Desert Highway

The open road, the desert heat, the shimmering mirage in the distance; the mountains a far-off edge of shifting peaks. The landscape has been stripped bare by nature of all irrelevant material, of all extraneous detail.

Man is an observer, but not a participant in the landscape. There is nothing much for us to do, except pass through, or build our own mirages. The dusty romance of the desert is sung of in their music: John Adams, Frederick Rzewski, George Antheil, Arlo Guthrie, Concrete Blonde, Henry Cowell, and Butterfly.

Guy Livingston presents a new show on deserts and music, with a particular interest in maverick composers.


I’ve been offering prizes for the best comment on each show, and I’ve had some great comments, but I’d like to update the question a little this week. So today’s challenge is “Choose a theme for a show” The best suggestion wins a prize, and presumably, I will then convince the management to let me broadcast a one-hour show on the winning theme. Fortunately I have a very easy-going, relaxed, and open-minded management. Besides that, I want to hear from you about what you want: more music, more composers, more talk, less talk? Send me an email, or write a comment at the bottom of this page.

How to Listen

American Highways #17: Desert Highway


Theme Music :
Steve Reich. The Desert Music (1984)
First Movement (Fast).
Chorus of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Michael Tilson Thomas & William Carlos Williams.
Nonesuch Records 79101.

now-on-itunes-buttonGeorge Antheil
1. Sonata No. 4 (1948) – I. Allegro Giocoso
Guy Livingston, pianist.
WERGO 6661-6

Arlo Guthrie
2. Highway In the Wind
Arlo Guthrie, vocalist.
Reprise Records 6267-2

Henry Cowell
3. Ancient Desert Drone
The Symphony Of Los Angeles & Werner Janssen
Essential Media Group 2012

Concrete Blonde
4. Mojave
Concrete Blonde, performers.
Eleven Thirty 7001

5. Desert Highway

John Adams
Road Movies
7. relaxed groove (5:25)
8. meditative (6:06)
9. 40% swing (5:23)
Andrew Russo, piano; James Ehnes, violin.

Frederic Rzewski
10. Blues from the Road
Marcel Worms, piano
NM Extra98014

Navajo traditional
11. Navajo Pow Wow Song
Marcos Size and various artists.
Stillwater Sound 2012

John Adams
12. Hallelujah Junction (1996) For Two Pianos
Ralph Van Raat And Maarten Van Veen, pianists.
Naxos 8.559285

first page of score by Henry Cowell

first page of score by Henry Cowell, dedicated to Percy Grainger, who was fascinated by the Australian desert

A Distant Bar

A man is driving in the desert, and his car breaks down. After several hours of sitting in searing heat he gives up and starts walking.

Several miles later, he’s burnt, tired and most of all, thirsty. His throat aches for a cold drink. On the distant horizon he spies a car nearing, kicking up dust as it heads towards him.

He waves the car down and cries “Thank god, I thought I was a goner. Please can I have some water?” The old man behind the wheel says “I’m sorry, I don’t have any. Can’t help. ” Deflated the wandering man cries “Please how about a lift to town?” “No way! You could be a psycho?” “Can you not help me at all?” “Well, I sell ties, do you want to buy a tie?” “What? No! Are you crazy? I need water!”

In an angry huff the old man speeds off in his car and the wanderer keeps walking. On the horizon a small building appears. The walker crawls towards it; gaining speed as he makes out the letters BAR on the side. As he reaches the door, a burly bouncer stops him:

“Sorry pal. Can’t let you in without a tie.”


Some American Desert Rocks

  • Foliated metamorphic rock
  • Slate
  • Gneiss (pronounced ‘nice’)
  • Non-foliated metamorphic rock
  • Limestone
  • Schist
  • Sedimentary rock
  • Biotite
  • Muscovite
  • Extrusive igneous rock
  • Pumice
  • Obsidian
  • Basalt
  • Silica
  • Quartz
  • Plagioclase feldspar
  • Potassium feldspar
  • Pegmatite



GuyLive is on the air again, with this podcast of minimalist american music and american mavericks

the car’s still sitting there, rusting away

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