Wichita is falling

In The Economist of 8/16/14, a piece on guitarist Pat Metheny on the occasion of his 60th birthday, “Guitar hero: A giant of the jazz world just keeps on innovating”, which gives me an excuse to mention his 1981 album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, because of its linguistically playful title and because of its role in my own life.

On the title, from Wikipedia:

As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls is a collaborative album by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, released in 1981. The title makes reference to Wichita, Kansas and Wichita Falls, Texas.

(Both phrases in the title have inverted word order, with the verb falls preceding the subjects — Wichita and Wichita Falls, respectively — rather than following them.)

An evocative review of the album, by Chip Stern on amazon.com:

Guitarist Pat Metheny and his longtime keyboard collaborator/alter ego Lyle Mays saw in their rural American roots a mystical connection to an entire world of sounds, and with As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, they began the process of fashioning an idiomatic folk expression all their own. With the help of master percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, they create a whistlestop tour of musical outposts on the extended title track that is at once gothic and atmospheric in the manner of Weather Report, bucolic and harmonious like the Byrds — with echoes of small towns, strip malls, and lonely railyards, over expanses of wide-open space that reflect their familial origins and countless miles wandering the interstate on a string of college-town one-nighters. In the four square major modes of “Ozark” and “It’s for You” you can hear the beige tinge of the American experience that melded with African American music to give the U.S. its musical depth and breadth, while “September Fifteenth” is a prayerful, ruminative reflection on the spirit of their romantic forebear, pianist Bill Evans.

Roughly the first half of the (very long) title track can he heard here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrmZPbIUat8

In September 1981 I set out by car from Columbus OH to go to Palo Alto, for a year as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. Far from my first trip to California — my parents moved there in 1961, I’d given talks at universities there and been to an assortment of meetings, conferences, and summer linguistics programs there over the years — but it was my first crossing by land.

One piece of advice friends gave me was to bring my own music for the trip and not to rely on what I could find on the radio. So I traveled with a tape player and a collection of tapes. Including As Falls Wichita, which had just come out. It was a welcome companion on my drive through the gorgeous but largely empty lands of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada.

I mapped out a route of 500-600 miles a day for 5 days, with stops at motels selected beforehand from the AAA travel books. The idea was to pace myself for the long haul; if I pushed myself to drive as long as possible each day, I’d be blasted by the end, and in fact by the time I got to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco from Reno (not a long drive at all, but challengingly downhill), I was very much not a safe driver, though I got to Stanford in one piece.

I’d set off in the morning just as dawn was breaking (the point being to avoid driving on interstates in the dark at either end of the day and to start off in the cool of the day), then stop for breakfast in mid-morning, and pull into the day’s motel early enough to get a chance to walk as much as possible and unwind before an early dinner.

In the great empty spaces, this meant starting off on a nearly empty road in the midst of desert and mountain. With As Falls Wichita capturing the feel of the landscape perfectly. Bouncier stuff — the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and so on — came later in the day.

 

2 Responses to “Wichita is falling”

  1. Dean Allemang Says:

    Interesting that we have never noticed that we are both fans – “…Wichita…” was a favorite of mine; when I started to read this, I wondered if the story was going to remind me that one of us had introduced the other to it, but I think we came to know one another much later on.

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