Astoria, Oregon

Young Pilgrims by The Shins

I was raised to gather courage
from those lofty tales
So tried and true
My grandfather once sat me down and said to me, "Justin, the only thing they can't make any more of is land." That was simply one of his pearls of wisdom he imparted to me before he passed away. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't any kind of real estate tycoon and left this life as poor as when he entered it. But I digress; the story of my grandfather is neither here nor there, it's just a nice way to segue into the story of manifest destiny and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Manifest destiny is the concept from 19th century America that we as a settling people had a God-given charge to move westward across the plain states until reaching the Pacific Ocean. All the land discovered rightly belonged to the United States. Such as it was, in May 1804 the Corps of Discovery Expedition set out from St. Louis to map what was North America and would become territories of the United States. They ended in Astoria, Oregon, a coastal city that has grown into an international deep-water port and one of the most aesthetically pleasing skylines in the world. More beautiful cities exist in rarity.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa on the waterfront in Astoria, Oregon
Photo: Cathy Locklear, Dreamstime

That being said, the Astoria Lewis and Clark experienced was a far cry from the bustling and scenic metropolis it is today. Their expedition spent the winter of 1805-'06 holed up in Fort Clatsop (a bit south and west of present-day Astoria), where they hoped and prayed for naval passage back east. None came and they were forced to trek back east the way they came. Nevertheless, they did return to a hero's welcome.

Lewis and Clark sought to create through discovery more viable and profitable real estate for the American Government and its people; something impossible to do nowadays. They succeeded also in blazing a trail of undiscovered country on their way to fame, fortune, and history books. The entertainment industry, from an admittedly different point of view, isn't that far separated from it. Music groups and artists start with nothing and reach for greatness. Few achieve commercial prosperity and renown, but the ones that do (and have massive egos) can liken themselves to courageous explorers like Lewis and Clark.

The indie rock band The Shins had a similar beginning, as they rose to fame from humble roots in New Mexico garages. After their first album, front man James Mercer relocated to Oregon and built a basement recording studio, where the band recorded their follow-up and hugely successful album, Chutes Too Narrow. The song "Young Pilgrims" is a featured track on this album, and speaks volumes about getting over obstacles in life, both external and internal. Thematically, "Young Pilgrims," along with the rest of CTN, discusses how easily people can fall into a self-defeating trap. The opening imagery of 'a cold and wet November dawn' leads directly into the chorus hook of, '…there is this side of me that wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just fly the whole mess into the sea.'

While Rolling Stone hailed CTN as "a study in old-school pop songwriting," "Young Pilgrims" is a melancholy foray in the dark recesses of our psyche. The narrator is struggling with reality and adulthood, the basic interpretation that dreams don't come true, as one by one, we trudge through our days hoping for a shot at our wildest dreams, but realizing deep down they will likely never come to fruition. For Lewis and Clark, those dreams collided solidly with success. For James Mercer and the Shins, as well. Egos aside, with the release of CTN, they laid claim upon their Lewis-and-Clark moment in the echelons of success.

Justin Novelli
February 3, 2017


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