Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
A lot of people casually mention journeys and the things learned along the way, as if either the journey itself or the lessons to have come from it were hard fought - gratifying only in that they came through suffering, through terrible sacrifice and hardship. It's the validation that means the most to them more than anything else. It's knowing that learning that one piece of critical knowledge, gaining that degree of betterment was the result of taking some contusions and lumps on the head. The lesson itself was trying to beat itself into them, but there was no willing receiver at the other end of the line, so the stumbling and the resistance continued cockily. But the journeys don't really need to have a purpose, just a richness. They don't need to be a means to an end or a struggle to the end. They can just be as Jesse Elliott, the lead singer and songwriter of Washington, D.C.-based band These United States, sees them: the optimum way to get to whatever needs to happen next. It's an arbitrary setting that he's tapped into, this drive to keep driving, but letting the wheel swivel and back-track, off-road and plow straight forward in no logical manner. It's just about driving and about moving and inevitably there are lessons learned, but if they come easily or with difficulty, it's no matter whatsoever. There's no pride is something needing to be lost to gain anything in return. For Elliott, a man with a perpetually gleaming smile and the smarts of a Rhodes Scholar, there are the many qualities of Springsteen's "Born To Run" ethos, the unexplainable urgency to combat the fleeting impermanence of time's ticking by being relatively fleeting oneself - moving on and moving on, forgetting that we have two healthy shoulders that we could be using to look over. There are the additional qualities of gravitating toward fellow players who share that same mentality of forcing themselves to get to as many of those moments that are lived for and postponing the "deaths that we drift toward," even with all of the running momentum seemingly exacerbating the process. But this method never seems to speed up the inevitable death. All it does - and all of this, the movements and the efforts and the exhilarations are well-chronicled in the songs that the band writes and which are featured on its latest album Everything Touches Everything - is make disappointments passable, or just the context to make everything else sunnier. There is steel inside this man, iron in his bones and he's drawn to this merrier land where heavy eyes aren't hurt eyes, but just filled with light. He lives for those beautiful excerpts of exception, when we're pulled aside and we're able to feel our flesh and everything underneath express itself purely without wincing or fear of judgment. They often don't last for very long and perhaps that's one reason for all of the running, for the transient life of endless road and forgotten, or vaguely remembered scenery that gets taken in. As much retention is done as possible and that's what adds up, not the failures and the lessons at the ends of journeys, for there may never be an absolute end to the trip if it's done correctly.