Let’s be honest, boomers. We have been cranking music in our cars for well over forty years now. The methods that we have employed to blare our tunes have changed several times in our lives, but the result has been the same: playing songs that move us to join in. Sometimes, we roll our windows up, and sometimes, if we want to share, we roll them down. I call it the “Car Concert Effect.”
Right now, I have a very cool but understated, VW, GTI Golf. It is white and has the sharpest wheels you have ever seen. It drives like a sports car but looks kind of dorky. I adore it. The radio in it is ok–could be better. The speakers are a tad small for my taste. Nevertheless, I’ll hop into my car, put my seatbelt on and get the lay of the land. “How am I feeling today? Is the traffic bad? Is it sunny or rainy? Hmm…what mood am I in?” With Sirius Radio the selection of musical possibilities are endless and I thoroughly enjoy taking advantage of choice. On a good day, I crank up the Alternative/Pop Hits. I really like IMAGINE DRAGONS, DAVE MATTHEWS BAND and NEON TREES. I like GAVID DEGRAW and ADELE. No–I take that back. I love Adele. Yesterday, I was driving to my chiropractor and ADELE came on. “Crank it up, baby,” I thought. It was “Rumour Has It,” one of my faves. The inevitable question pops up. Do I blatantly sing at the top of my lungs, thereby giving myself away to the drivers of cars in the lane next to me? Do I sing in the back of my throat, and not move my lips–a good trick. Or–do I provide the percussion to this great song, and jiggle my left leg, while tapping the driving wheel of the GTI? No. This was a “sing it” song, and so I belted it out, swaying this way and that in my car. I’m in my own Car Concert, grooving to the lyrics, standing up, out of my imaginary concert chair, dancing to the beat. It’s my own, private Idaho and it numbs me from the car honking behind me, imploring me to speed up.
Back in the 1970’s, my parents let me drive their old, beat up station wagon. It was on its very last legs. Driving to school, it would stall as I stopped at every red light. I learned to keep the car in neutral, revving the engine to keep this from happening. If it stalled out, and the light turned green, I would suffer the fools behind me, who were annoyed at the delay in their morning and anxious to get to work. Hey–I was doing the best that I could do, under the circumstances. “Do you see my car?” I would think, “What do you want?” If all went well, I would reach my right hand over to the radio. A plain affair, it had a knob on the left for volume, and a knob on the right, to turn it on or off. It had FM and AM, which was advanced, because some cars and radios still had only AM radio. AM was mostly talk shows, or the local news and weather. I preferred to groove out to WMMR. This was the best Rock and Roll FM station in Philadelphia. I would bounce in my seat to LED ZEPPELIN, CROSBY STILLS AND NASH, JEFFERSON AIRPLANE, or maybe JANIS JOPLIN. That’s just the beginning. I could go on. Music was seminal and powerful in the early ’70’s. It defined our generation and represented what we were all about. It was “message music” that usually made references to a war we did not want to be a part of, or corrupt politicians, or young love. We felt like we were changing the world and this music was part and parcel of that. I’m not writing anything that we do not already know, but it bears repeating. To this day, when I hear JAMES TAYLOR or NEIL YOUNG, or ERIC CLAPTON I think of peace, rock and roll and saving the planet.
Inevitably, we changed and forgot some of our ideals. For that, I feel some sadness. It was a good time, and I think that we had great intentions and clear ideals. How did this same generation become the “Wolves of Wall Street?” I’m not sure how it all happened, but I was there. Living in NYC in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Eight Track Tape was king. A bizarre and clunky device, it enabled the listener to pop a tape into a portal in one’s car and listen to albums on tapes that would not scratch like records. These were soon replaced by regular cassettes, which were sleeker, and not as clunky. The tape spooled up and tangled, and you had to use a pencil to unwind it. They were handy, because you could skip listening to the DJ on the radio, and pop in whatever album you wanted, straight into your Car Concert.
I remember wearing a long, black tee shirt, slung down my shoulder. I wore high-top Reeboks and had my hair cut short. This was after my Wall Street phase; at which point I wore starched button-down shirts, pencil skirts and high heels, but that is another story. By this time, I was a wanna-be Downtowner, living on the Upper East Side. I worked for a Small Press on the Lower East Side. I was part of the scene. At that time, I did not have a Car Concert Hall. I was a subway goer who had, instead, a brand new, enormous, first generation, WALKMAN. Oh, how this gadget changed my life. You could clip it to your jeans, but the contraption was so large, it was like walking around with a toolbox. A Walkman had maybe four, or five buttons–very basic; start, stop, forward, back, maybe fast forward. The headphones did not go in your ears. They were foam, and rested on top. You could buy a Walkman with a radio and a tape player, combined. I would play MADONNA, and DEBBIE HARRY and CYNDI LAUPER. It was an age of music by women; the GO-GO’s, LAURA BRANIGAN and ANNIE LENNOX. But then there were the male counterparts: JOE JACKSON, THE POLICE, MICHAEL JACKSON, PRINCE and EARTH, WIND AND FIRE. In addition, there was a lot of Disco music, played by one-hit wonders. This was all great clubbing music, and we would go, especially if we knew the door guy, so that he would let us in ahead of the long lines. THE UNDERGROUND and LIMELIGHT were very popular, as were STUDIO 54 and CBGB’S. Man, this was a fun, fun time. Clubs were thrumming with strobe lights, disco music, dancing and flowing alcohol. Have people forgotten how to dance? Dancing was great. One memorable evening, I went downtown with some great friends in New York City’s blizzard of the last Century. The subway was not running. There were no cars or buses on the street. White snow blanketed all of NYC and Central Park. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. Gone were the grime, and grey, and filth. In its place was a wonderland so vast, and empty and white it took your breath away. We were not going to squander this night. We walked the entire length of Central Park, in at least two to three feet of snow. Like explorers, our footprints were the first ones to mark the ground as we pushed on Downtown in knee-deep snow, determined to arrive at the Limelight. And arrive we did. They were open; a few stalwarts were in attendance. We danced the night away, delirious with joy. Such was the optimism of the time. We could do anything. We would make it in this inhospitable city. We would succeed, and thrive. The music confirmed our dreams and for the first time, we could carry it with us, on our person, in our Walkman toolboxes.
Fast forward to the late 1980’s. Now I have children, and I still want to rock out in my car. What fits the bill? RAFFI, of course. The standard for children’s music, I learned many, many new songs. “Baby Beluga” still gets stuck in my head, as does “De Colores” and “Down By the Bay.” The sign of a good Rock-Out session would involve dropping my daughters off at school, driving away, and still singing at the top of my lungs, to “Tingalayo.” Minutes would go by, before realizing that I could pop the cassette out of the player and listen to “adult” music. The DISCMAN came out sometime in the 1990’s, but I cannot remember when, exactly, because I was sharing my love of music with my children. I was not zoning out to my own Car Concert, or portable music player. Now I had a chorus behind me, in the backseat, who joined in my concerts. My children had adorable, beautiful voices and would sing at the top of their lungs, joining as I played RAFFI on the radio. We would hum to our heart’s content. I smile as I write this. It was a beautiful thing.
I still revel in my Car Concert today, alone again (naturally). I’m becoming older, but I defy it by keeping up with what I think is great music, and attending concerts with my family. There is joy in music. In bad traffic, I love jazz, or classical pieces. They wind me down and cool me out. When I am blue, I adore Frank Sinatra. Life is usually on the up-and-up with Frank and I lose myself in his crooning, ever hopeful, ballads. Sometimes, I listen to CLASSIC REWIND, to capture my youth, and sometimes I listen to what I imagine the younger generations are enjoying, although they would probably laugh at me. “Lady,” they would say, “You don’t get it at all.” But I do get it. I remember that feeling. You know the one–where the world is your oyster and music expresses your hopes and your passions. I can still go there and I do.