"My Body the Car" by Godley and Creme
A choose your own adventure post! Read one or the other of these vignettes. Or both.
A) It’s kind of amazing to me that, with latent interest in new wave sounds and rediscoveries, Godley and Creme hasn’t been among them. The duo were known mostly for the number 16 hit "Cry", which was their only charting US single. But in their native England, only four of their 16 singles charted, and one of those was a “Cry” remix. Compared to the success of their groups predecessor, 10cc, it barely made an impact.
But the group itself seems ripe for rediscovery, and Birds of Prey feels like a genuinely forgotten gem. Opening with “My Body the Car,” an unusual acapella number hewing close thematically to J.G. Ballard. It’s like a doo-wop “Warm Leatherette.” It’s a catchy pop song with some deeper pathos underlying it.
And the rest of the album is just as strange, catchy and experimental. The bridge between radio friendly new wave and more experimental and, at times, abrasive post-punk can be found here. For instance, the second track, “Worm and the Rattlesnake,” is a song that would fit somewhere in between early, tweaked out Scritti Politti paranoia-pop and their latter day successes with genuine pop hits like “Perfect Way.”
Each song on the album contains different textures, different moods, different effects - in essence, it’s their overlooked work, painfully out of print like much of the rest of their catalog. Had I not heard “Out in the Cold” on WPRB, I might never have discovered them as a group capable of great music beyond “Cry” - and that’s a shame.
B) It wasn’t until well into college that I met people who had never had a driver’s license. I knew plentyish of people without cars, but without the ability to so much as drive them? I think I knew more people previously who couldn’t ride a bike.
In Western Nebraska, driving was really the option. I still am shocked sometimes going back the short distances that are driven rather than walked or biked. A bike is relegated to almost strictly a recreational tool, not a serious intra-town travel option.
I recently got rid of my car. It was showing its 13 year age, and its make - Saturn - is at its core a cheap car option, mostly built with plastic and prone to cheap but weird breakdowns. For instance, there was the constant clutch problems which ended up being two pieces of plastic, no more than $10 a piece if you did the right eBay hunting. But there were also the terrifying times when that plastic replacement piece would pop out in the middle of something like, say, traffic and you’d have to list the center console and pop it back into place - leaving that in constant disarray as screwing it back in place wasn’t worth it in case something like that happened again.
I had owned the car since 2007, when I received it as a graduation gift after finding it on Facebook, of all places. I had sought it out for its fuel efficiency and comparatively low emissions to other GM models, which is a surprisingly thorough thought for someone just out of college. No real flash, aside from it being the Saturn “sports car” which usually led only to “cool car” compliments from 12-year-olds who think anything with a spoiler is the pinnacle of automotive engineering.
The car had a tape deck, and with that I accumulated a set of cassettes - music I wouldn’t have otherwise been enthused by, mix tapes created for their “drivability,” or tapes like The Grateful Dead, whose purpose seemed to be having relaxing music for my driving frustrations and anxieties.
There are plenty of frustrations and anxieties that go along with having a car. There’s the physical act of driving, something at that has a lot of x-factors beyond just your ability or inability to drive. It’s also how you respond to other people in traffic, how you work with outside events, whether your blood pressure can hack endless traffic jams or the maniacal driving of those on I-95.
But there are also the financial responsibilities. Depending on where you live, there might be state inspections - free in, say, New Jersey, but an expensive proposition in Pennsylvania. While checking around to get my car inspected, the quotes ranged anywhere from $50 to $150 to run some engine diagnostics and a tailpipe test.
It was this that “broke” the car. Throughout the winter, I had to use it for a job, scuttling back and forth across the Philadelphia area running volunteer tax sites. It put a lot of strain on the car - for instance, midway through tax season I had to replace the thermostat or else run the heater at all times as not to overheat the engine. And it’s been the joke in my family for a long time that I’ve never been much of a car mechanic, so when I thought such things as “I can do this myself” I ended up spraying freon in my face and having to get the thermostat replaced AND my AC recharged - and also ended up frantically Googling “freon poisoning” in the way we sometimes do in moments of panic.
But when I discovered a $41 ticket on my dash from Philadelphia’s wonderful parking authority that told me my tests were out of date, I figured I should probably go get that done or risk their wrath.
The car failed every test possible. The potential repair bills were wracking up - brakes, windshield repair, whatever untold bounties were hiding behind getting the emissions up to snuff and figuring out the root of the Check Engine Light which had just gone on that morning. It was sounding like a $1000 ordeal. My biannual insurance bill of around $350 was swiftly approaching. $1350. Gas. Accursed gasoline. Around $60-100 a month, depending. And this is after coming out of a period of unemployment at the tail end of an Americorps year - in other words, my income wasn’t exactly at its highest point, and this car was seeming more like a burden than a boon.
Or I could junk the car. Given that it’s a Saturn without much metal in the frame, the car would get $200. And I wouldn’t have a car that wasn’t a necessity in a city with decent public transportation infrastructure. The repair shop people joked that it was “good bike money” and my brain leaned toward agreement.
So I did it. So, for the first time since I was 15, I went carless. And I don’t regret it. And I don’t miss it. A gigantic financial burden was lifted from me, and my mobility wasn’t impaired - just the travel times to other neighborhoods stretched a bit more.
But here I am, one of those people rare to my hometown but oh so common on the east coast - someone without a car.