Built for Speed Reading

Ridin' writin' for rolling rockers and travelin' fans

Hey, hit the highway. Get outta town. Life is a field trip. The adventure never ends. On the road. Again.

And there exist a thousand other buzz phrases mating trips (sans drugs) with rock music. I remember a few years ago, cruising up the New Jersey Turnpike about 10:00 at night. Every few yards there appeared another exit, but none of them led anywhere. No towns, just exits, except one, which had a liquor store at the end of the ramp, so we stocked up and pushed on, eager for rest but motel-less, told nothing about where to go by the booze clerk. As we drove straight into night we saw the sign, marking an endless patch speckled with a few white-light dots: FREEHOLD. We didn't actually see the town, but we could feel it, a sprawl of darkness on the edge of the highway that was the birthplace of Bruce Springsteen -- his hometown.

We felt chrome-wheeled and fuel-injected (even though we were running a rental) as we bore east toward the shore. The next day in the crystal glow of morning by the ocean we strolled the boardwalk, stared stupidly at Madam Marie's, hit the arcade where those crazy boys played pinball all night and all day. I intentionally use the past tense because Asbury Park, even then, was as dead as a stone pony.

Every step we took in Asbury Park was buoyed by a remembered riff, a verse or lyric, each memory more real than popular music has any right to be. I swear to God there was a crazy lady on the boardwalk screaming at the ocean, that it was on fire, but we could only pretend fireworks were falling over little Eden, which wasn't difficult to do, not when you're young and in love and born to run. Rock and roll, believe it or not, has a place in this world.

Dave Walker's is so big a rival publisher feels compelled to comment that it "won't fit in a glove compartment." It's 260 pages in the seven-by-ten-inch format. His rival's is 229 pages at six-by-nine inches. A small consideration, but Joyce Stein at Pharos Books, publisher of A.M. Nolan's Rock 'N' Roll Road Trip, brings it up nonetheless. "Ours is more of a travel guide," the chipper publicist says. "It's easier to put in a travel bag. I put mine in my glove compartment because I never know when I might be in Connecticut or New Jersey, looking for something to do."

The size difference is less important than sheerly amazing coincidence number one: Two authors on opposite sides of the nation each come up with an idea for a first book. It's the same idea, a good idea: put rock and roll (and related musical forms) on the map. Walker's American Rock 'N' Roll Tour and Nolan's Rock 'N' Roll Road Trip both deliver vacation icing drizzled coast-to-coast for anyone who craves traveling music trivia that sometimes maybe isn't so trivial.

There is very little, but some, overlap, such as the first entry in both tomes' Miami sections:

Walker's Tour: "Cedars of Lebanon Medical Center, 1400 NW Twelfth Avenue, Miami. Reggae great Bob Marley died here, of cancer, in 1981."

Nolan's Trip: "Cedars of Lebanon Medical Center, 1400 NW 12th Ave. On May 11, 1981, Bob Marley died here of cancer -- seven months after he was first diagnosed with the disease."

The clearest disparity in the two writers' approaches is that Walker's is funnier and broader in tone, Nolan's more detail- and underground-oriented. Many of Walker's entries read like compressed feature stories, including the tale of how the Ronettes were discoverd by Murray the K while working with Joey Dee and the Starlighters at what is now the Crab House on the 79th Street Causeway. Nolan, on the other hand, cites Churchill's Hideaway as a landmark, mentioning the Goods, the Mavericks, and Charlie Pickett.

One lesson here is that you can't get enough of a good thing -- it's worthwhile to pay the toll for both books (Walker's is listed at $13.95, Nolan's a dollar more). There are few better ways to taste reality than to simply hit the road. Of course, a soundtrack doesn't hurt. And these guides certainly help make the cruise more interesting. Ironically enough, neither author actually drove around to the various cites -- Walker took airplanes, Nolan used Amtrak.

Another lesson is that there's no such thing as an original idea. "All around the country you could hear foreheads being slapped by palms," says Walker from his office in Phoenix, Arizona. "`Jeez, that's a good idea.'" Nolan, a New Yorker, says, "I love music. I love to travel. And I hadn't seen anything like this done before. A friend was going to Minneapolis, and we thought how great it would be to know where the Replacements or Prince did this or that."

Sadly, no one involved sees anything conspiratorial or juicy, a rip-off or spying, or a possible script pitch for All My Children or Another World. "I had the idea about three years ago," Abby Nolan says. "I finally got around to doing the proposal in the summer of '91. I have a friend who's an agent, and the idea was sold that summer. Then I started trying to find information from any source: books, newspapers, magazines; I tried to interview some of the main people, tried to get great photos, any means necessary."

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