Around Christmas time last year I started work on a guide to things you need for the perfect road trip. It was to be a mix of cool tools and useful apps. I tested Wi-Fi hot spots, navigation and stargazing apps, camp stoves, camp chairs, and, on a whim, I asked Orangewood to loan me a guitar. What sort of road trip is complete without belting out some awful cover songs around the campfire?
Orangewood is one of those rare companies that manages to make a high-quality guitar without the high price, a market that better-known brands like Martin and Taylor have thus far not chased. Orangewood obliged my request, sending me the Oliver Jr, a beautiful mahogany guitar that’s three-quarters the size of a regular instrument, perfect for playing in the back seat. And at only $195, it’s not so expensive that you’re afraid to just throw it into the car when you hit the road.
It would have been perfect to play in the woods, around the campfire. It still will be one day, but in the meantime, 2020 had different plans. Road trips were postponed. The world got small—for many of us, not much bigger than our living rooms. The Oliver Jr suddenly felt out of place, a reminder of a kind of normal that threatens to never come back.
The little guitar taunted me at times. Remember when we could hit the road without another thought? Remember when crowds could gather? When we didn’t wear masks everywhere?
I grew up just south of Los Angeles in the 1980s and ’90s. Much of the punk rock movement happened within a few miles of my home. Punk rock had a huge influence on my life. Those sweaty, tightly-packed bars and clubs were where I grew up. Former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, a fixture of the LA punk scene, once remarked that music is made by those it saves. Perhaps a touch dramatic, but it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say music saved me a time or two, and I in turn felt obligated to make a little of it. I played in punk bands around the LA area for years before moving back east.
That was a long time ago by any measure, but as Covid-19 spread through 2020, that wonderful world of ’80s and ’90s punk never felt further away.