Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Car Tunes

By Mitch Myers

MARCH 22, 1999:  I was driving south on Western Avenue a few nights ago in my 1988 Nissan 200SX when I was pulled over by a traffic cop for speeding.

I realized I had been going too fast as soon as I saw those little red lights flashing in my rear view mirror, but 20/20 hindsight is rarely an asset. I cursed myself as I watched the policeman amble up to my car. "Where's the fire, son?" he said sternly. Feeling desperate and dreading the prospect of a moving violation, I decided the only thing to do was tell the absolute truth. "Maybe this guy will see that I'm sincere and give me a break," I thought.

"I'm sorry officer," I said humbly. "I was going way too fast. I just don't know what happened. I was listening to this song on the radio and must have gotten carried away by the music." The cop stared intently at my driver's license and registration as I desperately tried to gain his sympathy. After what seemed like an eternity he said, "Don't tell me, were you listening something like "Radar Love" by Golden Earring?" My jaw dropped. "W-w-why yes," I stammered. "I was! But how did you know?" The policeman smiled with a hint of pride, "Oh, I can usually tell by paying attention to a few details. How old the person is, where they're from, what kind of car they drive, those kind of things."

This intrigued me. For a moment I forgot my dilemma and began quizzing the policeman about cars, cruising and music. "Hell," he laughed. If I had a dollar for every person I pulled over for speeding while listening to 'Hot Rod Lincoln' or some other damned car song, I could've taken early retirement." Feeling emboldened by his now-open demeanor, I tried sucking up in hopes of getting a pass for my own indiscretion. "I guess you're right," I said. "There must be a million great car songs that make people put the pedal to the metal. All those old rock and roll tunes from the fifties, I imagine it must have started with Chuck Berry's 'Maybelline.'"

The policeman took off his hat and ran his fingers through his thick, gray pompadour. "No," he sighed in a nostalgic voice. "It was earlier than that. Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats cut 'Rocket 88' back in 1951 and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson had a song called 'Motorhead Baby' on Federal Records about two years after that. Hank Williams wrote 'Lost Highway' even earlier than those, but most folks don't care about old country music, R&B or rockabilly anymore. The real problem started with all that surf and car music that came out of California in the early sixties."

With brazen confidence, I interrupted the officer's reverie to display my own knowledge on this subject. "I remember my roommate in college was a total custom car fanatic and all he listened to was stuff like Jan & Dean and early Beach Boys records. It seemed like Jan Berry, Brian Wilson, this L.A. DJ named Roger Christian and maybe three or four other guys invented that whole musical genre." The cop looked at me sideways. "True," he said. "Tom Wolfe captured that whole hot rod/custom car scene in his 1965 essay "The Kandy- Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby." The only thing he forgot to analyze thoroughly was the music that all those kids used to listen to at the time. There were countless songs written about cruising, chop-tops, coupes, dragsters, fuel injection and the like."

I was sure the cop was going to forget the ticket and let me off with a warning. Jokingly I said, "I can't believe I'm one of those guys who gets pulled over while listening to 'Radar Love.' How embarrassing." The cop laughed. "Don't feel bad, you could have turned out to be the dork who gets nabbed singing along with the Doobie Brothers' 'Rocking Down The Highway.'" "Wait!" I shot back. "What about the dudes cruising around to War's 'Low Rider' or Canned Heat's 'On The Road Again?'" "Well," he answered, "those types usually aren't speeding, but they do forget to keep the joint down when they're passing it to the back seat, so we usually get them for marijuana and open container."

I couldn't believe it. I was having this great conversation while other drivers were slowing down, looking at us and assuming that I was in big trouble. In my excitement I began babbling a mile a minute about songs that mentioned highways, Mustangs, Cadillacs, Fords, GTO's Cameros, Corvettes and Thunderbirds. Suddenly I realized that the cop wasn't laughing any more. I had gotten carried away and didn't even realize it. It was obvious to him that I had no self-control. "I'm going to have to issue you a ticket, sir," he said coldly. "Just remain in your car and I'll be back in a few minutes. As I sat in stunned silence, Bo Diddley's "Road Runner" came on the radio. The DJ had been doing theme-oriented programming and I was just another statistic.

Rhino Records has just released "Hot Rods & Custom Classics: Cruising Songs & Highway Hits." This custom-designed 4-CD set comes with decals, key chain and fuzzy dice. Proceed at your own risk and watch your speed.


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