It’s a little hard to believe that, 30 years ago, this song fueled me and two brothers named Mike and Chris on a bootstrap cross-country bike adventure. In the summer of 1983, the three of us rode Greyhound from Baltimore to Seattle with our bikes, then rode them back to the East Coast. Our plan was “stay close to the Canadian border,” and the ethic was “go in the direction anyone suggests, if they can provide a good reason, and they’re pointing east.” It worked like a charm.
At every jukebox we found for some 3,000 miles, we played two songs. One was “On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson and this was the other one. “Back on the Chain Gang” had an extra special meaning to me. Every time Chrissie Hynde sang the lyrics, “I saw a picture of you-ou,” I thought of Julia Coster, a woman I cared for a lot back then.
It’s a long story, but for many good reasons she didn’t make that trip. You could say that in 1983 I was kind of like “the pigeon from hell.” Don’t ask me to explain.
Flash forward 16 years, to 1997: I got to visit Julia and her husband, Steve, in Anchorage, Alaska, when I was up there, doing a story. Flash forward 16 more years, to 2013: The weekend before last, Julia and Steve visited Donna and I when they were here in the lower 48, bouncing between college graduations of their daughters.
They spent a night with us. I made crab cakes for dinner and we had a nice hike the next morning on Mill Mountain, then we had lunch from the Co-op before they went on their way. Catching up was fun.
Donna was a apprehensive in advance of their visit — I was still carrying a torch for Julia when Donna met me, at the end of that bike trip. Donna didn’t feel that way by the time they left, though. They’re great folks. Feelings ebb greatly over three decades. They never totally die — and that’s good, one of the many things that make us human.
There’s something about music, though — it attaches to memories. And it transports you back like a time machine. Wow.