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Dream Babies Go Hollywood, John Stewart

RSO, January 1, 1980

Track Listing: 1.  Hollywood Dreams, 2. Wind on the River, 3. Wheels of Thunder, 4. Monterey, 5. Odin: Spirit of the Water, 6. Lady of Fame, 07. The Raven, 8. Love Has Tied My Wings, 9. Nightman, 10. Moonlight Rider

After spending the night sleeping under the stars high in the Colorado Rockies we were now drifting down a brand new U.S. Route 34 through Big Thompson Canyon on a warm summer day in August. I popped the tape into the player for the first music of the day. The road was winding through the canyon that was barely wide enough to accommodate both it and the river. While descending we occasionally noticed the roofs of buildings barely sticking out of the small grassy fields that had sprouted up on the inside curves of the Big Thompson River.

We were settling in to another day of driving and adventure with no particular destination in mind. We eventually wanted to get to Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, but there was no timetable. Hell, there wasn’t even a predetermined route. There was a lot to see along the way and no obligations to anything. As long as we were driving we were making progress.

“I heard the highway whine when I was a kid
Dreaming of the long white line was all that I did
Oh, a man behind the wheel ain’t a man on the skids
Heard the highway whine when I was a kid”

-fromWheels Of Thunder

Watching the river and the scenery, we silently passed the giant boulder that was perched in a little turn-out. We were a bit past it when we glanced at each other and my friend, Paul, instinctively turned the car around. Neither of us had spoken a word. He stopped the car. We got out and walked over to the boulder. It had a bronze plaque affixed to it. It was a monument. The river had brought the big boulder to this spot the night of that horrific flash flood on July 31,1976. It was a 19-foot high wall of water that roared down the canyon and scoured every trace of human endeavor from the canyon.

As I remember it we could only see the monument peripherally as we were traveling downstream. But we both noticed it and it silently pulled us in to pay our respects to the 145 people who were swept away that night just a few years before almost to the day that we happened to drive by.

We got back into the car and the silence was broken when we both commented on how we could not have avoided stopping. As if we had any choice in the first place since we had been pulled over by forces greater than us. As we drove away the mix tape began to play again. After a few songs John Stewart’s “Wheels Of Thunder” began to play.

“A little taste of freedom and I was gone
A highway rider, I could not go wrong
Oh, those backseat nights when Sally was along
A little taste of freedom all night long

Yeah, to ride on the wheels of thunder
Taking over, now going under
Yeah, to ride on the wheels of thunder
Watch ‘em roll”

-fromWheels of Thunder

The tape ended about an hour later, we pulled over and stopped the car. We found ourselves on some high red rock plateau. It was beautiful, it was quiet, and it was absolutely desolate. We had taken a wrong turn after we left the canyon, but it didn’t matter. We were driving, we were making progress following the long white line. We would eventually get to Hollywood. It didn’t exactly matter when. “Wheels of Thunder” became the unofficial theme song of the journey from that point on.

“That old Chevy was all that I’d ever need
I had the moves and I knew that she had the speed
On those backseat nights when I was in by three
That old Chevy was all that I’d ever need”

-fromWheels of Thunder

John Stewart died of a brain aneurysm on January 19, 2008. Beside his recordings with the Kingston Trio, he made 40 solo albums. The album before Dream Babies Go Hollywood was a commercial success. Bombs Away Dream Babies had a big top ten hit, “Gold.” This album was just as good but for some reason it didn’t garner as much success. Stewart was an important influence in American folk and folk-rock music. An earlier work, California Bloodlines, is regarded as one of the best 200 albums by Rolling Stone magazine.

When I learned of his death, I could not let Stewart’s passing go unnoticed. Just like that summer day long ago, when I could not leave the canyon without offering respect.