John T. Davis: Route 66
This exhibition was presented alongside a documentary that John Davis had created of the Route 66. Here is the press release of that film which explains in detail what Route 66 meant to America.
Mick Jagger took it to the charts, Henry Fonda struggled along it in the “Grapes of Wrath” and two guys in an open-top Corvette cruised it looking for action in a hit television series.
There is no doubt that Route 66 was more than just a road. it became a symbol of the American dream. It ran from the snows of the east coast to the sands of the west, from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean across 2200 miles and eight States, and it gave the Americans the freedom to travel anywhere.
After the austerity of the Second World War, traveling was the thing for the Americans – the traveling and not necessarily the arriving. And what better way to go than on a road that went right across the country.
“You could get on and off wherever you wanted… or you could just keep driving”, says one of the characters in “Route 66”, on ITV tonight at 9pm.
Director John T. Davis takes us on a two hour musical journey in which we see and hear the sights and sounds at the heartland of America by driving along the road which was the country’s main artery.
On the journey we meet a three times married bus driver who says you give up your wife when you take on the Greyhound, the old timer who woke up to find himself married, the shoeshine girl who is amused at the pretend cowboys without spurs, the hooker who is moving to a smaller town where people are more friendly, and the lady lorry driver who shares a cab with her husband.
Each one has a story to tell and each one remembers better days.
Route 66 grew as America grew, and the first gas stations, motels, and drive-in restaurants and cinemas sprang up beside it.
Now a lot of them lie empty, broken down and deserted, and the road has been completely bypassed by interstate highways. Almost exactly a year ago the last remaining part of the road which was used as a major highway was closed.
Cast off and forgotten, towns which prospered in the heyday of the road are in danger of becoming faded, crumbling backwaters.
But even in decline, the communities along the route have a vitality and a life of their own, which is in essence the true culture of America, away from the glittering myth of television soap operas.
Music plays a vital part in that life, and it is the key to “Route 66”. Each state that the road cuts through has its own musical style, and each style has added its influence to American rock, from the Chicago blues in Illinois through the mountain music of Missouri, western swing in Oklahoma and red indian music in Arizona.
“Route 66” captures that musical heritage, featuring some of the best known performers who live and work alongside the old road. Among them is “Lone Justice”, recently signed by CBS in Britain and there is also probably the last appearance of Johnnie Lee Wills, who died six weeks after the filming.
Americans were fascinated by the two lane concrete ribbon wrapped around their country. The song “Route 66” was recorded by artistes ranging from Chuck Berry to Nat King Cole – to Bing Crosby. John Steinbeck’s classic book “The Grapes of Wrath” follows the Joad family journeying along the road in search of a new life, and the influential writer Jack Kerouac – the Messiah of the Beat Generation – admits that the road inspired his work.
The television series starring George Maharis and Martin Milner, followed the two adventurers in search of excitement along the road, and was dedicated to the American virtues of being honest and having fun. So successful was the series that it is about to be revived in a new version for American television.
John T. Davis’ film gives us on this side of the Atlantic an insight of what Route 66 meant to America, and shows as the roads rise in fame reflected the growth in prosperity of the USA, the decline mirrors a new era of determination following along lost aspirations.
“Route 66” is enchanting, entertaining and amusing, but it is also a journey tinged with sadness.