Five Things I Hope My Son Learned On The Blues Highway
By Eyre Price
I’m a novelist. And a stay-at-home dad. So when my novel, The Blues Highway Blues, required a research field trip down the titular roadway, I had an eight year old traveling companion. Fifteen hundred miles of asphalt provided material for a dozen novels and I personally came away profoundly changed, but I’d like to think (hope) he learned something along the way too.
5. American music didn’t start with Foo Fighters. My son has grown up with a lot of great music, but “Walk” is the first song that was his own. How he found it, I can’t say. But it resonated with him like nothing he’d heard before. And because of that, it’s also where his musical timeline begins.
There’s a natural tendency to imprint on the music we first discover—and just stay there. I have friends whose daily playlist still contains the same music we played when we were kids spinning records on portable record players. And while some of that music was truly great, I hope I’ve shown my son there’s more to the musical universe than what he’s discovering now. There’s a wealth of music from before he was born and (although he finds it hard to believe) even before I was born.
4. The past offers building blocks for the future. It was important to me to show my son the evolutionary path music has taken, how Robert Johnson led to Muddy Waters led to Elmore James led to Dave Grohl. But I never intended that knowledge to be a simply esoteric acquisition.
Music may be timeless, but it’s also a living thing. The musical past isn’t simply to be revered for what it was. It’s there to serve as a foundation for the future. American music is a jambalaya of musical elements from the past, all mixed together and left to slow cook until they produce something new and original. Over and over again. So my greatest satisfaction is hearing my son humming a song he’s just writing…to a Bo Diddley beat.
3. You’ve got to keep on going. Even when you think you can’t. Highway 61 cuts across the Mississippi Delta as one of the longest straightaways in the world, endless miles of macadam stretching to the horizon. While we were driving, I asked my son to picture walking along the crushed stone shoulder. Alone. In the summer. With nothing but a guitar.
I challenged him to conjure the image not to impress upon him how difficult others have had it, but because sooner or later all of us have to walk our own stretch of endless highway. And when those times come, I hope my son hears that rhythmic backbeat of the blues and realizes he can keep keepin’ on.
2. People (like the music they make) are all sorts of different. But they share a common root. We’d stopped for a meal one day when my son observed that wherever we went it was always the same scene. He was just eight, but he’d realized something that still eludes many adults: People are people. All most people really want to do is spend time with friends and family, enjoying a meal, and listening to some good music.
1. Everything else is just a side job. I’d always dreamt of being a novelist, but now I understand it’s serious business. There are others counting on me to do my job well and every day I try my damnedest to do just that. But it’s just my side job.
My son and I made a pilgrimage to Sun Records, Stax Studios and Graceland, but we saw the Memphis Zoo, too. We toured the Mississippi Delta and I stood at Robert Johnson’s crossroads, but we got a new 3DS game in Clarksdale. And when the Rendezvous proved too thick with hickory smoke for a boy to take, we left that legendary establishment and got a pizza instead.
Shortly after I signed my book contract, my son was noticeably contemplative. Asked what was troubling him, he answered “Now you’ll have more important things to do.” I smiled and assured him there was nothing to worry about. If my son learned nothing else on our trip down the Blues Highway, I hope he learned I’m still his dad. I always will be. And everything else will always be a side job.