"Drive South" / John Hiatt
Sometimes when a John Hiatt song comes up on my iPod, I wonder why I ever listen to anybody else. My homeboy Hiatt has a way of pouring straight into my heart and soul and guts, and I'm utterly resistless.
One of the things I love about "Drive South" is that it's a car song and a love song, where the crazy joy of hitting the road is perfectly mingled with the crazy joy of being in love. He wants the girl, hell yeah, but he also really wants the car. The tempo has energy, but it's still relaxed enough to give you a smooth ride, and those drums tick along like a well-tuned carburetor. Sonny Landreth's little fills on the steel guitar flick in and out like tree branches and fence posts whipping past. And when John slides into that chorus -- "C'mon baby, drive south / With the one you love" -- he lands on "south" and "love" with such soaring relief, it's like stepping on the gas. I get images of old Chevy commercials from the 60s, back in the days when we didn't worry about how many miles per gallon a car got.
And it's got that great ordinary folks touch that made this whole album, Slow Turning, such a keeper. It's perfectly realistic -- "I didn't say we wouldn't hurt anymore," he tells her from the get-go (love that miserable yelp on "hurt"), and he keeps bringing it up -- "We were always looking for true north" or "We've been trying to turn our lives around / Since we were little kids / It's been wearing us down." Sure, the trunk of their car is full of baggage. But that doesn't mean you have to give up, he insists. "We don't have to feel like dirt anymore / Though love's not earned, / Baby, it's our turn." John Hiatt understands more about how grace operates than most theologians, doesn't he?
Sure, there's a little defiance here -- "Gonna take our stand / In this Chevy van" -- but he tempers it with an infectious hunger for happiness: "Windows open on the rest of the world/ Holding hands / All the way to Dixieland." There's something old-fashioned and sweet there that really gets to me.
But the part that really gets to me? It's in the bridge, when John adds, in his growly register, "We could go down with a smile on / Don't bother to pack your nylons / Just leave those pretty legs showing / It gets hot down where we're going!" Whew. You know, I don't have my usual fangirl crush on John Hiatt -- I just love his music, honestly -- but every once in a while, he comes off with a line that just explodes with sexiness, and I'm thrown seriously off course. Oh, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny . . . let's hit the road, darlin'.
Drive South sample