The fact that it’s a first world problem doesn’t make it any less true — coming back from vacation sucks. The better the trip, the harder the fall. I don’t know about you, but I can usually sense with bitter consciousness the spell slipping away in the days after getting back, like watching smoke dissipate when someone turns on a ceiling fan.
If you caught my musical away message, you already know that I spent last week in Greece. (And if you actually listened to that Yanni song I posted — wasn’t it kind of fun?) Mrs. YHT and I took something of a second honeymoon, splitting time between Athens and a pair of islands that were just obscenely beautiful. I mean look at that. It’s unreasonable. It’s the kind of vista that makes you feel unworthy. I bet the seagulls even feel lucky to live there. Leaving wasn’t easy, and memories of the near-pornographic views, the absurd amount of feta cheese I ate and the ocean of pleasure reading time I left behind have made for rough reassimilation.
But sandwiched between yesterday’s serving of “welcome back to the real world” reminders was a momentary reprieve — a lightness when the weight of routine and responsibility was settling back onto my shoulders. It came while I was taking “Central Time” — the lead single off Pokey LaFarge’s day-old self-titled album — for a test drive. For a short time, it felt like the tremendous gravity of everyday life didn’t apply to me. The song ended, and I went back to coming back to things, but that weightlessness felt so real, and it seems to me that there’s more at work here than just a happy-sounding song.
For one thing, the lyrics offer up a sturdy message of spacial self-determination. The narrator’s seen both of our continent’s longitudinal extremes, but prefers to “get by on Central Time” and sounds damn pleased with his decision. For someone who’s trying to shed jet lag and settle back into his own time zone — an adjustment that’s almost always imposed rather than undertaken with gusto — that type of satisfaction with one’s station is enviable, to say the least. But time zones aren’t the real reason “Central Time” seemed so antigravitational. Well, they are and they aren’t, I suppose.
Whether you’re going on an action-packed adventure with a group of friends or absconding by yourself to a mountain cabin to do nothing but read for a week, the important thing about a vacation is that you’re getting away. Going from here to there. This to that. And in some ways, Pokey’s brand of riverboat roots music feels like an escape from the present. If you wanted to be especially cynical, you could say that it’s nostalgic. A revival of something that’s been dead for decades. (I desperately wanted to link you to the scene from PCU when Jeremy Piven scolds the Sanskrit major for studying “a 5000-year-old [sic] dead language,” but the clip somehow isn’t on YouTube. You’ve failed me, Internet.)
Setting aside for a moment that Pokey’s songs would sound great no matter how they were drawn, I think it’s unfair to say his style is borrowed from another time. Different genres may have their heydays — see Age, Jazz — but carrying on a lapsed tradition doesn’t have to feel like a resurrection. Music isn’t technology. It doesn’t become obsolete. You can employ whichever style works for you, be that riverboat, classical, funk or folk — as long as it flows through you genuinely and you have something to bring to the table.
In that sense, Pokey isn’t departing from anything. He’s exactly where (and when) he wants to be. He floats through each song, oozing confidence and contentment that I’d kill to have implanted in my brain. When you think of the way Pokey’s taken the past and made it his present, “Central Time” becomes a brilliant metaphor that marries space and time and trumpets one man’s mastery of both. To me, it’s an incredibly inspiring message. If he can do it, so can you. We all have a “Central Time,” it’s just that some of us haven’t found it yet. It reminds me of the adage that “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.” I’m looking forward to finding my own “Central Time,” where (and when) the vacation never ends.
Preview the song below and click here to snag the album from iTunes.