“When Ry Cooder and I got to El Mirage Dry Lake, it was 110 degrees and heading to 117, hot enough to cook your head inside your hat. The Mojave Desert in daylight will cut the gizzard right out of you, Tom Joad once said, which is why the Okies crossed it at night. I put away the map and Ry pulled the S.U.V. through the gate and stopped. The gravel road fell away below us and vanished into the bone-white lakebed. The mirage was working: a shoreline shimmered wetly in the distance, made of bent sunlight and sand.
El Mirage Dry Lake sounds like a place one step away from nonexistence, but it’s about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, out among the Joshua trees. It’s not far from Edwards Air Force Base, in the Mojave’s military-paranormal sector, where secretive government installations lie low among the jackrabbits “‘ a land of spy planes, space aliens, off-road vehicles, sturdy reptiles and people with freaky desert habits, like racing vintage hot rods on dry lakebeds. It is, in other words, a critical stop on Ry’s California trail.
Ry Cooder “‘ the rock and blues guitarist, roots musician, record producer, songwriter and composer “‘ is a son of Santa Monica who has spent nearly 40 years exploring all corners of the musical planet, like a sharp-eared extraterrestrial on a lifelong voyage of discovery. (His two-CD career anthology, released last month, has a perfect title: “The U.F.O. Has Landed.” ) But even that barely covers it “‘ it’s strictly from his solo albums and the haunting scores he wrote for films like “Alamo Bay” and “Paris, Texas.” If you add all the records he has made with other musicians, like Gabby Pahinui, Flaco Jiménez, Ali Farka Touré, Mavis Staples, the Chieftains and, most famously, the Cuban all-stars of the Buena Vista Social Club, you can only wonder where on earth he could go next.The answer: his own backyard. Ry’s latest project may be his strangest and most ambitious. It’s a trilogy of concept albums, plus a short novel, that resurrects a lost California of places and people that Ry, who is 61, remembers from growing up in the 1950s. It was a dryer and poorer place then, but rich in things he likes, like simplicity and ingenuity, good musicians, cool cats and hot cars. Time and neglect have bulldozed most of it into oblivion.”
(via The New York Times)