Seeking life's meaning on the road

00:55, Feb 05 2013

On Friday I was gunning a cheap rental car down the Waikato Expressway from Auckland to Raglan. I was off to play an annual gig with the Legendary Mudsharx.

The band is made up of old rock stars including Dave McCartney from Hello Sailor, ex-Warratah Sid Limbert and blues maestro Midge Marsden. We have one rule: no rehearsals. We are all ageing, all in the drop zone. Playing together is a treasured moment and every year becomes more of a gamble to see if anyone has fallen off the perch. This year looked like a full muster.

While driving the 1990s Bluebird, I fished on the antique car radio (it still had a cassette player) to try to find the National Programme. No luck. But amid the fusillade of Auckland FM stations, I finally settled on ZM and the voice of the bombastic Leighton Smith. He was solemnly announcing that Sir Paul Holmes had just passed away.

The drop zone. At times like this a man becomes reflective. You start looking for meaning. I wasn't finding any meaning in the highway flashing by, not in the massive carbon footprint and screeching tires as F3 trials raised the rubber at Meremere nor in the Christmas decorations still up in Huntly.

Perhaps an authentic life in music gives us meaning? A touch of Eckhart Tolle, a little insight into enlightenment.

Jazz poet Ben Sidren has a great monologue listing the three things needed to be a great musician: a bad romance, a good travel agent. And (wait for it) seafood. Yes, for the touring musician, good food trumps the music itself. Midge calls the pies and sausage rolls that touring musicians thrive on "road fruit".


On the road, pastries are nourishing, sentimental reminders of home - a kind of comfort food.

One would hope to find the meaning of life in the music of someone like Neil Young. After all, it was the political savvy of songs like Southern Man and Four Dead in Ohio that got me into music in the first place in the 1970s.

But I have to say that his self-indulgent autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, which I am currently reading, offers no clues. It's all about his cars, his battle with weed, and his model train sets. Nor is there much solace in the existential nihilism of metal. Remember the guys from Metallica weeping with their therapist as they tried to sort out their stuff in the documentary Some Kind of Monster?

There are some signs of intelligent life out there. Brian May, lead guitarist with Queen, recently earned himself a doctorate in astrophysics. Even our own Graeme Downs, from Dunedin's leading lights, The Verlaines, did his doctoral thesis on the music of Mahler. And the lyrics of Arcade Fire and Leonard Cohen offer hope.

As Leighton Smith finished eulogising his broadcasting mate, a commercial bustled him off the airwaves. It was an ad for The Mad Butcher: "You just can't beat the Mad Butcher's meat". Not a lot of meaning there. But Sir Paul would have seen the pathos and the irony in all of that. It's a long way to the shop if you want to rock'n'roll.