A hitchhiker’s guide to the musical galaxy

When I was at university in the late 1960s hitchhiking was my preferred mode of transport. I remember thumbing it out of Reading headed for the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, only to be stranded at a roundabout outside Cardiff as dusk approached. In desperation I tried another exit and scored a lift – complete with ferry crossing – to the Isle of Wight where I spent the weekend on the beach. Another summer was spent thumbing around the Netherlands in a giant circle with the Paradiso in Amsterdam at the centre. In those hitchhiking years serendipity prevailed in the form of chance meetings and destinations, and as a result my life was infinitely enriched.

Similarly cultural hitchhiking was my preferred method of musical education in those far-off years. Sticking my thumb out on BBC Radio 3 brought a chance encounter with Boulez while travelling to Beethoven in the concert hall took me via Berg. Thumbing it in record shops opened up the world of Eastern music and a chance encounter in the cinema exposed me to the music of Mahler.

But the atomisation of our society into a dangerous and litigious jungle means that hitchhiking on the road has gone, and with it has been lost the infinite possibilities of chance meetings and destinations. Similarly a culture atomised by the onward march of the internet and dumbing-down has bleached our media, concert halls and record shops of those infinitely valuable chance musical meetings. Next week I will be in Nantes in western France again and for the first time since this blog started nine years ago readers will not benefit from my chance discoveries in the city’s priceless Harmonia Mundi boutique; it closed a few months ago, another victim of the corrosive power of the internet.

Fortunately all is not yet totally lost and that hitchhiker’s guide to the musical galaxy par excellence Prelude Records in Norwich still provides me and my readers with invaluable chance discoveries. My most recent find there is featured in the header graphic, an exquisite CD of new music in the classical tradition of northern India by Michel Guay and Prabhu Edouard. Fortunately Prelude Records seems to be in rude health, but I swear that if it ever succumbs to the onward march of the internet On An Overgrown Path will close as well. But enough of dark thoughts, it's time to take a break from blogging and indulge in some more musical hitchhiking - à bientôt.

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Pliable said…
It is worth noting that amazon.co.uk's price for Song of Benares is currently £7.99 compared with Prelude Record's price of £6.99.

As Amazon progressively force their bricks and mortar competition out of business they move to premium pricing. This insidious and clandestine strategy is just one of the corrosive impacts of internet retailing.
Pliable said…
A sign of the times? - I am told hitchhiking is now technically against the law in the states of Montana, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming and Wisconsin.
Back in '76 I hitchhiked from Land's End to John o'Groats, then down through Langue d'Oc - but when I got to Greece - no dice. Was told it wasn't part of the culture and ended up taking the bus and never seeing anyone trying.

As for today, wouldn't dream of trying - anywhere!
Anonymous said…
"But the atomisation of our society into a dangerous and litigious jungle means that hitchhiking on the road has gone"

I hear this a lot from old people, but I disagree. I got into hitchhiking six years ago, and I've now hitchhiked well over 100,000 km all over Europe and Asia. While I'll since moved on to bicycle touring for long trips, when I need to travel somewhere else in Europe quickly, hitchhiking remains my preferred way of getting around (as it is often faster than any paid form of overland travel). Many of my friends travel this way, when I get to a big city's hitchhiking point I often see others, and many of the guests who come to my home (I'm an active host in the hospitality exchange community) are arriving via hitchhiking.

Due to internet resources that tell you exactly what to get out of European cities (which bus to take and where to stand), hitchhiking is arguably easier than it has ever been before. If you don't see hitchhikers, it's likely because you don't keep your eye out for them, and because they aren't standing there waiting for long before they get into a car.

As far as the US goes, hitchhiking is with only a couple of exceptions never prohibited statewide. (State laws against soliciting a ride are written to a boilerplate that specifies standing in the road, while hitchhiking from the shoulder of the road is permitted). What complicates hitchhiking in the US are unpredictable local statutes where towns and countries are at variance with the liberal state laws.
Anonymous said…
My apologies for the several typos in my post. I am not used to commenting in fora where one cannot edit one's posts, and it appears I’ve grown lazy. If the moderator likes, he can correct "I’ll since moved on " to "I’ve since moved on", "what to get out" to "how to get out" and "countries" to counties".
Civic Center said…
Found myself in a rich part of the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs, etc. in California) last year wanting to go to a golf tournament, but I don't drive. Ended up taking a bus that left me seven miles from where I wanted to go. So I hitchhiked for the first time in decades and had a marvelous time, getting a ride most of the way with a Mexican laborer in a pickup and a rich old white retiree in a Cadillac on the way back to a bus stop. They were both charming in very distinct ways, and brought back memories of some of the joys of hitchhiking and its serendipitous moments. Thanks for the confirmation.

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