RWD: Childhood Car Journeys, 23/12/12
Elliott Smith in the credits of Good Will Hunting, Ray Charles in Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Kavinsky in Drive – almost all the best driving scenes are made great by their accompanying soundtrack.
Any mundane journey can be transformed into something more with the addition of music. This is no more so than in a car where there are few distractions or the ability to get up and stretch your legs without stopping (unless you own a Winnebago, in which case, kudos). Some people hate long car journeys due to this. I, on the other hand, cherish them for these exact reasons. When you’re in a car you cannot do anything past low level mental tasks and therefore you can switch off and enjoy the passing of time without the feeling of guilt that you could be doing something else. We all have our favourite songs to accompany us on these journeys and these are often embedded within us from a young age, personal preferences passed down from parents from before we had our own tastes or means of playing them.
This weeks RWD playlist is a selection of our favourite songs from the soundtracks of our childhood car journeys. Summer and the south of France seem to be reoccurring themes amongst our writers so sit back and prepare to be transported away from the cold Christmas of December and to the sounds of (y)our youth…
Merry Christmas y’all xxx
The idea of ‘Pushing an elephant up the stairs‘ troubled me as an 8 year old boy. Trying to picture Dumbo being heaved up the same, narrow flight way that my twenty-stone babysitter struggled to squeeze along seemed problematic. I’m still not entirely sure what the lyric is supposed to mean. All I know is that this song was at least a distraction from the smell of my sister’s carsick and constant moaning: ‘I need the toilet‘.
Being an ex-guitarist and ex-guitar teacher, my dad’s car journeys were filled with mix CDs of complicated fingerpicking guitar, Eric Clapton and self-indulgent 70s rock. Whilst occasionally stumbling upon common ground in the form of Jimi Hendrix and Red Hot Chili Peppers (Colin loves a slap bass solo), we had brilliant argument when he claimed music is the only thing that matters and lyrics are rubbish. As an English student I was up in arms and argued that lyrics were equally as important. After he admitted that he wrote the lyrics in his band, I took this as a victory and have chosen one of Jimi Hendrix’s lyrically brilliant songs in an attempt to prove it isn’t the reverse solo that makes this a classic song.
I remember really vividly being around 7 or 8, on one of the many car journeys I would take with my dad driving me home after weekends spent at his house in London. After bonding at the Natural History Museum or playing Harry Potter Cluedo, he would then (in my young eyes) ruin it by making me listen to ‘his music’ on the way home. Obscure blues records and Nirvana. A lot of Nirvana. He told me that the Beatles were shit (controversial) and that when I was ready he would educate me on the Stones. I reminded him about this recently but he just sighed deeply as if to say ‘I’m not sure I have it in me anymore’. I guess I should have listened more back then.
The youngest of three, my place in the car has always been in the back, between my brother and sister. I’m told that pre-1993, my sister was allowed to pull down the panel behind my seat and make it into a deluxe arm rest and I’m pretty sure she’s always resented me for coming along and fucking this up for her. Not only did being the youngest mean losing out on a window seat and some legroom, it also meant that my parents point-blank refused to buy me my own walkman. Whilst in therry my siblings would share with me the reality was I had to barter for earphone time. Arm drawing was 5 minutes and polos 10. My brother was, invariably, more generous than my sister (harbouring her strong feelings of resentment) and so most of my childhood car journeys were spent listening to Eminem’s ‘The Marshall Mathers LP‘, memorising swearwords and feeling stupid not knowing what a clitoris was.
My older brother got addicted to Californication and naturally starting our journey to France to stay in a euro-caravan site I wanted to be as cool as him. At the tender age of 10 I embraced this album and song, falling in love with the charms of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers myself. What followed was 15 hours of an album on repeat and two parents thoroughly disliking their children..
As soon as we left the ferry at Calais I was allowed to get behind the wheel (which was deemed legal ’cause it were France) and choose the songs for the drive. What ensued was some dodgey steering and me singing that I’d ‘take a walk on the wild side’. Little did I know I was talking about becoming a transexual – some questionable parenting for a 5-year-old.
My mother is a middle-aged white woman who drove a Volvo 440 containing two small children in matching hand-knitted cardigans on their way to violin lessons and picnics. The cassettes in the car, however, did not reflect these facts. Dead Prez and Public Enemy could always be found scattered on the dashboard, though I always felt the latter proffered a lot of strange advice. I wasn’t quite sure what kind of noise I should bring, nor what power I ought to fight, nor even what hype I’d do well not to believe but I was sure it was important. Flavor Flav and the gang could equally be counted on for style direction – many imitation timepieces were fashioned out of cornflakes boxes and crayons on long expeditions to Wales, and there was always the hope that if I got through the entire bag of Werther’s Originals that had been provided for in-car nibbles then I too could have a set of gold teeth. To this day, I am still mildly irritated that my younger brother learnt the words to Grandmaster Flash’s The Message before me, but more so that my mother now has the nerve to call her offspring ‘aggravatingly political’ since it was her that blasted these songs in to our impressionable little minds for so many years and miles.
Being the youngest of three, car journeys were a painful experience. Squished between two older brothers everything just turned into a chinese-burning blur of The Offspring and a distinct smell of cheese (one brother insisted on letting his feet ‘breathe’). So from a young age I treasured drives with my mum – including her music collection, which included the likes of David Bowie and a didgeridoo album picked up on the streets of Truro. But it was a particular song by the Stranglers I remember most vividly. Not quite grasping the meaning of the words, I sang along (or shouted) rather aggressively to ‘walking on the beaches looking at the peaches‘ with the windows down – which I suppose must have looked quite odd emerging from a 4 year old girl’s mouth from the viewpoint of neighbouring drivers. I was just baffled and disappointed when I struggled to find peach trees growing on the local Cornish beaches.
My parents don’t really like music. No, I’ve never really understood it either but art, books, theatre, whatever, always took precedence. This meant that as soon as me and my sister were old enough we were left to our own (electronic) devices in the back of the car for those excruciating annual trips to Devornwall. However, in our younger and more vulnerable years when my parents were forced to play some music to entertain us it consisted of a ‘Summer Holidays’ 4CD boxset. This most likely came free with a life insurance policy or summat and inevitably the very first track was, of course, Cliff Richard. This is someone who my dad has always had a pseudo-ironic affinity for, with his incredibly literal masterpiece ‘Summer Holiday’.
My dad being part french, car journeys to the south of France weren’t short, especially with 4 young kids in the car. As such, we had our favourite CD’s that we played over and over again, along with those Sherlock Holmes audio books… My eldest brother played this ‘Money’ over and over again until we were sick of it. You can imagine how many times that must have been to make that possible. Still it remained a favourite. I wasn’t until I was about 16 that I connected the dots, and realized how our favourite jamming car journey tune was actually a huge Pink Floyd hit, from one of the best albums every made Dark Side of The Moon. I think I should thank my brother.
Back when my parents thought it would be fun for the family to annually drive to the south of France rather then catching the plane, they needed something to distract me and my siblings from the good day and-a-half drive. It was the age of the cassette tape and due to the car being filled with suitcases, inflatable whales and who knows what, it didn’t leave much room for much else. Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was a frequent accompaniment for our journeys, and what we now look back on with rose-tinted glasses as our Dad taking us under his wing and guiding us into the world of music was probably just a ploy to stop us from saying, “Are we there yet?”.
Growing up in Canada, summer meant an annual exotic excursion to the south, far from the snow banks of Canadian winter. School was out and summer meant driving to Disney. Now 22, the idea of a road trip along the Interstate 75 motorway, down the East coast of America makes me feel a bit like a protagonist out of the beats, winging it in a droptop from DC to New Orleans. At 11, it was hell. Packed in the back seat with more crisps than any family could eat, with only melting Reese’s peanut butter cups for lunch, it was Joplin that made us forget about how damn far away Mickey lived. Somehow, belting out ‘my friends all drive porches, I must make amends‘ in our best Texan accents distracted us from a 24-hour car journey where the only stops were breakfast at the International House of Pancakes and shopping for Georgia peaches. Our minivan was where my eldest sister and I mastered our bluesy Joplin impressions and became our own queens of physcadellic soul.