Day 449, June 9, 2021

 Memory Like an Old Car

Tonight's soundtrack: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, 1976

When I was growing up my father had a great big Ford Galaxie 500. It was a pale jade green with a black vinyl roof. It was a two door, but the doors were long and the front seats tilted forward so kids could climb in back where we had little triangles of window that rolled down for a small face to gasp for fresh air.

The broad bench seats were covered in vinyl that got so hot in the summer that you could almost smell the flesh searing when you hopped in with your short shorts. I don't remember seatbelts, and on camping trips, or when we moved out to the Berkshires for the summer, the back seat was filled with suitcases, camping gear, and kitchenware until it was even with the rear window deck, and my brother and I would lie on top of that, comfy and nested among the bedding, the 1970s version of safety.

At some point, while my father was away on tour, someone stole the car out of the Logan Airport Long Term Parking. When it was retrieved some weeks later, the ignition had been hot-wired so any key could trip the starter, and the trunk had been drilled out so you needed a screwdriver to pop it. I think the car lost some of its glamour after that incident, though I feel like my father continued to drive it like that for several more years.

At the time, I regarded the Ford with suspicion because of its tendency to overheat. It seemed like every hot summer day in a traffic jam it would overheat and we would need to sit on the side of the road waiting for my father to hitchhike to get a tow, or worse yet, we would all end up walking to some indeterminate destination from which we could call for a tow and a new thermostat, or what ever it was the car needed. But now, when I look at photographs of 1970s era Galaxies, they are quite distinctive, perhaps the last gasp of the muscle car era before the gas crisis. They evoke the same aura as those old photos of my father in his cool sunglasses, a full head of hair, and his wide collared shirts.

I was much more enamored by the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that we picked up on the day my brother came home from the hospital. I'm not sure what I was more excited by, the power windows, or my brother coming home. The Cutlass doesn't stand out in my mind besides the momentous moment of its arrival and the power windows. It was one of the last gasps of the big car era, at least until modern times and the advent of the SUV and its seats were made of velvet material and didn't burn your skin except for the plastic piping.  

Summers, when my brother and I were dropped off at the Lee Town Library for the day, I would spend a large portion of it seated in the magazine section reading up on all the latest cars, but my favorite articles were the ones comparing modern era cars with the classic muscle cars, Mustangs, Camaros, GTOs and the like. I like to think that I thought up the modern retro styling back of modern muscle car incarnations, back in the early 1980s, but there was no car executive there to listen to the wisdom of a 9 or 10 year old Korean kid. 

Even now, when I'm waiting in the dentist's office, I enjoy flipping through a car magazine, though I'm more drawn to the reviews of electric and hybrid cars than the exotic super cars that cost more than my house. I suppose automobiles were the first passion that led me down the path of guitars and guitar magazines. The obsessive compulsion is similar. I never really learned to tinker with cars. I could follow instructions to change out an oil tank or install a new head gasket, but left to my own devices, I was mostly useless. But with guitars I learned to build them from scratch, with as much attention and compulsion as my friend in high school who restored a beautiful 1960s white Camaro with blue racing stripes. 

For a time, I could not tolerate a mass produced guitar that had not been hotrodded and tuned to its finest potential. I turned away from most instruments with the same disappointment as if I were faced with a 1980s era Mustang. But, I've let most of my guitar building chops fade away, and I am more generous with instruments now and find, even the most cantankerous instruments can have some interesting and unique sounds that might fit a particular situation. 

I still like a taut car, and a fastback Mustang continues turns my head, but I don't imagine I'll ever ride in another car with a bench front seat or a gear shift on the column except for the odd UHaul here and there. Some things are more romantic and wonderful in memory, like the Ford Galaxie, though sometimes I miss that feeling of tortuous heat burning the back of my thighs, as that was as much a part of summer as jumping off the dock at Goose Pond or going to the Alpine Slide at Jiminy Peak.

Take care and be well,

Leo

Doing homework sitting in the hatch of a diesel Volkswagen Dasher.


From Our Friends:

UMASS NEXT SUMMITS PRESENTS “THE SCIENCE OF DIVERSITY: DATA-DRIVEN SOLUTIONS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION & CAREERS IN STEM,” JUNE 29-30

National concern for equity in higher education and in the workplace has grown rapidly as the country reckons with the consequences of racial disparities. To help confront this issue, the UMass Amherst Institute for Diversity Sciences and the University of Massachusetts Office of the President are sponsoring a pair of online summits June 29-30 that will explore solutions to demonstrably increase the persistence and retention of under-represented minorities and women in STEM education and industry.

From Mass Humanities:

June 17: MS + MA Season Finale: Routes of the Blues

For the MS+MA season finale, “Routes of the Blues” will explore the history of Blues music in our two states, including Mississippi’s reputation as the birthplace of this music genre and Massachusetts's role in providing a space for audiences to hear and appreciate the African-inflected sound of the Blues. As both states begin reopening, we will also examine the impact of the pandemic on the venues and festivals where Blues music continues to evolve and flourish today.

The event takes place Thursday, June 17, 7pm-8:30pm. 

Speakers will include two ethnomusicologists, Scott Barretta from University of Mississippi and Maya Cunningham from UMass-Amherst, along with Kristin Neville, Executive Director and Founder of Mass Humanities grantee Blues to Green, the nonprofit presenter of the free annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, and wife of the late Charles Neville of the acclaimed New Orleans-based Neville Brothers band; musician Khalif Neville; and Grammy-nominated Mississippi bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Khalif Neville and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes will both perform live during our program.

Click here to register

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