|Day 173: The Swimming Pool Q's (Some New Highway)
August 10, 2022
I hope young people all across America's red states are packing up their belongings, fighting back tears as they reconcile leaving the archaic ways of their homes to move to where change and modernization are the norm. If so, please get there via some new highway.
A wondrous unknown track from the early 1980s, "Some New Highway" deserved to elevate its creators to stardom. A Georgia-based band, The Swimming Pool Q's were fascinated by the diametric pulls of living in the south. Think of William Faulkner meeting The Band meeting The Allman Brothers Band. The Swimming Pool Q's never backed away from talking about the south's conflicting natures. Leader Jeff Calder, for the 2012 reissues of their two A&M albums, calls "the south . . . a very beautiful place . . . [yet] also the harbor of a great crime."1 Fellow band member, Anne Richmond Boston, also notes that "it's sometimes unbelievable how resistant people here are to new ideas."2
As I contemplated when I would feature the Q's in this series, I wavered between two lovely narrative songs that capture a still (un)reconstructed south: "Wreck Around" and "Some New Highway." The current decisions made daily by politicians, supported by fervent voter blocks, to strip away freedoms from their citizens meant "Some New Highway" was my only true choice.
Boston and Calder traded lead vocals on Q's songs, but the narrative for "Some New Highway" had to be Boston's. The narrative's a woman's, so much so that when Bob Elsey's gut-wrenching guitar work in combination with Boston's spine-tingling voice elevates the final half of the song, you can't help but feel ripped apart by the narrative. However, I get ahead of myself.
The song opens with our female narrator preparing to leave her southern home, recognizing that "one final train will blow for me," an opening invocation of a train, historical relic in many ways, similar to The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" ("Virgil Cane's my name/and I served on the Danville train"). Having lived there so long, she realizes "you can leave this town/ but it ain't gonna heal ya," certainly not easy when more than a century after the Civil War's end, locals still need to be told to "put away your war memorabilia." Don't waste time dreaming of something different, just "put away your wishes with the dishes."
The new highway at the heart of the song is the new world not the past. That highway serves as the metaphor for modernization. Joni Mitchell may have bemoaned that they "put up a parking lot," but for this song, progress is paved.
As such, Boston's voice punctuates the chorus over and over: "Some new highway/some new highway/some new highway/some new highway cuts through." That highway out of town represents speedier travel, connections between larger cities than probably the 'burg she is leaving, and the ways of life that "cut through" the rural, anachronistic world of her friends and family.
After the second chorus, the narrative accelerates as if time is compressing, our narrator finding herself stuck between the past and the only future she can foresee.
Tell me the story that you guard so well/
About a routine life in a pine motel/
Somebody asks where the hell you been/
And you say you've been to see the devil's grin/
A basket full of flowers going over the rim/
Incandescent in a high school gym/
And every single street corner will remind me of him/
And they're all muscled up and not so new/
And I don't think there'll be . . .
And, just when we expect her to finish the line with "a new road soon," Calder's voice cuts through with a spooky new narration: "every night in the distance she hears the sounds of cars going down some new highway and let me tell ya it cuts through, it cuts true, it cuts through." The longer she stands there, listening to the train whistles, staring at the pine motels, watching the young men form the same poses as those that came before them, the more her dreams will be cut through.
The coda ends up being a triangular song of hope cut through with despair, Boston belting out "Some New Highwaaaaaaaaaaaay," with Calder cutting off her escape path ("And I don't think there'll be a new road") while Elsey’s guitar sequence squeezing every emotional drop out of the moment.
I don't speak lightly when I say I hope there are young women and men willing to face their fears of leaving their pasts. As the old joke goes, the opposite of progress must be congress. Recently, someone or some organization in my very conservative county turned a paved road into a dirt road. It's a rural road (aren't all of them here?) that I use as a short-cut between home and work. As with most roads around here, it mostly passes farms, a few oil wells, and maybe two or three houses. The road doesn't need to be paved, and it probably cost too much to keep maintained. I now wonder if the farm owner and the home owners figured a dirt road would slow down the maniac in the Mazda who drives by twice a day blaring whatever god-awful songs he was listening to that day. That song has frequently been "Some New Highway." Guess what I'm listening to tomorrow when I drive to work.
1Himes, Geoffery. "Liner Notes." The Swimming Pool Q's: The A&M Years, 1984-1986. A&M, 2012.
The Swimming Pool Q's. "Some New Highway." The Swimming Pool Q's. A&M, 1984. Link here.
Day 172: Ben Folds Five "Song For The Dumped"
Day 174: Uriah Heep "Rock 'n' Roll Medley"
Unfinished list here.