Milo de Venus was a beautiful lass She had the world in the palm of her hand But she lost both her arms in a wrestling match To get a brown eyed handsome man She fought and won herself a brown eyed handsome man.
“We were beginning to feel that the Continental had a soul, memories of the past and feelings about where we were going and what we were doing.” – Neil Young
When I was nine-years old, my mother rambled around in an old pine green Dodge station wagon. It was a big honkin’ thing, it seemed so out-dated, the back-end smashed, the seats an obnoxious green (everything in that car was green) the benches all tore up, wrapped together with silver duct tape so that when her purse spilled, which was often, dimes and quarters and lipstick tubes would get stuck and lost forever in the upholstery. She called it “The Green Bomb,” I later deemed it “Divorce Wagon" because it seemed like the dad-is-gone car. I don’t even remember the car from before. I was too young when they divorced (5) and I never processed it properly. In my mind, it magically showed up once my dad left (or she left him), though it must have been the family wagon. But there it remained – the car where mom donned big sunglasses and listened to songs on a tinny radio and was probably crying or raging or weirdly content – all over the place. Like the groceries rolling around the back seat when she rode the break, driving us kids insane. I don’t remember my Dad ever even being near that car. I hated that car.
Now, I’d kill to have that car. Once mom re-married and we moved from old-car-cool Bainbridge Island, Washington where no one cared about old ripped-up station wagons, neighbors loved vintage cars (and we had about five cars there anyway, including an MG, A VW Square-back, a motorcycle and my Uncle’s Lotus) to, what I viewed, an uptight little college town in Oregon, where cars were boring and newer (they all started looking like suppositories to me), a place where I had to make new friends who might just judge ripped seats and busted-up back ends, I could feel myself sinking into the floorboards whenever we picked up the infrequent play date in that thing. I turned against that car. I didn’t care to fit in there, I just loathed that the car used to be just fine. Now it was this rambling eyesore to, what I perceived, a bunch of jerks. That car represented something torn up in life. I just wanted her to get RID of it.
And then one day my mom came home and surprised us all: A gold Mazda (I can't remember the model). What?! I was so thrilled by this sexy, new car, I jumped up and down: “It’s so shiny!” And then, I asked… "So, what happened to the Dodge?” Mom replied, cheerfully "Oh, it's gone." I was suspicious: "Gone? You sold it? Someone’s gonna fix it up?" My mom said, laughing a little, almost sing-songy: "No, no, no. It's going to be crushed.” Suddenly, I was horrified and, then, filled with guilt. Surely I’d felt empathy in my little life before but this felt like something new, something I was complicit in. This is all my fault. I wailed, “The Dodge is all alone? It's all alone in some crusher? It's going to be killed?!!" My mother kept saying, annoyed, "It's just a car, Kimberley. It's not going to die." I protested, "It IS going to die. They're killing the car!” I continued on, awash with crushing remorse: “I was so horrible to that car! I feel so bad for the Dodge -- alone. We have to save the car!”
I started to cry. And I couldn’t stop crying. The car became a person, it had feelings and I pictured it entering the crusher, knowing how much the family hated him, cold and alone. And now he was being upgraded with this gold… slut. What if dad does the same thing? What if they don’t get back together? I know mom’s married, but maybe they’ll get back together anyway? I became so incensed with the tacky gold car that I yelled at the car, "You’re so full of yourself!" and then ran inside and cried some more. I mourned that green Dodge for an entire week. A full fucking week. Maybe more. I never liked the Mazda. My mother thought I was insane. I don’t think so. I needed more cars in my life (which I made sure of here and here). And I just needed Neil Young in my life. He did come, later. Thank god. In tough times and wonderful times and magical times, many times marked by cars. Many times in a car. On the road. From the hot desert of Joshua Tree to icy Winnipeg, Manitoba, Young's last city he lived before he drove to California. Young is always felt. I remember the first time I saw the aurora borealis in Gimli, MB. I was so stunned, it was so beautiful, and I could only hear it in my mind the way Young so uniquely and melodically phrases it in "Pocahontas": "Aurora borealis, the icy sky at night...
“Only love can break your heart” but Young knows just as I do, just as many others do, so can cars. With his book, one of my favorite memoirs, “Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life and Cars” he anthropomorphizes every single car in life from childhood until now. He even paints in watercolor, charming, impressive pictures of each one. It’s all so touchingly detailed, lovely and bittersweet, and then both revealing and mysterious, like Neil Young himself. (Stay with me here, but there's even a touch of Robert Walser in these accounts, the micro memories, and Young's enigmatic writing manages to convey something more revealing than perhaps even he imagines). Cars carry you on adventures and disasters and they can let you down, but you also let them down. I only wish auto enthusiast (if that’s even the right term for Mr. Young, more like beautiful obsessive, an auto-erotic) had been present at that past scene to tell my mother that I wasn’t crazy.
As he writes about his 1941 Chrysler Highlander Coupe, purchased in Malibu in 1975, which he loved, but never fully restored, he cited this reason for it’s disrepair, a reason full of regret and maybe even an excuse: “I don’t know why. It’s hard to understand, but somehow I think it has to do with Vietnam… Perhaps I should have not bought it and just left it alone and maybe someone would have fixed it up. Right now it is a struggle, a story incomplete, an empty feeling. I have to do something about it.”
Young’s book is incredible for chronicling nearly every car he’s known, owned, worked on, didn’t work on and then some, from his parents' 1954 Monarch Lucerne, to his various Hearses, one famously named Mort, where he’d haul his equipment around as a young musician and famously drive from Canada to Los Angeles, breaking down on Sunset Blvd, to his 1957 Corvette (a great car to speed around his new home in Laurel Canyon) to a 1951 Wily Jeepster, to a 1954 Cadillac Limousine (named “Pearl”)… Listing all of the cars would take forever, but Young’s owned them and loved them and his gear-headedness is so open and expansive, it’s impressive and passionate. He’s not one of those annoying classic car types – the ones who cherry out a badass muscle car or do the easiest thing in the world: Buy an old Mustang – he seems to love them all, find something curious and soulful about a car.
The slick and the fast, the rambling heaps, the ridiculously enormous family sedans from the 50s all have equal importance and appeal. And, as the chapters illuminate, each car has a memory attached, written with vivid, at times, dream-like detail. Cars drive in and out of his life, underscoring all of the changes and upheaval, some sweet, some exciting, some rock and roll, some down home and family and some very sad. Cars even help him become more ecologically conscious. He loves all of his gas guzzlers, but grows increasingly concerned about CO2 emissions, hence his interest in driving with renewable fuel (like his 2000 Hummer 1) and then, his now famous fuel efficient LincVolt, a 1959 Lincoln Continental converted into a hybrid demonstrator.
And then there’s divorce.
Some of the most moving moments in the book come from Young writing about his parents' divorce. What’s with cars and divorce? Do all of us children of divorce have a car attached? In a chapter covering his dad’s late 1950s Triumph TH3, he remembers his father leaving his mother (with a letter) and that his father was, in his way, telling him about the departure before it happened while driving in that car. “I knew it! I knew it!” little Young exclaims after his father ditches mom. His mother asks, “You knew what?” and then he proceeds to tell her about their car trip. His mother cries and, as Young writes, “I just held on to her.” The memory becomes more painful:
“A few days later, I came home from school and found Mommy in the driveway in front of the garage. She had her record collection out, a big pile of 78s from a couple of boxes. At first, it looked like she was organizing something. But Mommy was crying now, taking out each 78, looking at it, and breaking it on the cement driveway. That was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. I try to block it out of my mind. Just a late afternoon, sun getting ready to set, and there is this picture of her crying and breaking each record, making a little comment with each one.”
What a heartbreaking recollection. And from car trip to house to garage to driveway to… music. It all swirls together in Young’s evocative memoir. When discussing his 1959 Lincoln Continental, his “most outrageous car of them all” and the one he used in his Bernard Shakey-directed movie Greendale (the car that would become the “LincVolt”) Young reflects in the relative present time (the late 2000’s), driving through a lonely Las Vegas with his partner in Shakey Productions, Larry Johnson, discussing the “empty lots, as well as a huge dark old hotel that was no doubt about to be blown up… The giant building where Elvis had played his first Vegas shows. Such was the way of progress in Las Vegas. Out with the old and in with the new. “
Touchingly, Young wonders how the Continental might feel about this ever-changing Vegas landscape, “rumbling along, taking this in, no doubt noticing it was much older than that aging hotel, now slanted for demolition.” The directness and mystery of Young is all over this book, making it, sometimes, as affecting as his music. When he turns back to both the car and to himself and then, states something so obvious, it takes you aback with its frank emotion, the way a lyric like “Do you think of me and wonder if I’m fine?” does from “Journey Through the Past” (that title and song, is damn nearly what this book is all about).
Young writes, “We were beginning to feel that the Continental had a soul, memories of the past and feelings about where we were going and what we were doing. Spending a lot of time with a car can do that.”
Oh me, oh my... Al Green is performing tonight, in Los Angeles at the Greek Theater -- something that's filling me with love and happiness and his version of "Light My Fire" and a channeling of my inner "I'm a Ram" and ... well, take me to the river! In excited anticipation, I'm reposting my ode to the Reverend. I've written about him frequently here and I hope to update after the show. Unless he hands me a rose. If he does that I might not be the same for a few weeks ...
Since Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, Ike Turner, Wilson Pickett, Willie Mitchell, Solomon Burke and so many more have left us, I have to ask how any self respecting (or self flagellating) Christian thinks I that should believe in God is beyond me. Not that I need God necessarily, or that I don't believe (in something), and yet, when I hear that true soul survivor, Al Green, I start to think ... Jesus Christ ... maybe I do need the Lord. Green, one of the greatest soul singers ever placed on this God-forsaken planet, is still living, still putting out records and still performing live. One of the last real soul singers blessing our landscape -- especially a musical landscape populated by lip-syncing video vixens, pop punk whiners and faux transgressive bores, Al Green will make you believe. And, again, dear sweet lord ... I will witness Al Green, live tonight.
The Arkansas–born, Michigan–raised, Memphis-living Green crafted brilliant albums during his Hi Records heyday (Al Green Gets Next to You, Let’s Stay Together, I’m Still in Love With You, Call Me), his live performances (which I’ve fanatically collected over the years) are something to behold -- sexy, inspirational, transcendent experiences that weren’t simply swoon-worthy (though the ladies love Al Green), but genius examples of tightness and improvisation. Al Green can riff off the margins, break from his sensuous mid-range to talk to the audience, and then lift to falsetto only to bust into a goose-bump–inducing raw growl that comes from a place so deep it’s nearly impossible to describe its power.
To use simpler terms, Green performs with raw, soulful intensity in its purest form. And where do you see that anymore? Heaven? Green is heaven on earth. And in trying times, listening to Green say "Help me, I'll help you, Jesus, save my soul, I'll live for you, I'll do my best to just, do what I can to, stand up and be a man." Well, chriiiist. Never mind I'm a woman, goddammit, I want to stand up and be a man.
A man indeed. Green’s realness can be achieved anywhere, from the soundstages of Soul Train to his awe-inspiring Midnight Special appearances, to still-packed concert halls to his Full Gospel Tabernacle where the soul icon remains the residing reverend. If you’re ever in Memphis, don’t miss the chance to possibly catch Mr. Green presiding over worship -- an experience that, years back, one of my atheist-leaning friends caught and was so significantly inspired by, the guy was moved to tears. If you’ve ever watched Green perform the baptism-by-orgasm “Take Me to the River,” you’ll completely understand his reaction.
So, judgement day. Green makes me want to pop a doll, worship God and face the white horse all at once. Especially when he sings the sexy, slinky, scary, haunting “Jesus Is Waiting.” You can interpret this Soul Train performance as pure holy high or, pure holy high-high (check out Green's eyes) or whatever kind of godliness you apply to your Green, but one thing’s for sure, it’s on a holy high mountain of silky hot brilliance. This is religion. This is rapture.
Rock pioneer Link Wray, most famous for "Rumble" was boss in every era.
In 2000, at a small club in Portland, Oregon I witnesses this for myself. The half Shawnee shaman, at the age of 71, performed one of the greatest shows I've ever seen in my life. Some time had passed since Quentin Tarantino featured Wray's famed "Rumble" in Pulp Fiction, so the "Rawhide" rocker attracted a smaller crowd this time around. The better for all of us. The crowd consisted of die-hard Rockabillies, a smattering of older people, varied Wray fans, me and my little sister. I stood in the front, hands on stage, and watched one of rock n' roll's most influential guitar Gods work his power -- taking all that is raucous and dark and soulful and yes, light, and hypnotizing us. There were no bad vibes in that cramped crowd of potential rowdies. Moving on stage like the half-Shawnee he was, he worked us as if performing some kind of Native American rock and roll rain dance, while still playing down and dirty -- music that made us feel alive and real and raw. And then dreamy -- a seedy, sexy, soulful, demonic, beatific dream.
And then this wide awake fever dream became so tangibly real -- a moment that's remained a highlight of my life: Link Wray handed me his guitar in the middle of "Rumble." Yes, he actually, mid performance, leaned over from the stage, and placed his guitar in my hands. And that devil (an angel in disguise) did so with a grin on his face. I was holding Link Wray's guitar! I didn't scream or cry or crumble into Beatlemania hysterics (I did inside), instead I held it as long as I could and then, in a trance-like state, passed that sacred idol through the crowd. This was to be shared. And Link just took it all in -- jovial and delighted as the awed audience passed it along, and with great, religious respect. He trusted us. It was safely returned back to Wray who, in spite of his dark image (Wray was still one of the greatest looking leather clad rockers ever) and menacing sound, smiled broadly. I still have his pick, stashed safely in my jewelry box.
Sadly, Link Wray, born May 2, 1929, passed away in 2005. I wish he was still with us. Wray brought so much to American rock music. Distortion, feedback, the power cord and a raw, dirty, crunchy, heavy sound that everyone from Poison Ivy to Pete Towsend to Jimmy Page to Neil Young credit as most influential. Some even claim him the father of heavy metal. "Ace of Spades," "Jack the Ripper," the brilliant "Rumble" (watch Wray rock the ever-loving hell out of that one here) and one of my favorites "Comanche" are just a few of his classics. And then there's "Rawhide" as seen here on "American Bandstand."
The way Dick Clark mentions "Rumble" cracks me up. He says: "They've had one very big hit record gone by, a thing [at first I thought he said 'I think'] called 'Rumble.'" Quite a thing, Mr. Clark. And a think! That was a powerful hit. I've always loved that in 1957, "Rumble" was banned from a number of radio stations -- banned for its menacing suggestion. There were no lyrics! This is how complicated and primal and mysterious his music could be. And a true testament to his art.
And, as I stated from the outset, Wray rocked in every era. I revere all of his work (I especially love his Dylan covers -- "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" and "Girl from the North Country") and I love his unique singing voice -- that cracked voice -- a voice I hear in Dylan or Jagger screaming rough or even in Van Morrison -- but so distinctly Link Wray. His baritone, just slightly, beautifully broken, crooning through Elvis' "Love Me Tender" is plaintive and lovely. And his "Girl from the Northern Country," released in 1964, feelss so both ahead of its time and timelessly intimate -- it's so gravelly gorgeous, so different, so... Link. Wray really admired Dylan, but I prefer Wray's strikingly raw and emphatically romantic version:
And I get so damn excited when I hear what he was up to in the 1970s. Not enough '70s Wray is discussed or heard. Wray excelled with his seemingly smaller records in an era of enormous Stones and Zep releases with some gritty LPs that feel ahead of their time then and now. The Black Keys and Jack White would kill to imbibe whatever magical potion Wray was concocting. And as much as I respect White, they'll never achieve the alchemy of Wray. And they would surely agree.
I could ramble forever about his '70s records (and I won't even begin to touch the utter ridiculousnes that this man has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), but here's one track: Wray’s “I’m So Glad, I’m So Proud” from his 1973 album “Beans and Fatback.” Recorded in 1971 by Link’s brother Vernon, in a chicken shack (Link’s Three Track Studio) on Wray’s Accokeek, Maryland farm, this is the shit. My favorite ’70s Wray is his self titled “Link Wray,” featuring the masterpiece “La De Da” (a song the “Exile”-era Stones had to have heard) but this one, this one is a whole lot of hot damn. And thene there's ... good God! "Fire and Brimstone," from 1971. Screw Clapton. Link Wray is God.