Twilight on Tunnel Road
This is the story of Lonnie and Chloe, who grow up on nearby farms on the edge of the Driftless Region in southern Wisconsin and teach themselves how to play guitars. The songs travel back and forth in time, from their idyllic youth, through their rambunctious teen years, up to their difficulties finding a place in this world.
Listen to the songs below while reading their story and the song lyrics, with photos from their lives....
1. Twilight on Tunnel Road
Three years out of high school, Chloe has a good job at a local machine shop while still doing her usual chores on the farm. She plays guitar less and less these days. She is feeling closed in and smothered, even by Lonnie sometimes. They still play occasional gigs at local bars, but it's becoming old for her.
Walking along Tunnel Road at sunset one evening, with the Wyler farm silhouetted against the sky, she knows she must leave, follow the twilight to wherever it will take her.
2. Lonnie and Chloe
Inseparable from childhood, growing up on nearby farms, Lonnie and Chloe teach themselves guitar and romp through the woods whenever they're freed from their farm chores. They become guitar legends in high school, taking the stage at school dances, their band a local favorite at county fairs.
3. Lonnie Interlude
Not Particularly talkative, Lonnie can speak volumes through his guitar. Walking along Tunnel Road at dusk, he hears intimations in the sky that he'll later coax from his guitar....
4. Lonnie's Red Guitar
Lonnie is good with his hands--with car engines, tractors, guitars. Working as an auto mechanic after graduating from high school, he still gets up before dawn to milk the family's small herd of Guernseys. Weekends, the band plays small town bars and taverns. Lonnie delights in the high-octane overdrive of P-90 pickups screaming through an overdriven amp, tubes glowing like coals.
5. Shelter for Your Soul
One evening, sipping Jack Daniels, staring out the window as the light fades in the west, Lonnie realizes that Chloe has really left....
6. Wake Up Chloe
Fresh out of high school, Chloe lands a good job as a die cutter at the local machine shop. Nights she plays her beloved Stratocaster with Lonnie over in the Wyler's barn. But already a nameless discontent whispers to her.
7. L&C Eternally
By the time they're fifteen, Lonnie and Chloe's fierce attachment to each other slowly morphs into romantic love. Whether they are skipping church to go fishing or playing guitars in the old railroad tunnel out in the woods, they are slow to recognize the change. Winter nights, they can see the lights from each other's farmhouse across the fields, the smudge of golden light leaking from Chloe's bedroom, glowing like a a star through the leafless branches of the trees.
8. Take a Minute
Two years after high school, Lonnie becomes more and more discontented with the drudgery of his daily routine and more disillusioned about the future. He retreats into a virtual world of games, social media, and YouTube. He spends less and less of his free time outdoors. Chloe writes this song for him to snap him out of it.
9. The Edge of Town
Ever since she was young, Chloe has had a recurring dream about a vast army of corn marching at midnight toward the town--the tall, thick stalks towering above her head with leaves that looked like floppy arms moving in the wind. She dreamed about this corn army, sometimes imagining herself their queen. At other times, on rainy days, the corn army seemed forsaken, more like a lost parade.
As she grew older, she could never shake this thought. Lonnie would kid her about this. Chloe and the Lost Parade was the name of their band for awhile in high school. Lonnie wrote this song for Chloe.
10. Chloe Interlude with Cicadas
A warm late summer night. Lonnie and Chloe sitting in the barn listening to the hypnotic drone of the cicadas. Lonnie begins to fingerpick some simple chords, playing along with the insect chorus. Chloe begins to play, too, softly at first, then she improvises a blazing lead. As if on cue, they both stop playing and listen to the night.
11. Sugar River Sunrise
Come spring when the trillium, mayapples, and ladyslipper orchids are blooming in the woods, Lonnie and Chloe head out with their mushrooming sticks. They have their own secret spots away in the hills where they find morels year after year. The spring after his fifteenth birthday, the mushroom hunt is bittersweet. Lonnie's grandfather is dying. He was the first person to take Lonnie morel hunting and deer hunting. Chloe tries to cheer Lonnie up, but it's no use. Lonnie keeps hearing a riff-based chord progression in his mind, the minor key agreeing with his mood. He plays this later in the barn, and they make it into a song.
12. Clockwork Clouds
For their upcoming gig at the Green County Fair, Lonnie and Chloe want a new song--something with a big sound that will get the crowd going. Chloe comes up with a fast-picking chord progression, and Lonnie adds the unexpected modulation for the chorus. They begin improvising lyrics, which evolve into a tongue-in-cheek Wisconsin anthem about cheese curds, ice fishing, and the Packers, with odd facts about whitefish livers and ginseng thrown in. They call it "Clockwork Clouds," which was a phrase Lonnie's grandfather used.
13. Let Me Go
Reconciled now that Chloe has gone, Lonnie longs to be released from the love that still holds him. It pains him and preoccupies him, but is also paradoxically still his main joy, bittersweet as it is. Walking through the woods one brisk April day, he comes to the old abandoned railroad tunnel where they used to play guitars, the cave-like interior lending an otherworldly reverberation to their voices and guitars. He walks part way in, remembering. Then he walks back out into the light, hopeful for some reason.
14. Oak and Ivy
Two years out of high school, Chloe is restless. One day, she feels a tightness in her chest, some anxiety--but it is not coming from her. It takes her a day to realize it is a call, a sort of subsonic soundwave rattling her ribcage--a call from the oak woods in distress. This is where Chloe has gone since childhood for solace and renewal, but she hasn't been there for awhile. She heads there the next day, and sees that grapevine has twined itself high up in the younger trees, blanketing the canopies, choking the trees. As she cuts away the vines, she realizes that she, too, feels smothered, that love and attachment can strangle as well as nurture.
15. Wind and Whispers
When Chloe goes to tell Lonnie that she is leaving, he offers to go with her, but she just brushes the hair out of his eyes. "You don't really want to go," she says. "Besides, I don't know where I'm going."
After she's gone, Lonnie just sits in the barn holding his guitar, not playing anything. He studies the woodgrain of the rafters and the roofboards, which seem to hold all the music they've ever played all through the years, as if the wood absorbed the sound waves like water.
Walking across the snowy barnyard in the dark, the arctic wind rattling through the dead oak leaves still clinging to the branches, he sees the lights of Chloe's farm across the fields. There is no light in her room.
16. Walking Rivers in the Rain
On rainy days, Chloe liked to go walking. A few days after Lonnie's grandfather died, they were walking along the river. Chloe stopped and looked up. She spread her arms wide, turning slowly, the rain running down her face. "Wouldn't it be amazing to be alive without a body to hold you down?"
Lonnie looked up, felt the rain against his skin and nodded.
They walked on. Lonnie kicked at the matted leaves underfoot. "Smell that?" he said. The sweet scent of leaf mold filled their lungs. "Scent is alive. Invisible. No body."
He turned his head. "Hear that?" They listened to the purling of the river swirling around a snag. "Sound travels. No body. Nothing there. Alive but nothing."
Chloe smiled. "Let's be sound then."
17. Interlude for Angels and Frogs
Walking along the old railroad grade one spring, their high school graduation just a few months away, Lonnie and Chloe feel their connection to each other through their connection to the chorus of frogs and birds enlivening the wetland. A hawk's call echoes through the sky. Lonnie squeezes Chloe's hand, and she squeezes back.
18. Letter to Chloe
Months after leaving, Chloe finally writes a letter to Lonnie. Lonnie appreciates that it is a handwritten letter, not an email or a text. He can feel the pressure of Chloe's body inscribed in every inked letter on the page, infusing the paper fibers with her essence.
After reading it many times, Lonnie writes a letter back, addressed to a Wyoming post office box. Then he writes a song about the labyrinth of love and stays up playing it till dawn.