The first car I remember driving in is a 1970’s blue MG convertible with a tonneau cover in black. I don’t remember any songs from that car. Just the heat of the black top. The leather wrapped steering wheel. I thought it would be my first car, cause I could already reach the pedals and see over the dash. When Dad sold it for a long red Ford LTD I was crushed. I felt betrayed.
The LTD was so big I could lay down across the whole back seat without my feet touching the arm rest on the passenger door. The night flowing by outside, street lights flickering over head, hum of the road beneath the wheels, that was security. That was comfort. The radio station started with a W, as east coast radio stations do. I remember listening to The Beatles, Love Love me Do, and Shimmy Shimmy Ko-KO Bop by Little Anthony and the Imperials, met a little native girl indeed. My elbow on the window sill, my finger tips didn’t reach the top of the window frame. I’d look at my dad out the corner of my eye and know when I was an adult I would hang my elbow out the window just like him, wind in my hair.
Summer after fifth grade I moved from outside Annapolis to Hagerstown MD. Mom wanted me to come live with her and her new husband. Dad, when I queried, cited my recent need for deodorant as a reason for me to go live with Mom. I sulked in my room reading till Mom brought in two girls, Julie and Virginia. They were licking half eaten popsicle’s. Later they admitted that my Mom had bribed them.
“I’ll give you a popsicle if you come play with my kid.”
In Hagerstown we’d drive in Mom’s red Volkswagen rabbit. On a hot summers day we listened to
The Ramone’s “I wanna be Sedated, bah bah ba ba, bah bah ba ba, I wanna be sedated.” My Mom and Uncle Beeb were on a beer run. Down the long black top of Paradise Church Road, my uncle yelled back to me & Julie,
“Hand me a tape, pick out some music!”
I rustled around in the tapes in a black container on the floor of the Rabbit. I handed him the B52’s… thinking “She came from Planet Claire, I knew she came from there”, in Fred’s strange deadpan voice. When I handed it forward, Beeb didn’t even look at it, just tossed it out the window.
“Junk! We’re not gonna listen to this Junk!”
He just wanted to tease me, had nothing to do with the music. Julie and I burst out laughing, shocked. When I gasped out that it was Mom’s tape, not mine we all laughed and laughed. The car was full of the wind and laughter.
Rock Lobster, down down down.
In the Rabbit and around Hagerstown Md. Our soundtrack was all Purple Rain, Raspberry Beret, 1999. And now he’s dead. Prince is dead can you believe it? Michael’s dead too, but he makes more sense, he always seemed to frail. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was huge in my middle school years. We learned to moon walk and do the worm. Breakin’ and Electric Boogalo, Kraftwork’s Autoban but also Tom Wait’s Swordfish Trombones, Pulling on Trouble’s Braids.
They packed the red Rabbit in a moving van. It was June 1986, school wasn’t quite out yet. My friends and I took a photo outside the semi, three guys with three girls sitting on their shoulders. It was so hot we spent the day watching them pack on a moving blanket under the shade of our willow trees. We flew to Mountain View, CA and I turned 16 in a corporate apartment. My step father assuaged my moving grief with talks of a old 1960’s Porsche for my first car, you know the one that was made with a Volkswagen motor?
Instead my first car was a Ford Maverick. I got it as I was going to college I guess. Driving around in my first car, a fugly yellow, with puke green plastic seats that put stripes and flowers on your thighs in the summer. It started out cassettes, but then it was a cd player, external that hooked up to the tape player with this weird fake tape and played that way. Rolling the window down to the oppressive Silicon Valley Heat and smog. The songs were Metallica, “And Justice for All.” was the album. My best friend and I smoking cigarettes, wearing shorts over tights and combat boots, ripped jeans over thermal underwear. Parking on the side of the road in San Martin, watching the moonlight on a cut field. The smell of fish fertilizer erased by the harvest. The speed of the guitar, the ferocity of James Hetfield’s voice.
Later I discovered the Rave scene, Listening to UF-ORB and Dominator. LA Style, James Brown is Dead. In a 1979 Westfalia, stopped for turning right where there was a no turn sign,
“Where you coming from?”
“A Dance,” the driver, my boyfriend said totally deadpan
“A Dance?” There was along pause; the disbelief was palpable. The cop looked down the length of the van. Our pupils were pinners as we lolled around bed in the back. We practically waved him to come snuggle with us.
“Where you going?”
He gave the address, which was just a block or two ahead. The cop said,
“Look go straight home. I mean it, RIGHT home.”
We we did exactly as he said, giggling and thankful.
In Hawaii. Definitely cd’s, and the tape converter thingy. In a rusted out grey Ford F150 home brew keg strapped in the back. 4 wheeling over a’a, and pahoehoe to green sand beach. We played “40 OZ to freedom” over and over. A cassette. I don’t think it ever left the deck. Side A, after Side B of a tape that was home made. Sublime was so small then, so new. We got homemade tapes directly from them. From Drew’s brother who lived in San Luis Obispo where they played all the time. Bradly’s voice like an angel who was strung out on heroin, angry at the world, but still trying to get laid. They didn’t hit it big until he died from an overdose.
In the Miata, this time with a cd player installed in the stereo system. The car was a cobalt blue with a highlight of green . With the top down it was California Love by Tupac and Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill’s “A to the K” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s get it on.” That was all after Misguided Angel tho, by the cowboy junkies. San Rafael was hot. I had my first job that was close to what I studied in college. Something akin to a career. I worked for a photographer, not taking the photos, but supporting the photographer and that suited me just fine. As did the transition to a tech company working on a photography software. We didn’t call it an “ap” yet. And our idea to have it hooked up to the internet so you could buy “in app” purchases of film and supplies was too early. Wayyyyy too early. Little did I know how much that would be come a part of my life, of all our lives, and how film would completely leave my life. Most of our lives. Anyway, with that salary I finally was able to feel like I could afford to live in the bay area. I commuted past Marin City, where Tupac had lived. The irony of a white suburban girl singing along to Tupac and Cypress Hill in a Miata with the top down wasn’t lost on me.
A grey 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon. I called it my divorce car cause a friend sold it to me for $300 when I desperately needed a car. I fell in love with this van. Because it was a moving living room, pull over, pop the table up, viola. When I needed to move, it held a washer and dryer AT THE SAME TIME. The Vanagon was Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes, anything by Meg and Jack. All the music I discovered, was played for a time through a cd player, with a pop off face. Jeff Tweedy, Joe Purdy, Ray LaMontagne, LCD Sound system, Iron and Wine. It was a renaissance of music. And, then, suddenly it was an auxiliary cable and an ipod. A tiny little brick of a thing that held hundreds of tunes at once. I can remember my step dad saying,
“Why would you want your whole collection with you all the time?”
I was like “ ARE YOU CRAZY?? WHY THE HELL NOT! YES!”
Trundling the hilly roads between Guerneville and Healdsburg with the windows down, spring smells like love. The Junior Boys, a falsetto over electronic beeps and bips were the sound of it.
The Volvo, an ipod, through the old tape converter thing again. The volvo wasn’t mine, but I drove it for 7 years. The Volvo makes me think of my husband, driving up to Healdsburg from San Francisco to see me. My Sunday Tuesday guy who within two days was my forever guy. The Volvo makes me think of NIN, Marilyn Mason and Pig Face. That super star band of Industrial greats. Ogre from Skinny Puppy, Martin Atkins, of PIL, Ministry, it was his project. Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Trent Reznor, just once, Jello Biafra. So many names I don’t know them all. Notes from Thee Underground was the album. Divebomber was the tune. God and that horrid dude from Throbbing Gristle, gave me the willies that guy. Genesis was his name. Genesis P-Orridge. I’d listen to that Pigface Album cranked outside my clairvoyant class in Sausalito, cause the speakers were blown and the sound had to be dirty to sound good. I had to commute from Oakland and also from Healdsburg for a time, so I usually got there early.
Now it’s a black a Fiat 500L. And my 13 year old has influenced me. The album streaming now from my smart phone is by Twenty One Pilots. The Albums are Vessel and Blurry Face. I love Tyler and Josh. Tyler sings about depression and changes genres at will. We play them over and over. It’s nice to be out of K-pop for a while, although my youngest loves this BTS song, and I love hearing him try to sing along to the Korean and English lyrics. There is nothing better than singing along with my kids as we drive.
Back and forth between home and downtown Oakland for her school. I give her friends rides and quietly listen as they giggle in the back. Home and the Berkeley Bowl. Home and the Art Store.
Home and Star Market. Home and the gas station. We play Blurryface over and over as the fog rolls on over the moon roof. On sunny days when I hang my arm out the window, I know I’m the adult now, my finger tips touch the top of the frame. Yes, yes they do
Sometimes you’ve got to bleed to know,
That you’re alive and have a soul,
But it takes someone to come around to show you how.
She’s the tear in my heart, I’m alive,
She’s the tear in my heart, I’m on fire,
She’s the tear in my heart, Take me higher,
Than I’ve ever been.