Long Red Road is another mish-mash of lyrical themes and musical ideas that I culled together over the years. I first came up with the banjo line when I was living in Brooklyn (i.e. about 5 years ago!), and I had completely forgotten about it until it all of a sudden reappeared very clearly in my mind just as we were beginning work on the album. This reminds me of how our grandfather, who had dementia in the last years of his life, could not remember where he was or who many of the people were around him, yet could conjure up any song that he had learned in his past without batting an eye. It’s as if melodies, rhythms, grooves are all just floating around us looking for an available portal to express themselves, even if that portal is not quite right in other ways!
In any case, Yann and I fleshed the tune out relatively easily as it was patently clear at the time what we wanted to do with it (it only took 4 years after the tune first came to me!): make it a sort of contemporary folk tune with west African percussion. We liked the idea of having a laid-back, melancholic clawhammer banjo line floating gently over rhythm guitar (played by Yann) and upright bass (played by Stephen Harrison), while Renaud Ollivier’s excellent calabash playing peppers the tune with just the right dose of west African groove. Finally, the charango comes in a little later for the extra sparkle we were looking for to conclude.
The lyrics of the chorus were inspired by a trip my wife and I made to Mali in 2010. We were very fortunate to have travelled around the country from Bamako up to Timbuktu and out to the Dogon country. All this before things took a dramatic turn for the worse several months later with the repeated kidnappings and now a coup d’├ętat and an explosive Touareg rebellion fueled by a hefty dose of Algerian islamism. When we weren’t on the Niger River, to get to and fro we would travel down long, seemingly endless stretches of rusty red, laterite roads. At one point between Timbuktu and Douentza, the AC in the 4×4 we were in stopped working, so we had to roll down the windows to escape the unbearable heat. The trade-off however, was that all the dust from the road was steadily blowing into the vehicle without us really being aware of it until we looked at one another and realized we were completely coated in crimson red!
I think the rest of the lyrics have to do with the strangeness of being able to travel all around the world so easily and never quite grasping what it all means. From the winter grey of Paris to the hot laterite of Mali and elsewhere, the driving notion is this idea of a “casual waltz through others’ lives”, i.e. to the Antipodes to leave behind your own issues. There’s no better therapy than a great trip! But a very strange phenomenon it is to be able to just land in someone else’s reality to escape your own.
Also, the line “I’ll show you how to live with fire in your eyes if my heart you show me how to protect” probably has something to do with adventure vs security both in terms of travel and in terms of relationships. Guess it’s love song meets travel chronicle, the latter of which leads me to why I chose to write a post about this song – because of its relevance to the current crisis in Mali. Perhaps there was some sense of premonition, at the very least in Timbuktu where the “casual waltz” of being an outsider, a traveller, a tourist was made tense and uneasy by the smoldering smell of conflict.
Argh. I’m stopping there as I’m probably getting ahead of myself.