Release Date: 4/01
Album: LUDLOW 6:18
Writer: ADAM MARSLAND
Let me tell you brother
Something you don't know
This was the mother of the Mother Road
And to Baltimore and back
People drove over this dirt track
And in 1926
It became the first Route 66
But off in the dust
A forgotten trail awaits
Across an Arizona canyon
There yet stands a bridge
60 years abandoned
And hidden by a ridge
One lane wide, a hundred feet high
And if you cross it you could die
But when we raced across that berm
The big old arch held firm
Now all my life I've searched for mysteries
But now I know there's more than forest
Behind those trees
This is all that remains of National Old Trails
And foundations will crumble, and memories will fail
And just like us, the road will return to dust
Leaving only mysterious traces
Others will trace them if they must
In this I'll trust
Thank you friend, it's been good talking to you
Now I must take your leave, there's other old trails to pursue.
I've always been an old road buff. Something about finding traces of forgotten highways strikes a chord in me, and writing a song about the National Old Trails Highway -- the forgotten early predecessor to Route 66 -- seemed like a good way to tie together the various themes of LUDLOW; the road trip angle; the bittersweet feeling of nostalgia and loss; and, in the third verse, the hope that even if you fade away forgotten, you leave something behind that at least a few people will find worthwhile to investigate after you're gone.
The genesis for the song came from a western road trip I took with a girlfriend, Chizuru Naruse. Many of the pictures from LUDLOW came from that trip and in fact, I wrote the music to this song in a room at the hotel that graces the front cover on the album. The next day we had the extraordinary experience that is described in the second verse.
We had rented an SUV and were exploring a little-used stretch of old Route 66. We had gone about 10 miles down this road when it was covered by I-40, leaving only a small dirt path to continue on. By now, we were low on gas and if we backtracked we might run out, but as we continued down the road we were faced with a huge, yawning canyon. It looked like we were screwed. Dusk was nearing and the small dirt road continued around the lip of a canyon. I was hoping against hope for some miracle that would allow us a way across the canyon, and to my unbelieving eyes, suddenly an impossibly old, high arched one-lane bridge loomed into view, spanning the canyon.
Chizuru and I just stared at each other. Route 66 is so thoroughly researched that the possibility a bridge this old could have survived unnoticed seemed simply impossible, and we wondered if it was a dream. Even more unlikely, our road went right to it and there was no impediment to our crossing it. But with its crumbling concrete railings it looked like it would fall into the abyss at any second. With a gulp, we gunned the motor -- figuring by the time if the bridge fell in we might make it across before -- and tore across that bridge. And we made it out safely, though we had to drive through someone's front yard to do it!
Shortly after, Route 66 buffs discovered this bridge, called the Padre Canyon Bridge, and it's now a part of 66 guidebooks everywhere, and was recently closed to traffic. But at the time, no one knew it was there, which I've since discovered is true of a lot of National Old Trails-era landmarks. You can find out more about the bridge at http://www.theroadwanderer.net/PadreCanyon/index.htm.
I love the recording of this song. Steve Refling did a perfect job with recording it -- a very close, intimate, analog sound -- and Kurt and Robert had just the right feel with the rhythm section. I was also really proud of my overdubbed lead guitar bits (some of which were based on Severo's ideas, although he didn't actually play on this track), but the most problematic part of the song was the accordian, because, simply put, I can't play the goddamn thing! I had found a cheap accordian in our garage and decided it would be just the thing to add to "Old Trails," but between the crappy instrument and my incompetence I think it took about three hours to add the twenty seconds or so of accordian to the end of the song. I almost didn't credit myself on the album because I can't play the accordian worth a crap.
Alan Boyd has long championed this song and made it a mission to get Al Jardine (of the Beach Boys) to hear it, as Jardine's California history slice of life songwriting was among the inspirations for this song. I think Alan gave A.J. about three different copies of LUDLOW 6:18, all of which got lost. Finally, Alan forced me and the band to play the song for him at soundcheck when we performed with him in 2005. No pressure there! He seemed to like it and commented on how every time he thought the song was going one place, it went somewhere else. I thought that was funny, since that's a songwriting trait I largely picked up from Brian Wilson.
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