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November 12, 2008

Book Notes - Greg Melville ("Greasy Rider")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

In Greasy Rider, Greg Melville undertakes a cross-country trip in a biodiesel-powered car. The book is adequately subtitled "Two Dudes, One Fry-Oil-Powered Car, and a Cross-Country Search for a Greener Future," because it has a much larger scope than the trip itself. Melville searches out green fuel options and in the process has written an essential book for the ecologically-minded.

Since finishing Greasy Rider, I have lent it to two teenagers, one is now searching for his own biodiesel car, and the other has proclaimed Greg Melville a "hero of our times." Definitely high praise for an important (and enjoyable) book.

In his own words, here is Greg Melville's Book Notes essay for his book, Greasy Rider: Two Dudes, One Fry-Oil-Powered Car, and a Cross-Country Search for a Greener Future:

Greasy Rider is the rollicking, white-knuckle, knock-you-over-it’s-so-funny (hey, this is my essay, so I can describe the book any way I want) recollection of a road trip I took with my old college buddy Iggy. We drove across the country in a rusty old diesel Mercedes wagon powered by waste french fry grease we begged, borrowed, and, um…begged from restaurants along the way. It’s also an investigation of other sustainable resources—like wind, solar, geothermal—already at our disposal. The gist is that if two mechanically-challenged goobers like us can get across the country in a car powered by the dregs of deep fat fryers, surely there are other easy-to-access ways to reduce our carbon footprint (and by extension, our dependence on foreign oil, and on fossil fuels in general). It’s the most fun you’ll have reading about global warming. I promise. Don’t believe me? Ask the legendary Neil Peart, of Rush. He reviewed it on his blog—something I randomly stumbled across yesterday, during my hourly ritual of obsessively googling the search terms “greasy rider, book, review, good.” Money quote from the greatest drummer (sorry, Ringo) who ever lived: “So the book is part picaresque road story (always a hit with this reader!) and part serious investigation of energy issues—the way it really is, without the wishful thinking, or simply wrong thinking, that is so often expended on these topics.” I’m not sure what picaresque means, but I’m pretty sure it’s a compliment (though I admit that it startles me to know that a rock star has a much better vocabulary than I do). Peart has written a few road trip books himself, by the way.

As you know, every self-respecting road trip must have a soundtrack, and mine was no different—though the sound quality could have been better. The wagon’s stereo system consists of an ancient factory-installed Blaupunkt, which was probably pretty Bitchin’ during the Reagan administration, and three working speakers. Its days of blasting tunes in stereo have also long-since passed. Here’s my playlist of songs—many of which are mentioned in Greasy Rider.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: "The Sinister Minister"
My wife and I bought our cream-colored 1985 Mercedes 300TD wagon from a young woman an hour south of our Burlington, Vermont home. During our test drive, I hand-cranked open the sun roof, and cranked up the Blaupunkt as I hit the gas pedal and headed down a dirt mountain road. "The Sinister Minister" crackled through the three working speakers. Perfect. Grooving to the funk-meets-bluegrass sounds of Bela Fleck is the most fun a yuppified Vermont pseudo-hippie can have without a bong nearby.

Willie Nelson: "On the Road Again"
I had originally planned to read Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” to kick off my road trip with Iggy—but wisely decided to play “On the Road Again” instead. Our connection to the Red-Headed Stranger was just too great, given that he’s such a huge proponent of vegetable oil and biodiesel power.

“Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway.
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world be turnin’ our way
And our way
Is on the road again.”
Now, Iggy and I will never be accused of being best friends, but the words were appropriate enough.

Cindy Lauper: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"
To be very, extremely, utterly clear, I’m not recommending this song. But I feel it must be included. We weren’t even 10 miles into the trip before Iggy connected his portable satellite radio to the stereo, and tuned to the 80s station. He told me, “Greg, prepare for a musical education.” Then he turned up the volume to this song. Within less than a second, I had hit the power button and asserted myself as the alpha-DJ for the rest of the trip—though there were some stretches of road when I did cede my power to him. Advice to everyone: if you’re headed on a long drive with a buddy, make sure his or her musical tastes stretch beyond 80s pop. (And don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to tap the steering wheel to “Hungry Like the Wolf” when I’m alone in the car. But in very limited doses.)

Van Morrison: "Crazy Love"
When Iggy and I were in college, a buddy of ours who had much more luck with the ladies than me (then again, anyone who had any luck with the ladies had much more than me) would play Van Morrison on his cassette deck to signal that he was entertaining someone in his dorm room. So if we were about to knock on his door but heard “Brown Eyed Girl,” or something, playing, we’d know to walk away. On our drive, this song inevitably stirred memories of college. (And I’m talking the original version, from “Moondance,” and not the lame duet with Ray Charles.) Maybe this makes me cliche, but I still really like Van Morrison. Heck, "Crazy Love" was my wedding song, too.

Men at Work: "Land Down Under"
Iggy and I were hating each other by this point in the trip. He was given brief control of the stereo, and this song came on, by the greatest two-hit-wonder band Australia has ever produced. If “Land Down Under” can’t cheer you up on a car ride, you’re not alive (or at least you’re not a nearly-old fogie like me, who fondly remembers rockin’ to it in my basement when it played on Friday Night Videos).

Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch: "I’ll Fly Away"
To me, bluegrass is white man’s soul music. I could listen to hillbillies pickin’ banjos all day. Now that I live in Asheville, North Carolina, I’m surrounded by it (which is very nice). For Iggy, expanding his musical horizon means listening to the early stuff from Yaz. He’s not a fan of bluegrass. I tried easing him into it by playing the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? Sadly, he wasn’t swayed. Allison Krauss is awesome on this album, including “I’ll Fly Away.” I also like her gospel stuff on other albums. Her version of “When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart,” is maybe my favorite iPod song right now. Have you heard Elvis sing it, too? Awesome.

Lucinda Williams: "Joy"
Driving through the flat dusty stretches of the Midwest, I made sure to play Springsteen’s Nebraska album, and Lucinda’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. That gravely voice, those angry poetic lyrics, and the ever-present outlaw-countryish slide guitar make her album a classic. My favorite is “Joy” because of its unbridled hate.

Hot Buttered Rum: "Well Oiled Machine"
The well-traveled, Grateful Dead-inspired folk-bluegrass string band Hot Buttered Rum travels on a bus powered by fry grease, and wrote a song about it.

“But I’m pickin’ and singing,
Slipping and Sliding,
Rolling in this well oiled machine.
My machine, my machine, machine,
Riding a well-oiled machine.
Its gears are worn in by years of steady climbing,
Let’s move like a well-oiled machine.”

By the way, I wish I could say that Rush made the list, but as big of a fan as I am, we didn’t really listen to the band on the trip. Sorry about that Mr. Peart. And thanks again for the plug.

Greg Melville and Greasy Rider links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the book's page at the publisher
buy a signed copy of the book

Audobon Magazine review
The Book Lady's Blog review
BookPage review
The Brooklyn Rail review
Creative Loafing review
Hipster Book Club review
Kenyon College review
Lit Mob review
New York Post review
Newsweek review
Raleigh News & Observer review

Best Life Magazine article by the author
Burlington Free Press profile of the author
CNN profile of the author
Mount Holyoke News profile of the author
Mountain Xpress profile of the author
New York Times op-ed piece by the author
Virginia Public Radio interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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