Rock: the start of the world as we know it

Click to follow
The Independent Online

You can check out any time you like", invited The Eagles, and this week REM opted to finish with rock'n'roll before it finished with them. As the band's lead singer, Michael Stipe, observed: "The skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave."

He is now of sufficiently advanced years to sign up for a Saga holiday. Churning out the same old rock anthems in Denver and Dortmund as part of a desperate attempt to shore up a rocker's pension fund cannot compare with what awaits the REM retirees: a "no deck-quoits till Madeira" tour aboard Saga Sapphire (part of a two-week cruise to the Canaries, £1,442).

On this page, Chris Leadbeater celebrates the life and locations of one of the many rock legends who failed to attain the upper age limit for a Club 18-30 holiday. Whether you seek the roots of Kurt Cobain in Washington state, or want to pay your respects to Elvis at Graceland in Memphis, rock'n'roll is the essential travelling companion through America. And that is because travel and music grew up together.

Rock'n'roll properly began in the autumn of 1958, when Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran converged on the UK charts. That was when jets first flew between Heathrow and New York's Idlewild (borrowed as an album title and band name, and nowadays JFK). By 1962, the Beatles were recording and the fare to New York fell below £100 for the first time; in the same year, the British Universities North America Club (Bunac) was founded, enabling students to visit the promised land on working holidays.

Two years later, the Rolling Stones introduced Britain to Route 66, the most enduring musical travelogue of all time. Anyone curious to see if Oklahoma City was "oh so pretty" was in luck: Greyhound Bus Lines hit its prime (and its 50th anniversary). It was aboard a Greyhound bus that Paul Simon "counted the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike" in 1968. Today the singer qualifies for a 5 per cent discount on buses. Just as well: when he hits 70 next month he may have problems renting a car.

All rock-inspired journeys seem to end in the same place: if I may, B-sides the seaside on the Californian coast. From MacArthur Park in San Francisco, make (or bake) your way to San José. Further south at 1260 Channel Drive in Santa Barbara, see if you can ever leave the Four Seasons Biltmore – according to rock legend, the Eagles' model for Hotel California. Then catch a wave and harmonise with the Beach Boys via Pacific Palisades and La Jolla to Del Mar on the edge of Mexico.

Last weekend, Brian Wilson was on stage at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank ("America may be our home, but London is our home town," as one of his backing band ingratiatingly claimed). The Beach Boy who sadly seemed to surf straight from studio to senility told his audience that he wrote "God Only Knows" 45 years ago, in 45 minutes.

Travel at 45rpm, indeed. Pop music provided the soundtrack to our travelling lives. God only knows where we'd be without it.