Ann Arbour 15th April 2008

Morning flight from the lump strewn landscape of Tennessee up to flat Michigan, the sausage factory’s walls adorned with huge ads for visitor tours of the JD distillery. They encourage responsible drinking, apparently. What that means I will never unravel. Akin to considerate joy-riding. We try to find a soul station around Detroit in our fuck-the-climate vehicle with no luck. I hear something about a hot-dog eating contest and take in some morsels of PBS news. A little Obama chat breaks out among us.

Ann Arbour is Michigan’s Madeleine Stowe to Detroit’s Mae West. All a little too tidy and brittle. We browse a second-hand book shop filled with pristine cellophane-wrapped volumes. Peter turns us on to Wuthering Heights and I stifle the urge to mention Kate Bush with her dope and her washing machine. I pick up a tastefully presented copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, more through duty than curiosity. We file out unburdened by purchases and quickly lower our tone. There is much talking to be done in the US and most of it fuelled by sugar. I find myself quaffing copious amounts of Root Beer and eyeing Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups lasciviously.

The afternoon’s job happens in a cosy and cool recording room. I am immediately disarmed by their perfectly amassed collection of vintage instruments, microphones, amps and compressors. These are the kind of things that make men of my age come over all Jeremy Clarkson. I swear I feel a near lustful stirring as their engineer shows me his Neve mic-amps. This reaction is purely a kind of nostalgic regret for all the records I will never make and all the places I will never record some masterpiece. But to be surrounded by such five-star equipment as such a dime-a-dozen turn is a compliment and I smile through the experience and imagine I am Bob Dylan in Nashville in 1966. At least I am staring at a Neuman 67, the same mike he’s yelling into on the back cover of Highway 61 Revisited. I don’t doubt that I will ever come any closer than that.

Darkness leeches up into the clear Michigan sky from all points on the wide horizon, late and surprisingly slowly. Somebody suggested bowling later but this is later and I can feel the lag tugging me towards that comically bouncy Holiday Inn Super King Size. My mind goes back to the charming elderly German lady just beyond security at the Nashville International Sausage Factory this morning. As we reassembled our screened outfits she turned to me and asked, “Vood you like some help vith your suspenders?”

I had to decline and re-braced my sagging trousers with the image of myself asking her that same question thirty years ago. Oh, my good Frau, what a time we missed.