They say that scent is the most effective memory trigger. For the most part, I agree. Any time I poke my head into the cabin of an air-cooled Volkswagen I am hit with an almost euphoric wave of nostalgia for my 1974 Karmann Ghia. But I also think there’s something else out there that can be just as evocative: music.
There was a time in my life when I had recently discovered, and become somewhat obsessed with, a genre that would stick with me to this day. My friend Will, guitarist in my first high-school band, had introduced me to a sort of experimental, noisy offshoot of psychedelic rock that had a brief period of, well, almost popularity in the late-’80s and early-’90s. Some called it Spacerock. Others said it was Shoegaze. Some used the terms interchangeably. Some said, “Don’t label it, you lamestain, it’s just music.”
But it was around the same time I was getting into this music that I ended up buying my 1994 Acura Integra. It was fall of ’95 when I started listening to bands like Medicine and My Bloody Valentine. It was late summer of ’96 when I bought my Integra after my Ghia was totaled by a dickhead in an IROC. I put a set of Boston Acoustic 2-ways in the Integra soon after I got it. My first mod, heh. It was actually my first car with a decent sounding stereo, even with the stock deck and dealer add-on CD player in the double-DIN slot in the dash.
It was all around the time I was turning 20. I drove a lot. I saw a lot of shows, but unfortunately wasn’t playing many. Somehow, being in my car and listening to this music meant something I can’t quite explain now, and probably couldn’t have then either. But even today, when I listen to something off My Bloody Valentine’s “Isn’t Anything,” “Glider,” or “You Made Me Realize,” the first thing I think of is a cool, cloudy autumn day in Texas. I’m in my Integra, sunroof open, driving from Dallas to Austin on the old concrete of I-35 as it makes its way from Oak Cliff south of Dallas to my destination. I’ve got a CD in the deck, and it may be blasting one of these songs.
I can almost smell the faint hint of fireplace smoke in the air now. The blanket of thick clouds, gray with white edges. The grass in the filtered light looking impossibly green, as if it had been photoshopped. And that peculiar putty-like color of weathered concrete on a day when it looks like it should be raining but it isn’t. The sound of performance tires humming along on that concrete. That Honda smell their cars had in the ‘90s. A smooth motor ticking along, 80 mph, 3.900 rpm. A little dip into the throttle and it’ll pick up and pass that semi rig without downshifting from 5th, heh-heh. Those clouds, reflecting off the hood.
It was almost 20 years ago now. Jesus. Two decades. The “import scene” was still in its infancy. It was a few years before the whole Fast and Furious franchise, and having a modified Japanese car was still a fairly unusual thing. And the cars themselves were still relatively new, not the multi-colored, oil-smoke belching beaters a lot of them became by the time the visors and the flatbillers and the Hollywood made them into caricatures of automotive culture.
I didn’t have a cellphone yet, and while I’d heard of AOL and gotten the CD-ROMs in the mail, I’d never even been online. Buying parts online didn’t happen, and if there was such thing as a car forum or a blog, I’d certainly never heard of it. We got our news about new parts from whatever local speed shops we were loyal to, plus Sport Compact Car and Super Street.
And we still got our music from the radio and our friends. We went to the shows, bought the CDs and the T-shirts. It seems like there were a lot more music stores. The iPod didn’t exist yet, but MTV still played a few videos.
Cars and music, man. Cars and music and youth. Someday I want to make the “Dazed and Confused” of my generation. Not a campy street-racing movie, but one that more or less gets it right. One that captures the music, the cars, and, pardon the cliché, but the innocence of those days in my life before instant communication and Internet use were widespread.
August 25th, 1996, was the day I took my Integra home. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking about this now. Here’s to great cars gone by.