I wrote and recorded a song about traveling, which I’ve shared below. If you’d like to give the song a listen without further reading, go for it! The following text is just a little background about the song.
The lyrics came to me, nearly all during the same session, after I completed a summer mostly on the road for field research, just after I got back home after another week-long (but vacation-related) road trip. I’ve been recently listening, and re-listening, to many songs by Townes Van Zandt, a songwriting folk musician who lived from 1944 to 1997. Though some of his songs were performed by quite famous people, like Willie Nelson (who sang Van Zandt’s ‘Pancho and Lefty’), Van Zandt himself seemingly didn’t attract a particularly large audience despite regularly performing, at mostly small venues, nearly to the end of his relatively short life. I feel lucky that I heard his name mentioned, in an interview, by another one of my favorite musicians (Devendra Banhart).
Van Zandt produced, without question, many of the most impactful, thought- and feeling- provoking songs that I’ve heard. There is a sincerity about his way of communicating that, to me at least, is endearing. And his songs often tell poignant stories, including those that are funny and/or sad, which I appreciate.
Another reason, I think, that Van Zandt’s music has resonated so much with me is that his lyrics often focus on being on the road as a traveling musician. Though not as a musician, I have been on the road a lot in the last ten or so years. For wildlife-related projects and/or graduate school, I’ve worked in 11 U.S. states. During several summers (including this one), I’ve spent months living out of my vehicle and/or out of a tent to be close to the wildlife that I’ve studied. This has caused me to on hundreds of occasions be a stranger in a new place, usually in little towns where I’m easily noticed, getting to know it for a short while before moving on. Van Zandt’s lyrics often describe a love for the road that is mixed with sadness about leaving loved ones behind. I relate to that. Here is one of his travel-focused songs (‘Snowin’ on Raton’; I also recommend the interview in that video).
When I wrote ‘Traveling Song,’ I drew not only from my own experiences but also from what I’ve learned from, and imagined about, people like Van Zandt. People who, it seems to me, spent their life traveling to pursue beauty and freedom that, to some degree, harmed themselves and others.