BOOK REVIEW / Getting their kicks on Route 66: 'Coast to Coast: A Rock Fan's US Tour' - Andy Bull, Black Swan 5.99 pounds; 'American Heartbeat: Travels from Woodstock to San Jose by Song Title' - Mick Brown: Michael Joseph, 15.99 pounds

READING these two travel books predicated on the same conceit, I was cynically - and perhaps unfairly - reminded of the Christopher Logue quip: 'When all else fails - try Wales'. This could usefully be adapted to 'In search of esoterica? Try America', for the English response to the new-found land is invariably that of the 'Golly] Gee-whiz]' variety, a bizarre inversion of the Burberry-clad chorus that descends on our own scepter'd isle for the summer months.

Both Andy Bull and Mick Brown are affected by this sense of being strangers in a strange land. Both are reduced at different points in their respective odysseys simply to transcribing the far-out signage that they encounter, as if the imprecations of commercial evangelism and the sloganising of the hard-sell merchants are more redolent of the country than the country itself.

Bull's book is far more at fault in this respect. And when placed back-to-back with Brown's, what is most revealing is the impact of 'yoof' culture on the two writers' view of history. Bull belongs to the post- Woodstock generation, and as he pursues his trek from Athens, Georgia, west to California, then via Dylan's birthplace by the Great Lakes to New York and eventually Montreal, he is dogged by a persistent cynicism. It is a cynicism that owes its genesis to the musical trough he grew up in, between the idealistic polarities of hippie and punk.

But his, after all, is a 'Fan's Tour', and he carries all the attributes of the fan with him: a naive credulousness that is repeatedly being shattered by reality's hard impact. He really wants Elvis's buddies to be as mythic as the King himself, not just blowsy sentimentalists cashing in on the cult. On the West Coast he longs for sun, surf and girls, girls, girls, not rain, rain, rain and expensive Minnie Mouse dolls. He remains fixated to the end by a vision of the stars he worships as being regular guys, and holds up as an ideal the group R E M, who still manage to live in their home town with something like dignity.

However, Bull does make his journey more of a genuine lyrical exegesis than Brown's. He sticks to the places described in the pop songs, and along the way eagerly seeks out anyone who may have met the stars he admires. Some of the book's best passages concern his enthusiastic rediscovery of the mythic Route 66, which has been left to languish, a used-up vein beside the now teeming artery of the interstate.

Mick Brown's book is an altogether more considerable affair. For him the lyrics of America's popular songs are only a pretext for a deeper investigation of the culture. An older man than Bull, he is able to place the modern pop phenomenon in its correct context, and this book meanders well outside the restrictions of fandom to produce pithy observations of urban blight in the Rust Belt, the sinister grey market growth of the Sun Belt, Silicon Valley and much more.

Particularly revealing and well-investigated is Brown's recapitulation of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, wherein Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan locked antlers over the serpentine questions of Bible fundamentalism that still constrict American political life to this day. Brown does this kind of thing well, and is also good on place, producing a fine pen-portrait of a small town on the Great Plains, but it's difficult to see what the hell it has to do with popular song titles. More germane is his encounter with the Country and Western songwriter Harlan Howard in a Nashville bistro. It's no surprise to learn that the politically incorrect Howard, who penned Tammy Wynette's 'No Charge' among many other songs, has run through five marriages in his relentless quest for 'poontang', or tail.

Both writers visit many of the same places, survey the same events (Martin Luther King's assassination, the acid tests) and discuss the same figures, but Brown has the advantage of getting closer in every respect. He speaks to actual songwriters and performers, whereas poor Bull has to be content with the wannabes.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week