Each night, I read to my daughter from a series of books entitled Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. I’d recommend it highly to anyone looking for a new bedtime reading routine. The stories are consistently inspiring, and there’s one I keep thinking about when listening (and repeatedly re-listening) to Gold Connections’ new song “Iowa City.”
We owe our understanding of plate tectonics and continental drift in large part to an American geologist named Marie Tharp, who painstakingly compiled sonar measurements and seismographic data to chart the topography of the Atlantic Ocean floor. To that point in history, people thought it was a flat slab of mud. No rift valleys or trenches of terrifying depth. Just… mud. It’s amazing how spectacularly wrong we can be before someone like Tharp comes along and puts the pieces together for us.
Every time a place is named in “Iowa City,” from the title city to New Mexico, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, I hear the “ping” of a sonar reading. All the places we visit, all the people we get to know, all the conversations with those people… they’re all readings that end up forming the topography of our selfhood. We bounce off the world, and in turn, we’re shaped by it. And the more we listen, the more our capacity for understanding expands.
“Iowa City” is a breakup song with layers; Gold Connections frontman Will Marsh has said it concerns both an actual breakup and the sudden stop to touring that came with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. A feeling of loss is present throughout, with lyrics like “It’s just the way it goes” and “What else can I do,” and harmonica that sounds distant, as if it’s coming from a past that’s receding from view. Meanwhile, the references to driving offer bitter reminders of how the vans that should be hauling amps and snare drums across the country are parked in driveways and rental car parking lots.
The road may go on forever, as Robert Earle Keen famously put it, but we’re not always on it. It strikes me that the current shutdown means our sonar readings are internal. Cut off from new places, people, and experiences, we’re left to map the trenches of our present and past. I have to think that’s a factor in this moment of collective reckoning we’re experiencing around racism, Confederate monuments, and police brutality. In ways that are both personal and political, so many people are putting the pieces together to draw a new map of what America really looks like. I think Marie Tharp would approve.
Speaking of the ongoing demonstrations around race and policing, there’s another great reason to download “Iowa City” today: Sales through the end of June are being donated to the National Bail Fund Network in “solidarity with everyone fighting on the front lines for racial and economic justice in America.”
I’d also recommend checking out this gorgeous lyric video for “Turn,” one of the tunes from last year’s excellent Like a Shadow EP.