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One Road Trip, One Novelist, One-Fifth Of The Decemberists

Siblings Colin Meloy, frontman of The Decemberists, and Maile Meloy, novelist. (Courtesy of the artists)

Two creative siblings — Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy and writer Maile Meloy — say a summer road trip they took with their mother in the early '80s was a memorable musical experience.

Maile, a fiction writer whose latest novel is The Apothecary, says repetition was partly responsible for lodging the sounds of the trip in her memory.

"We had four tapes in the car for what turned out to be a six-week trip — bad idea — including The Eagles' Hotel California and the Muppet Movie soundtrack, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy," she says.

Known for his evocative lyrics, Colin says the dark wordplay of "Hotel California" still stands out to him.

"I think anybody of my age — you know, in their 30s, who grew up in the '70s, and who had parents who liked The Eagles — has a kind of relationship with that song," he says. "It's this weird, kind of long, mysterious, minor-key odyssey about Don Henley driving through the desert, discovering this mysterious hotel, staying there and getting, I assume, stuck there forever."

Maile says that Lennon's "Just Like Starting Over" best represents those six weeks on the road.

"I feel like 'Just Like Starting Over' is a perfect song for that trip," she says. "It has that 'Let's take a chance and fly away' [feeling]. You get the sense that the trip in the song isn't going to happen or it isn't going to work out the way he wants it to."

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And lots of you have been sending us emails with the subject line parents' music for our series Mom and Dad's Record Collection. We've been asking you for the story behind one song your parents introduced you to. Today, we have two songs from a brother and sister, Colin and Maile Meloy. Colin is a musician, best known for his band The Decemberists. Maile is a fiction writer. Her latest book is "The Apothecary." They take us back to a childhood journey when Colin was 6 and Maile 9.

MAILE MELOY: We took a summer road trip in 1981, and our parents had recently gotten divorced. And our mother drove us from Montana to her friend's house on Martha's Vineyard in a diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, and we had four tapes in the car for what turned out to be a six-week trip, bad idea - including The Eagles' "Hotel California" and "The Muppet Movie" soundtrack and John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Double Fantasy."

COLIN MELOY: And the fourth one is still a mystery. We're trying to figure out which one it was. It was either a Bonnie Raitt tape or a Linda Ronstadt tape, one or the other.

BLOCK: So you would have heard those tapes I can't even imagine how many hundreds of times in the course of that trip.

(LAUGHTER)

MELOY: That's how we measured distance on the trip. You know, one side of "The Muppet Movie" and, you know, all of "Double Fantasy," we'll be there. And...

(LAUGHTER)

MELOY: And we knew the relative lengths, how - which ones were longer, which ones were shorter.

MELOY: You not only knew them, but you had enough time to kind of study the words and try to, you know, ferret out the meaning.

MELOY: Like "Hotel California," I think you should talk about "Hotel California."

MELOY: Right. So "Hotel California," I think anybody of my age, you know, in their 30s, who grew up in the '70s, and who had parents who liked The Eagles, I think, has a kind of relationship with that song because it's this kind of weird, long, mysterious, minor key odyssey about Don Henley driving through the desert and discovering this mysterious hotel and staying there and getting, I assume, stuck there forever.

BLOCK: Well, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave, right?

MELOY: But you can never leave.

BLOCK: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOTEL CALIFORNIA")

EAGLES: (Singing) On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair, warm smell of colitas rising up through the air. Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light. My head grew heavy, and my sight grew dim. I had to stop for the night.

MELOY: Yeah. I took it very literally, particularly the - this - the line about, you know, they gather for the feast, and they stab it with their steely knives, but they can't kill the beast. You know, that obviously meant something to Don Henley that was very deep.

BLOCK: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MELOY: To me, it was just a bunch of people like stabbing some carcass in the middle of a banquet table, so...

MELOY: Me too.

MELOY: ...very evocative, for sure. And I think I also, you know, being a "Star Wars" fan at the time, liked the fact that the night man was apparently a robot because he said, you know, we are programmed to receive, so I just imagined this robot, you know, talking to Don Henley and telling him he couldn't leave forever. So that was some powerful stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOTEL CALIFORNIA")

EAGLES: (Singing) Relax, said the night man, we are programmed to receive. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

BLOCK: So, Colin, you have the strong memory of "Hotel California." Maile, what was the song that you most remember from that road trip?

MELOY: John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" from "Double Fantasy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER")

JOHN LENNON: (Singing) Our life together is so precious together.

MELOY: I feel like "(Just Like) Starting Over" is the perfect song for that trip. You get the sense that the trip in the song isn't going to happen or it isn't going to work out the way he wants it to. So there were all these sort of layers of sadness and nostalgia in this song that feels very optimistic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER")

LENNON: (Singing) It's time to spread our wings and fly. Don't let another day go by, my love. It will be just like starting over.

MELOY: And toward the end of the trip, we drove with our mother to the town of Menasha, which is a tiny picturesque little fishing village, and she wanted to stay there, and she did not want to drive back to Montana. And she was the only driver, that must have been completely overwhelming, and none of us wanted to drive back to Montana. And we're stranded at the far end of the country. And then Colin has a good story. I had forgotten this. Colin.

MELOY: Yeah. Well, we're - so we're driving back, and we're all sobbing in the Rabbit. And we've been driving - apparently, I don't really remember this. My mom told me this, that we would be sobbing, and we would, you know, start driving through a small town, and I would say, everybody, we have to stop crying while we drive through the town. So everybody pulled it together as we drove through this little town and then just on the other side, we would all collapse and do sobs again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER")

LENNON: (Singing) It's like we both are falling in love again. It will be just like starting over.

BLOCK: Maile, you hear on the radio, say, you're driving around, and you hear "Starting Over" come on the radio, what's the reaction that you have?

MELOY: I definitely have feelings of being transported back, especially when it's the songs that I haven't heard a million times since. There's a way in which those songs are kind of a dividing line and especially "(Just Like) Starting Over," which is sort of about nostalgia, and I feel like you're changing so much as a kid, and you're leaving so much behind, and so you sort of understand nostalgia. But I feel like that trip was kind of a dividing line between having married parents and having divorced parents and between childhood and something different. And so those songs that - from that trip that I haven't heard since do that for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER")

BLOCK: Brother and sister Colin and Maile Meloy with their story for our series Mom and Dad's Record Collection.

MELOY: Bye, Maile.

MELOY: Bye, Col.

MELOY: Good job.

MELOY: Thanks. You too.

MELOY: All right. I'll see - I'll talk to you later.

MELOY: All right. Bye.

MELOY: Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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