I’ve long used Google Timeline, as I’m curious about just how far I do travel, and totting up some numbers for 2018 so far – and by chance, today is the day 100 of the year – provided some eye-opening numbers, going on the fact that I haven’t really gone very far this year, so far.
So: I’ve walked 238.30 miles/383.51km, travelled on the Underground/Suburban trains for 890.30 miles/1432.80km, travelled on buses/coaches for 483.10 miles/777.47km, on longer-distance trains for 481.30 miles/774.58km, flown 1381.00 miles/2222.50km, been driven 36.90 miles/59.38km, gone on Cable Cars for 2.30 miles/3.70km, and up-and-down a Funicular for 1.60 miles/2.57km.
That’s a total of 3514.80 miles/5656.52km in just 100 days, and I’ve only left Greater London four times so far. Perhaps it is a reminder, too, of how big a city London is.
Anyway. There are a great many songs that mention distance, as I found out when I asked the question on Facebook some months ago (and thanks to everyone who offered suggestions, as ever), but not all of them were particularly relevant. See, I had a plan. And it goes an awfully long way.
Let’s go for a ride.
amodelofcontrol.com on Facebook
4 1/2 Inch
Distance: 4.5″ = 0.0001143km
Ok, so it’s not exactly about distance – apparently the title is a reference to the song, according to Mark E. Smith, “sounding a bit like Nine Inch Nails”, and indeed the song itself seems broadly to be about a Force 10 gale, or something like that. But, I wanted something with a short distance measured, and they are surprisingly hard to come by. So trust The Fall to provide me with a song that I can use as a point to start with, from their hundreds of songs (seriously, are there any bands with more songs in their discography, I wonder?). It is actually a pretty great song, with a scuzzy, partially electronic rhythm and layers of distortion and squalling feedback obscuring what is really going on.
Either way, we’ve not exactly moved too far forward.
Give Him A Ball (And A Yard Of Grass)
Casual Sex in the Cineplex
Distance: 1 yd = 0.0009144km
We’re not going to move much farther forward with The Sultans of Ping F.C., either, at least not in one go. This is perhaps timely, with me about to rejoin Real Gothic FC at Whitby in a couple of weeks (for my 24th appearance, in fact), and it could be considered that football is all about short gains in distance, as you move forward and backward as a player and as a team, often only a few yards at a time. My own position as a winger (ok, Right Midfield, I play as #7), mind, means I often have to run an awful lot more than that.
This song, by the way, is apparently about Nigel Clough, the Derby and Forest legend Brian Clough’s son who went on to be a handy, perhaps unsung player and is ploughing a similarly underappreciated furrow as a manager nowadays in the East Midlands.
Rid of Me
Distance: 50ft = 0.01524km
One of PJ Harvey’s greatest, most blistering songs, it is also a blitzkrieg of female power, subverting the male message. That male “message”? One of exaggeration, bravado, ever-increasing, er, measurements and distances, and here she switches it ’round to a pummelling force, where the women is vastly more powerful, and bigger. PJ Harvey at the time was young, angry and seemingly didn’t give a fuck what people thought, and was all the better for it. But as she has proved in later years, she is also a musical chameleon, shifting styles (and image) by the album as she restlessly looks for more inspiration. And, as much as I like much of her later material, the stark rage of that early work is still so, so thrilling. 50ft tall? She towers so much higher of much of British music of the past twenty-five years.
Nightmare at 20,000 ft
Cure for Sanity
Distance: 20,000ft = 6.096km
I was eighteen before I flew in a plane, and perhaps if I’d done that first flight earlier, I wouldn’t have disliked it so much for the first few flights. I hated the feel of takeoff, I hated landing, and I wasn’t great with the bits inbetween, either. I’ve got much better in the two decades-and-a-bit more since – my main problem nowadays is boredom, especially Transatlantic, seeing as I have never been able to sleep more than a few minutes at a time when I’m travelling – but I don’t think I’ll ever been entirely comfortable on a flight.
Which, of course, is a rather better than the Poppies felt on this oft-forgotten song from their most electronic album Cure for Sanity, as they detail every single thing that might and could go wrong, as their mind gets way ahead of them. I’d suggest they’d be flying at rather higher than 20,000ft – but of course that the title is a reference to a Twilight Zone episode…
Distance: 30,000ft = 9.144km
Speaking of which…Tom Shear is at a more realistic height, still in a plane, and a song with a desperate, terrifying story. Assemblage23 songs have rarely shied away from death, often indeed tackling it head on, but few of his songs have ever quite had the emotional hit of this. The vocal is, basically, a one-sided phonecall from someone on a plane that is going down, and wants to say goodbye before they die. The first time I heard it, even though the ending of the song was perhaps telegraphed, it was still an almighty shock.
And yes, the idea of dying in a plane crash still scares the shit out of me even now, even if I know the chance is infinitessimally small.
Waiting for Bonaparte
Distance: 364 miles = 585.80km
From an album I vividly remember from my childhood – my dad bought it when it came out, and it was played a lot in the house, strangely I still remember quite a bit of it, but not this one. In the mid-eighties, there was still a considerable fear of nuclear war, and indeed any other nuclear technology, and this song rather plays on that, as it follows the journey of a nuclear flask train from Sellafield down, apparently, to Dungeness Power Station, through the night to avoid protests – even if I dispute some of the routeings (Bosworth hasn’t had anything other than a small stub of a preserved railway for decades), Railmiles.me helpfully was able to calculate the most direct route to give an idea of how far this train would travel.
(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles
Sunshine on Leith
Distance: 500 miles = 804.672km
This will be a song I’ll hear in an entirely appropriate context at Whitby, at a certain eighties night, in a few weeks time, and generally the only time I hear it each year is there, once in April and once in October/November. It is, really, a simple song of love and devotion, and the 500 miles is simply part of the distance he will travel for his love – and from the first note to the last, it is one hell of an earworm.
Incidentally, my friend Kynon, who has a troubled relationship with this song (to put it mildly), and was one of the ushers at my wedding, comes from (and got married in) Stonehaven, a town that is…504 miles by rail from my local station Finsbury Park.
Distance: 2,448 miles = 3,940 km
I could have picked just about any version of this, but Berry’s version is perhaps the most iconic – nowadays a rock’n’roll standard that immortalised a route that only actually existed for sixty years, but packed in an awful lot of history and importance in that time. Intriguingly enough the song has now lasted longer than the road did (it was first released in 1946).
My wife and I have been to two locations on Route 66 – curiously enough at each exact end, at Santa Monica Pier on the Pacific, and the intersection of Adams/Michigan in Chicago. I really should get on with exploring more of the places inbetween sometime.
2000 Light Years Away
Distance: 2,000 Light Years = 18,921,460,945,161,600 Kilometers
OK, so it’s a bit of a jump from Route 66, and while it is a long way, NASA have found another solar system about 2,000 Light Years away in recent years. Billie Joe Armstrong had more down-to-earth ideas, though, as the title is simply teenage exaggeration of boredom and loneliness, as his girl is far away from him, which might as well be somewhere else in the Universe. That said, this more innocent, fun sounding Green Day is still rather wonderful to hear again – and haven’t they changed as a band over the decades. Oh, and just to make you feel old, Green Day have been around for nearly three decades. Fuuuck.
Across The Universe
Let It Be
Distance: 93 billion light-years = 8.8×1023 kilometres
Ok, I’m going to come clean – I don’t really like the Beatles version of this song much, but that might be because the sitars and orchestration all sound a bit cluttered nowadays, after hearing it performed as one of the most extraordinary songs I’ve ever heard live. But this was at the Tate Modern, where Mina Špiler of Laibach wove a spellbinding song amid a galaxy of starry lights, and left a room of jaws on the floor (and thankfully, mostly silent, reverent awe). The distance here, by the way, comes from this helpful Wiki page, and it is an unimaginably long way. If I had to travel it, I could do worse than having this gorgeous version playing on repeat as I crossed the stars.