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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

Smoke Signals

Somethin’ ‘Bout This Mountain

by Jeff BerkleyJune 2023

The rolling green hills of California’s Central Valley.

It was early Friday morning. I was at my home in San Diego. I was scheduled that evening to play in Quincy, California—which is nine hours away—for a gig with Tim Flannery & the Lunatic Fringe.

Quincy is a beautiful little town way up in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. One of those “Time Machine” towns. Surrounded by creeks, rivers, pine trees, meadows, and canyons. I couldn’t wait to get there!

It had been a long few weeks leading up to this road trip and several fun gigs in California. I had several records finishing at the same time and was deeply entrenched—mind, body, and soul—in finishing those works of art before leaving for the road.

Of course, the Wednesday night deadline turned into Thursday night and then Friday morning as well. I got it all completed but was running pretty far behind. Good art cannot be rushed and does not seem to adhere to a time frame. I think that’s one of the magic things about it. Art doesn’t play by human rules. We play by its rules.

Anyway, I hadn’t even had the chance to pack yet, so I started to throw together a go bag and get my gear together for the gigs. I grabbed one guitar, and there was a broken string, I changed the strings and grabbed a second guitar. The knob of that guitar was broken off and sitting on the floor. I picked it up and spent half an hour putting it back together. I got the guitars packed up. By this time I was experiencing that feeling of trying to get on the road and not succeeding. You know, that thing where you know what time you’re supposed to leave and you’ve got plenty of time, but everything you try and do to move towards that goal is thwarted by the universe!

I went out to my car with the baggage and gear only to find a flat tire on the right hand rear. Of course, I had used the spare already, and didn’t have one in my car at the time. That was a two-hour ordeal putting me way behind and in a very sour mood. So much for getting on the road in time to beat traffic. Once I was finally on the road, I was heading north, on Interstate 5, at 3:30 p.m. It was a Friday. I was effed in the A!

I’m not sure how long it took to get through Los Angeles and out toward the northern edge of the county, but it felt like 12 weeks! I was one of those not very nice drivers who was weaving in and out of traffic and not being very safe or cool to other drivers. I was listening to some podcast or news radio and was just pissed off and aggravated!

I finally made it out to the Grapevine. There was traffic all the way up the southern side. It was that time of year when the flowers were blooming, and it was toward the end of the day, so the shadows were long and the sun was doing that thing it does in California where it paints the whole hillside different colors every second as the sun sets. Even though I was moving three mph and still really frustrated, something started to happen. You know what I mean, that thing that happens when you look around and let beauty creep into your madness!

I slowly went past Diamond Lake, got up over the pass, and started heading down the grade on the north side of the Grapevine, toward Lebec, California. I started to breathe a little deeper, I started to make more space for the drivers around me, and I had somehow put some music on. The magical road was gently whipping my angry ass into shape.

If you know that section of highway, you know it’s a pretty heavy downhill grade. At a certain point you can actually see Interstate 5 and Highway 99 stretch out ahead of you into the great central valley of California. On a clear day, you can see about 100,000 miles from there! Like a barn-sour horse, your car starts to speed up on its own. You don’t realize how steep the hill is and before you know it, you’re going 90 miles an hour! You have to turn the music up because the sound of the car gets louder. As you pass the old Ramada Inn at the bottom of the Grapevine, you’re going 150 miles an hour and you could probably coast all the way to the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains!

A few hours later, I found myself passing Sacramento and getting up into the slow grade of the mountains. The moon was full and bright! That explained my werewolf like tendencies earlier that day.

With the Central Valley and its vast, open space behind me, the roads are now starting to get twisty. At this point, I’m completely overtaken with the magic of the road, gliding along on the soles of my vehicle and brain.

Now I’ve got the music off and I’m hearing my own tunes; melodies and words are flooding through my brain. The only instrument I have is my steering wheel and voice. I managed to write a whole song in my head, but because of reasons that most of you know, I was afraid I would forget it! It seemed like a really cool song, and I didn’t want to forget it. I wanted to remember it! I want to remember them all!

I was at about 6,000 feet and driving along a creek that was racing with water. I found just enough space to turn out and park. I found a tiny little trail that led down to the creek. I grabbed my phone and my guitar from the trunk. I slipped and slid down this little trail toward the water. I actually ended up with my boots in the water, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I managed to keep my guitar from getting wet, which is a huge win! Lol.

I started to sing the song that was barely holding on in my memory. I figured out what the chords were. I barely got it figured out and hit record on the memo app of my phone. I sang that song down to my phone standing between the road and the creek. Then I turned my phone off, put it in my pocket, and sang about five more songs next to that creek. I even started writing a second song before I realized I needed to get back in the car. I was only a few miles from Quincy; it was dark and I was expected by now.

We didn’t play until the next day, but I had to check in and get my accommodations sorted. I was way too late for that, so luckily the nice people of Quincy figured out a spot for me to crash.

The next morning, I woke up to a gift on my phone. A song that explained exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I always think I’m writing a song about something else, and it ends up being about me all along.

There is a healing that comes from music. It comes from all art. We’re tapping into the great energy field or God or the universe or the great spirit or whatever you want to call it. It is a profound thing. It will find you. It will send you to places like the Grapevine, where the flowers are blooming and the sun is coloring the landscape like oil paint! You will not be able to escape. Never doubt the power of an ocean or a mountain or the kindness of people to pull you from the depths of your darkness.

Somethin’ ‘Bout This Mountain
Words and music by Jeff Berkley

Somethin’ ‘bout this mountain feeds my soul
Somethin’ about 10,000 feet makes me whole
I’ve been circling the desert, and it takes its toll
But, somethin’ ’bout this mountain feeds my soul

Somethin’ ‘bout this ocean makes me high
Somethin’ ‘bout the salt and breeze
And tuggin’ of the tide
I’ve been feeling lost and low and my energy’s run dry
But somethin’ ‘bout this ocean makes me high

Somethin’ ‘bout this city
Brings me to my knees
Somethin’ about the one-way streets and transplanted trees
Honey, let’s get out of town.
I’m beggin’ darling please
Somethin’ ‘bout this city
Brings me to my knees

Somethin’ ‘bout this moment makes me smile
Somethin’ about this time together though it’s just a while
But I will carry all your hearts with me
Down each and every mile
Somethin’ ‘bout this moment makes me smile
And somethin’ ‘bout this Mountain feeds my soul

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