“Will you get out of my way, my dear? I’m running faster than I ever have”
When Paul Collins and I became friends in 1990, we made some music and I helped him wire the lights on his sailboat. I played on his album; he helped me on my first studio session with Tom Mallon that begat “Bad Black Lonesome.” By the end of the year, he planned to move to New York where his family lived. He invited me to ride along on a road adventure with our guitars and a short list of people we could call along the way.
His car had no radio, but we found a Becker brand tape player from someone’s Mercedes. I got it working and so we were set for tunes. Paul finished his album and we hit the road that night. We spent a few days in Tempe, resting in a cinder-block house with a swamp cooler, and went to see a local band called the Gin Blossoms. We nearly broke down in Tucson. We slept in the rest stops, made coffee on a camp stove, and drove forever through Texas. Paul and I called ourselves The Wandering Minstrels, and we would play anywhere, anytime, whether people wanted music or not. We sang for our Thanksgiving dinner. More stops in Austin, Houston, and New Orleans. Driving through the swamps inspired “See Green Like Never Seen.”
I had packed light – I had my 12-string guitar, a duffle bag, a crate of cassettes, and a copy of Kerouac’s On The Road. I read passages aloud, as if I was narrating a translation of what we were up to. Our road trip was much less frantic and fraught, but we too were out there trying to “FIND” something, while getting away from something. Paul was regrouping after a breakup, and I was looking for the next dream to hitch my wagon to, and fast. I still had my room in San Francisco, but I knew I wasn’t going home for a little while.
In New Orleans we picked up a show, and for a soundcheck spontaneously came up with the bones of the song “Annalisa.” After a week there, we very nearly settled in to rent a decent apartment in the French Quarter for $250. Paul changed his mind. We rolled through the eerie empty streets of Mobile. Next was Atlanta, where our host Brett was on LSD and took us around to phone network boxes, offering a chance to make free long distance calls on a lineman’s handset. He said we could crash at his place, but he had recently accidentally set fire to his kitchen and Paul thought he would kill us in our sleep. We got a hotel.
In Athens, we said that we were the band when we were asked if we were the band at a lunch cafe. Then the owner showed up and said they don’t have a band, not now, not ever. Then a few hours later we hustled our way into a gig with Miracle Legion, the night that inspired “Our Last Waltz.” We spent many hours in the car, and by now the copy of On The Road had gotten wet, the swollen book spread out in my hands, still readable. So I jumped in, reading to Paul from random chapters.
Back in San Francisco the following spring, in a new home with new housemates, I was beginning a new chapter of my San Francisco life. I pieced together images and mostly-borrowed bits from Jack Kerouac, starting with the title, “On The Run.” As the song came together, I dropped all the obvious references, and had my own song and lyrics. Kerouac spoke of “raw fog” which inched its way into my song.
By then I had the beginnings of my 4-track studio where I made my first album. “On The Run” was the first recording where I thought, “This is it, I’ve finally got something worthwhile here!” I was so excited, playing it for my friends, and pressed it up on my first 45rpm. I was on my way with a fever to make songs and even more importantly, the recordings.
“Take me where I’ve never been, with the chance to start again
Life is only a ride, just take it in stride, I’m on the run”
"On The Run" - Chris von Sneidern, all instruments and vocals.
Released 1991 Mastromonia Records MVS-001, available here
Chris von Sneidern is a musical artist living in San Francisco.