Last night I watched a great movie about four bands touring the United States in five 1972 VW camper vans, in all different colors. A two week trip, ‘Austin to Boston,’ with musicians mostly from England but some from America too. They played and they drove and they smoked and they slept and they laughed and they drank. As a twenty-five-person family they fell in love with America and each other while on the road.
The movie is narrated by Gill Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show and his dulcet tones hark back to the spirit of the beatniks. He was the one who actually owned these five vans and was, out of necessity, highly trained in their maintenance and agreed to accompany the bands on this tour. He speaks in his overlays of how the road can change you. After a tour like this it can be hard for musicians to stay in one place, he said. He talked of long nights and late shows and the way of like-minded people and how that made this trip real.
My friend Will, who convinced me to watch it after we had a conversation about The Staves during a slow day at work, said, “Do you want to come over and watch ‘Austin to Boston’ and drink wine and feel better about life?” This is what we did and he was right. At night on the road there was time to jam and sit around a fire or a badly lit motel room. This is everything Will wants out of life and part of me feels the same. Just like-minded people sitting around a camp fire singing beautiful harmonies is pretty much an ideal state.
These are singers and songwriters who are just vocals and instruments. Where the moment is just about the song, not the lighting or showmanship at all. Real folk music stuff. When one of the singers, Nathaniel Rateliff, gets a moment on film where he is singing onstage in Missouri where he grew up, I was thinking to myself that first I should get his album (on iTunes) and second I should like him (on Facebook). Almost immediately after these two thoughts, I started thinking, is that something he would want me to do? What does it say about me that this is one of the first things I thought to do to support an artist? I was in a pretty wine-d up state at this point but the message still remains.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Facebook lately as I have been personally dealing with anxiety and depression. What good does it do me/anyone to be constantly bombarded with the happiness and achievements of others? What I mean is, it is great that people out there are living their best lives but what we actually see is a severely filtered and edited version of what is going on. The other thing about Facebook is that honestly its appeal is fading to many people in my generation. All I see when I go on there is people sharing cute/funny videos or links to everything under the sun. There is very little original content that even goes on anymore and honestly it is boring. What good would it do to increase an artist’s Facebook page by one? Does he even have a page?
Three years ago when I moved to Oslo for six months I was dealing similar anxiety issues and decided to stop going on Facebook for the entirety of my trip. I have no regrets about this and have thought about doing a similar thing again or getting rid of it entirely. But there are a few aspects of Facebook that are very valuable to many people. The main two being photo sharing and keeping in contact with people you might not have any other means of communication with. What I found when I stopped logging on, I didn’t even have to change my password against my will, was that I was able to focus on what was actually around me. I was able to have experiences that felt real without the validation of 50 likes. I’ll admit that when I came back I did log back on, accept the friend requests that had piled up in my absence from the people I met on the trip, and share the photos I had been taking. And that is ok.
Nathaniel Rateliff, The Staves, Ben Howard, and Bear’s Den probably do have Facebook Pages, Twitters, and Instagrams on which they share their lives and their tour dates with fans. But at least for this movie, for this two weeks, they were able to exemplify a real experience all about the music. That is what Will and I are craving, speaking really only for myself. The trueness of life that is decluttered from the cloud of social media. Hopping in a camper van, sleeping on the road, singing harmonies around a fire makes me want to start learning to play the guitar — or the autoharp — not sure yet.