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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones