'Fly’ The Chicks

Victoria O’Brien
Desert Island Dispatch

Over the weekend, when it became apparent that we are officially headed for summer, I got a little touch of spring fever. I started planning a road trip and since then, I’ve been thinking about albums I like listening to in the car, and about car culture and driving culture.
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade living and working in a city that is, in so many ways, the epitome of American car culture, Los Angeles. I grew up close enough to a different city to have ridden Amtrak and SEPTA trains, so it always let me miffed to see just how unfriendly LA is to walkers and public transit fans. It’s basically, get in your car or don’t go anywhere fun, at all, ever, which seems a little antithetical when you consider it’s a major city. But more than that, it annoys me to no end knowing there were plans developed by the Olmsted brothers (Frederick designed Central Park) to better integrate the city’s natural wetlands and varied ecosystems into its urban planning, which were disregarded in favor of developing the city’s freeway system post-war. And if you’ve had the grave misfortune of visiting LA at any time of year other than Christmas Day, you understand its freeways are a lost level to Dante’s Inferno.
This isn’t to say I don’t love driving because I adore it. I grew up on back country roads and rural highways, and always found a drive could clear my head. I think it’s fun. It’s the best. All the metaphors equating driving to freedom are true, however tired, and I’ve been rediscovering the joy in it here, where driving isn’t nearly so madcap. What I don’t love is wasting hours in traffic. I resent having semi-regular near death experiences on on-ramps.
The upside to spending so many years sitting in traffic is that I have worked out some of my favorite records to play front to back. One of them is “Fly” by The Chicks, which came out when I was just a little girl, and which I rediscovered a few summers ago when I was 25 after eschewing country music for the lure of the electric guitar. I listened to “Fly” again this past weekend a couple of times and got stuck on the way a song — and, by extension, an album — can capture the feeling of a season. I only think of summer when I listen to “Fly” and those are the memories it conjures first and foremost for me: fishing in the creek at my grandfather’s cabin upstate, driving with my mom to one of the barns she worked at or maybe a horse show, young love, hunting fireflies an August wedding, Julia Roberts movies… you get the picture.
The song everyone knows from that album, of course, is the murder ballad ‘Goodbye Earl.’ Even people who claim to hate country music know that one! I recently told my mom about a tweet I saw where a girl said every woman in a bar sang along to it without missing a beat. But the song I’ve always loved most — even when I was small, long before I ever fell in real love or knew what it could be — is ‘Cowboy Take Me Away.’
As I’ve grown older, my views on love have shifted. It’s certainly become more complex than this column can hold, and while there’s still an immature part of me that enjoys being ‘in love’ and the rush that comes with it, I’ve also grown more pragmatic and tired of the perils and pitfalls of modern dating. When I was young, I think ‘Cowboy’ ticked all the boxes for my ‘ideal’ partner, some perfect man I’d very innocently dreamt up in, who would someday come and sweep me off my feet, who would be good and kind and grounded, who would be my proverbial Prince Charming. As an adult, I better understand the nuance behind it, having grown weary of superficial personalities in cutthroat industries myself and also having learned that the stories aren’t real and the only driving force of change in your own life is yourself. But it tickles something in me even now, listening to it again as I write. George Carlin once said that if you scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disillusioned optimist. Perhaps a working corollary is if you ask a cynic to listen to this song — and the album its on — you’ll find a disillusioned romantic.