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Snapsongs: “Cars” by Gary Numan

Sunday 2 March 2014 - Filed under Snapsongs

The excitement was palpable: my friend’s teenage brother had scored the deal of a lifetime. From the early fall heat he and his friends carried in the prize: a wood-paneled console stereo that must have been six feet long and could have held a small buffet and a sideboard of decanters on its immensity. My friend and I stared longingly as he set it down in the family room and proceeded to hook things up. The sunken turntable with the brushed steel, upward-facing controls was, to me, the epitome of savvy design. It was like it didn’t even exist, once you lowered the top down! And then the process was complete, and music emerged from the cream fabric covering the scroll-framed speakers. It was the sound of the future.

It’s the comedy of happenstance that a certain period of time always feels bright and new and open. Usually this happens when one is old enough to begin to understand the world but young enough not to have to deal with hormones or responsibility. Thus it was in 1982. Fun and amazing things were happening with computers, with cars,with movies, with toys, with TV, with everything. The general feel was that the 70s were over, let’s throw off some of that boring old anomie and depression. There were snags and hiccups — I was still preoccupied with the anxiety of nuclear annihilation, for one — but when I wasn’t worried, it was pretty cool to be alive.

“Cars” by Gary Numan had every piece that fit together to make The Future. Square-wave synth sounds, spiky percussion that was (maybe? hopefully?) played by robots, quirky vocals, lyrics that both celebrated air-conditioned comfort and mocked it, naked neon and fluorescent tubes, androgynous features and fashions, it was all there. It was catchy, it was fun, it had an odd little bridge to mix things up, it had swing. Perhaps the only other song I could think of that assembled all of these disparate pieces together was “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by The Eurythmics, but that video was waaaaay too weird to be The Future.

I sometimes wonder what my adult self would have thought of that particular time, how optimistic or depressing life in 1982 would actually have been, had I been old enough to get a job and a car payment and an apartment. And then I wonder if that’s the wrong way to look at things. Every single year has another crop of kids opening their eyes to the world, beginning the process of comprehending and understanding without having to risk immediate repercussions and failures, seeing what is cool and exciting and awesome as well as scary and foreboding. And it doesn’t matter what year it is. 2014 has just as much of The Future mixed in it for ten-year-olds today as 1982 had for me. Dare I make the obvious connection? Dare I speak in greeting card platitudes? I don’t know if this Gen X veteran can make that leap. But I’m pretty sure, out there, some kid has dug up a ten-year-old iPod and is listening to The Song of the Future on it right now.

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2014-03-02  »  Edward Semblance