on my dresser, like a coach who wants his third string in top condition…just in case. The two paperbacks I’d brought with me weren’t cutting it. The first week into my membership, I wandered down the aisles of the fiction section, looking for anything and everything to read. A book jumped out at me – On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It’s one I’d always heard about but never read – and what I’d heard had been epic. The decision was made and I headed downstairs.
For me, it was love at first sight. It was Kerouac’s brazen courage, his recklessness, all of the hitchhiking and driving and running after something that very well may not be waiting for you when you get there. It was the road, and it was lines like:
“I felt like an arrow that could shoot all the way out.”
“I wanted to pursue my star further.”
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
“You always expect some kind of magic at the end of the road.”
“Neal kept…getting all ready for the purity of the road again…the purity of moving and getting somewhere, no matter where, and as fast as possible and with as much excitement and digging of all things as possible.”
“He and I suddenly saw the whole country like an oyster for us to open, and the pearl was there, the pearl was there.”
If I could, I would quote from every page of that 400-page masterpiece, but the above lines pulled at my soul more than the rest. In one continuous stream of prose – the original scroll of the manuscript features no chapters and no paragraphs; talk about an analogy for the road – Kerouac captured the absolute core of what I am living for right now. The simple need to move, the need to get out, not get somewhere. There were times he’d go from New York to California, only to turn around a week later and head back in the same direction he’d just come from. To Kerouac, San Francisco – California – the West Coast – was as far as you could go, Manifest Destiny, it was the end of the line, and he rode it there and back, there and back, occasionally questioning, but always going nonetheless.
At this point I was still staying at Amber and Andy’s, but they’d gone away for the weekend, leaving me at home alone, reading in bed at night. To fill the silence of the empty house, I’d opened iTunes and had a Genius playlist on, based off who knows what acoustic song I felt like that night. At one point, though, a song comes on with lyrics that manage to catch my attention despite my absorbed love affair with Kerouac. With one ear open, I can discern lines like, “I’ve still got miles to go,” “I want to know my fate,” and “You wonder if you’re missing your dream” – all lines I’m bound to love. I look at the song details and realize it’s one from Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album I hadn’t listened to yet, “Bixby Canyon Bridge.” I promptly hit the repeat button, listening to it maybe a hundred times before falling asleep. Before I went back to reading, I made a mental note to look up the lyrics once I had internet access.
Three days go by and I finally make my way to songmeanings.net – a site that features both the lyrics and a place for users to post comments on, you guessed it, what they think the a song is about. It’s a favorite of mine, even if 95% of the commenters are preteens who can’t spell, just discovered what it means to be an emo kid, and subsequently think every song is about a breakup. But every now and then you might actually find a post worth reading. I look up my new Death Cab discovery:
I descended a dusty gravel ridge
Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge
Until I eventually arrived
At the place where your soul had died
Barefoot in the shallow creek
I grabbed some stones from underneath
And waited for you to speak to me
And the silence, it became so very clear
That you had long ago disappeared
I cursed myself for being surprised
That this didn’t play like it did in my mind
All the way from San Francisco
As I chased the end of your road
Because I’ve still got miles to go
I want to know my fate if I keep up this way
It’s hard to want to stay awake
And everyone you meet they all seem to be asleep
You wonder if you’re missing your dream
You can’t see your dream
You can’t see your dream
You just can’t see your dream
Then it started getting dark
And I trudged back to where the car was parked
No closer to any kind of truth
As I must assume was the case with you
Of course the first thing I see is the reference to San Francisco, having just finished On the Road, but it isn’t until I read the comments below that I am sent reeling. This time, the grammatically-incorrect punks have a one-up on me and as it turns out, I learn that Ben Gibbard – lead singer and songwriter for Death Cab – actually spent a few weeks at Kerouac’s cabin at Big Sur, in an attempt to draw inspiration for his next album, Narrow Stairs, by chasing the writer’s ghost.
Talk about worlds colliding. Here is a book and a song, each of which I love independently from each other, but are in all reality connected in a way I could never imagine. I think back to that night in bed, reading Kerouac, listening to Death Cab, and I get chills. It’s not about it being a small world, but a crazy world – a world that makes you walk in reverence of the million tiny connections around us we may never see, blowing apart our own perceptions of what is possible.
Kerouac – on the road, on the move, knowing well the worth of the pursuit; Ben Gibbard – in the place of a former hero, struggling with the disillusionment of not finding what he came in search of; and then there’s me, stumbling across a connection of epic proportions completely by accident – but isn’t that how it always happens?
Like searching for a pair of glasses perched on our head, we look for our oyster when the pearl’s in our hand.