FEATURE: Sorana Santos - thoughts on returning from her Hejira journey

New Orleans street band

SORANA SANTOS has just returned from recreating Joni Mitchell's seminal road trip from Maine to LA on which she wrote "Hejira". In this short feature, and as she embarks on the next phase of her own song-writing based on the trip, Sorana shares her first personal reflections on her experience of making that journey. She writes: 

It’s remarkable how things unfold and how small things gain such momentum: I’d never have thought that the small action of taking a chance on buying a record I’d never heard by an artist called Joni Mitchell in my teenage years would lead to recreating the road trip that inspired Hejira, and that the small action of buying flights would lead to chance meetings and insights that would re-inform my creative practice.

There is so much I cannot put in writing yet due to not having the requisite permissions for all the media I’ve acquired. However, there are a few things I can touch on from the self-imposed exile I have placed myself in while I try to turn my creative ideas into tangible works while they are still fresh in my mind...

The hard facts are that I drove 4200 miles across several climates and four time zones, and while it was definitely rewarding, it was also deeply mentally, and emotionally exhausting. I recreated a few of the scenes in Hejira: visiting the now-closed Mandolin Brothers’ Staten Island; looking for the either-long- gone-or- entirely-fictional Cactus Tree Motel; seeing a gypsy on Bleecker Street for a tarot reading who told me I would come into a lot of money this year (which I look forward to as she cost rather more than the ‘eighteen bucks’ Mitchell paid). And yes, the nets were overflowing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf of Mexico

I even unintentionally took a photo that echoed the original album artwork:


Like Mitchell, I fell in with people on the trip; one short stay in Boston spawned infinite connections – from the warm welcomes of being recognised in a bar in New Orleans by a man who had received a photo of me from his friend in Boston and was told to look out for me, and being given food packages for the road, to the humorous situations of being told to ask for ‘Bullet Bob’ in a desert bar, who had a lead to a lead about Mitchell, and a dear Guildhall friend who sent his vinyl copy of Hejira for my arrival in LA.

A copy of Hejira which was sent to Sorana Santos in LA. 

It so happened that Easter also marked the 20th anniversary of my friends and I first meeting - around the time I bought that first Mitchell record. Again, a small action of some boys prank-calling a phone box led to a friendship group that is still going strong today, and to whom my musical development will be forever indebted. The endless warm welcomes soothed the homesickness; I felt as though I had taken my friend-family with me, and I subsequently realised that your ‘pack’ is in fact a global network of like-minded people. The list of thanks alone would fill an entire article.

Desert driving was more contemplative than that of the bustling Northern territories, and here journey turned inward; I began feeling the miles and the perils: hot changeable weather, twisters, snakes, sheer canyon drops, and lack of places to buy basic amenities took their toll. Driving became a meditative practice and consequently a transformative one - my perspective on life shifted and became less about the experiences I wanted to have and more about the type of character I want to develop – I wonder what new situations will emerge from that small decision.

It’s obvious, but I understand Hejira so much more now, and feel I can sing it with a degree of authenticity, even given how much has changed since Mitchell’s original trip in 1976 and the wildly different vantage point of my own experience. These differences made the trip more about bringing my experience into re-imagining Hejira and less about picking up her trail (which would have proved impossible as she purposely travelled incognito) and I am now incorporating field recordings, a few blues feels, and maybe even one of the street bands I met in my re-imagining of the work.

The next journey lies in completing these re-imaginings for release in the not-too- distant future, and writing the new songs from the journey itself for yet another album afterwards. I look forward to sharing these journeys with you too, and the converging situations these small actions will inevitably lead to.

Boston Skyline

LINKS: Feature written before Sorana's Hejira journey
Sorana Santos website

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