Gordon Lightfoot has a knack for evoking mood and nostalgia in love songs that are haunted by loss. When his “If You Could Read My Mind” came out in the early 1970’s, it served as the soundtrack to my sunny mid-afternoons, when I amused myself in forests or wandering the streets of our small town, the imagination molding those misty-eyed lyrics around whatever activities I’d concoct from boredom. Today, “If You Could Read My Mind” invariably takes me back to a diner at two or three on a Sunday afternoon, eating a cheeseburger deluxe in a room of about ten bored strangers.
Lightfoot’s “Beautiful,” when heard at Gallo’s dashboard, with those lonely midwestern fields and small truck stops passing in front of a stained, dirty window, sadness and longing wrestle with hope. This is one of the cinema’s great, rare moments of soulful emotion, the kind that transcends the written page, whose understanding could very well be limited only to those who’ve known loneliness as one of life’s quieting processes. Away from the movie, it’s a glint of tragedy that has the potential to provoke tears, if only there were a clear reason to do so.
Gallo’s unflinching look at that highway brought to mind bus trips I once took some thirty years ago, to and from Long Island to Buffalo, New York. Alone, always alone. And often reading Hesse’s doomsday machine, Steppenwolf, from cover to cover and back again, breaking from Harry Haller’s bleak dilemma at a greasy spoon called The Spot for a twenty-minute chow-down. On those roads from gaudy suburbia to the northwestern edge of the state…Buffalo is a city built on heartache, a place that has seldom seen sunshine, and then only through dense, often odorous humidity. My final destination was Niagara University, a medieval castle unstuck in time, adjacent to a small border town that’s been anticipating a ‘comeback’ for the last forty years. If you look in the fields close enough, past the empty beer cans, cracked bongs, Pink Floyd 8-tracks, and decomposing copies of Dude and Nugget, you may stumble upon the shards of a beautiful, angry boy’s wasteful conceit.