"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, March 7, 2011

Auto-Tuned

One of my favorite activities in life is driving. But it's not about the car. I couldn't care less about what the make and model is or how fast I'm going or how sleek the interior is or whether there's a racing stripe on the side. I just want a decent stereo.

When I was just a lad, my dad would play two tapes over and over in the station wagon so that the whole family could sing along. The first was Kenny Rogers The Gambler. The only song we listened to was the title track and my whole family knew every word, every note, every country twang by heart. The other was the Bee Gees tape Spirits Having Flown, and we only knew the first three tracks, but especially the first song, "Tragedy." This was when I learned the wholesome delight derived from singing in the car at the top of your lungs. Plus, it brought the family together to sing about when the feeling is gone and you can't go on.

My older brother bought a car just after he got his license. Some fat, red, muscle car that had an engine the size of the Geo Metro I bought in college. It was pretty powerful, but the only thing I cared about was the stereophonic sound spectacular. The tape deck didn't work and the volume and tuning knobs were long gone, but it was LOUD. It needed to be to drown out the rumbling, gas-guzzling engine. My brother would turn up KBPI as it Rocked the Rockies and the speakers would crackle away like they were made of cellophane. I think he got the tape deck working at one point, and U2 Under a Blood Red Sky was stuck on the Repeat Forever setting.

Babe magnet!
A buddy in high school bought an even more impractical car, an orange Datsun 280Z. We would cruise Smoky Hill Road out east of Denver where nothing was built yet and bellow every song from Slippery When Wet out the open windows. I didn't even like Bon Jovi; I was too punk rock for top 40 hair bands. But howling along to "Livin' on a Prayer" at top speeds east of suburbia is a natural high unto itself and I couldn't help it.

Not until college did I buy my own car. For a few hundred bucks I purchased a 1980 VW Rabbit, affixed a Siouxsie and the Banshees bumper sticker, then added a brand new stereo and speakers. The back speakers were too large for the hatchback and they kept coming unplugged, but when they worked it was worth the trouble. There were road trips crooning to New Model Army, and, though the actual driving was secondary, making out on Blueberry Hill to "I Wear Your Ring" by the Cocteau Twins was bliss.

The Rabbit died quickly. Enter the Geo. It was the first time I owned an in-dash CD player. For twelve years, two hundred and forty thousand miles, and two engines, this stereo served me well. Eventually I started commuting over two hours every day. One year, beginning in January, I listened to every CD I owned, in order, alphabetically. From ABC to Zwan. This ambitious project wasn't complete until October. I think I might still be at it if I weren't in a car for so much of that time.

These days I commute from Denver to Greeley (a college town about an hour north of Denver) every couple of weeks. For half of the drive I'm alone in the car and I can turn the stereo up to eleven. I can replay and sing the crescendo in the Abandoned Pools song "Blood" where it goes "This can't be what you're waiting for" as many times as I like. It gives me chills just thinking about it. (I tried to find a link to this song and could only find this kinda lame acoustic cover by some guy. Abandoned Pools is pretty unsung, I guess, but I dig 'em. They're a bit like Smashing Pumpkins but with a vocalist you can understand.)

The second half of the drive I have my girls with me. They're partial to croon along with U2 "Beautiful Day," Frasier Chorus "Bye Bye Bird," and The Boo Radleys "Wake Up Boo!" Last summer we liked to sing  the Glee soundtracks. I especially got into Amber Riley's version of "And I am Telling You I'm Not Going." It makes Jennifer Hudson's Oscar winning version sound like she's trying to give birth. Seriously. It's pure joy to turn it up and belt out those vocal calisthenics with your daughters. (I probably won't be trying this one with Xander. We'll soon be singing some manly "Sweet Child O' Mine"...that or John Mayer.)


I don't watch Glee anymore, but go ahead and compare. It's "Tragedy" for a new generation.

So what is your favorite sing-along tune in the car?

In related news:

For Music Monday, I want to point out the new sidebar listing some of the greatest music ever recorded. I've added my three cents, so if you hover your cursor over the album, you can see a comment from me. I don't really like this particular widget, though, because I can't figure out how to edit it without just deleting it and adding a new one. Anyone know how to manipulate these widgets through Amazon?

13 comments:

  1. Driving terrifies me. However, I don't mind riding in a car. I love to sing along with the radio. Not just in the car, but anywhere.

    I think one of the best songs to sing along with in the car is Geeks Get the Girls. It's a favorite of my friends.

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  2. I saw Abandoned Pools open for Garbage. I think they were the LOUDEST BAND I HAVE EVER SEEN IN PERSON. It was physically painful. I believe I actually went out to the lobby for a while.

    I'll sing along to just about anything I know while driving, even though some goodly number of those things are ridiculously outside my vocal range. Don McLean's a good one for being both lovely and singable. This morning it was Heart, which is fun but not nearly so easy.

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  3. I -love- singing, Karaoke is one of my favorite hobbies. Recently I've really had a lot of fun belting it out to Taio Cruz's Dynomite and Bruno Mars Liquorstore Blues or I Wanna Be a Billionaire. But I also love singing along with Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor and Dido.

    Aww, heck I just love it :3 Driving is so much more fun with music!

    -E

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  4. Grapevine Fires by Death Cab for Cutie, Running up That Hill by Placebo, The Cave by Mumford and Sons, Whatever I Fear by Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sons and Daughters by The Decemberists, Unwinding Cable Car by Anberlin. I have more, but this comment would just get too long.
    Funny Stuff I Write And Draw

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  5. So I find myself eager to find moments when all the kids are completely distracted or asleep, grab my treat of the day and sit down at the computer to see what is new. You never disappoint!!! And this post opens the flood gate of memories into my childhood of car rides in my family. the songs that come to mind first are U2 (anything ... of course) with you and Marty, then I have Sterling in my head singing "The Boys of Summer", and Cher singing "Birdhouse in my soul". I find it funny I can't pinpoint any songs for you and Jazzy - and as I think about it is because you both would sing anything and everything. thus explaining the extensive music collections of you both! I LOVE the memories and hope they continue on with the next generation!

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  6. @ Chanel: You don't drive? That's Unamerican. How do you get anywhere without a ride?

    @ Paul: Abandoned Pools and Garbage would be a good show. Too bad they're both defunct by now.

    @ TK: I can't do Karaoke. I have to sing in the privacy of my own vehicle. Otherwise it's embarrassing. For everybody.

    @ Charlie: Good choices. I, too, could write a list as long as my arm. And I have pretty long arms. I need someone to extol the virtues of Mumford and Sons to me. It seems I'm behind the curve for once.

    @ Sister Anon: Thanks for the positive input. you should try to get the rest of your siblings to read and comment. I was in Brazil when "Birdhouse" came out, then I came back to find it this strange little hit. But what a great song to sing.

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  7. I LOVE singing along with the radio! My Blackberry's MP3 player has over 800 songs on it and I like to just get into the car, set my phone to "Shuffle" and let the good times roll! I honestly can't tell you which songs are my favorites to sing along with. There are just too many.

    However, I really lke the way that you described the "soundtrack" for certain times in your life. I can definitely relate. There are songs that I can hear and be mentally transported back to the time in my life when I first started listening to that particular music. I'm talking sights, smells, people, emotions...everything. It's really an amazing phenomenon. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  8. Thanks for the comments, Candice. It's always great to hear from a fellow music lover. My iPod is arranged by the year the music came out, and it's amazing that I can be listening to music from 19--whatever and be immediately whisked back to that time. That's what makes music important parts in our lives.

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  9. I once was on a solo road trip through west Texas and couldn't tune in a single radio station. Someone had left a country music cassette in the car at some point, and even though at the time I was anti-country (heck, let's admit it - i was a teenager so I was anti-pretty-much-everything) it was better than the silence of my thoughts.

    Today I still don't listen to country that often, but I know every single one of those 14 songs by heart.

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  10. Doug: I like to say things like "I listen to all kinds of music," but that's really not true. I don't know if I could make it ten miles if all I had was country music to listen to. What was this miraculous tape called?

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  11. Edit: It was a 240Z, not a 280Z, and yes, it was a babe magnet :).

    Love, Todd

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  12. Todd dude, you're right, of course. It's been a long while since I even thought of that car, except for every time I hear Bon Jovi. And Midnight Oil for some reason.

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  13. aaaaaaaaaait's a tragedy..
    when you rip your pants in the middle of a dance
    it's a tragedy...

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