My God Is An Angry God

I am a huge Mountain Goats fan. I'm listening to them right now, as I write this. ("Peacocks," off their album Tallahassee, which needless to say is great.) So to me, it is worth revisiting the efforts of their bassist, Peter Peter Hughes, and his amazing ode to beloved Saab, a common and bizarre shared infatuation, and (unlike me, in my case) how he builds off it into something genuine. Something, even, beautiful.

I met Peter (Peter) Hughes a few months ago when I was in South Carolina driving some sort of horrendous BMW monstrosity, not realizing that he had relocated from his Great and Hairy Upstate New York to a mere twenty minutes away from my hotel in Greenville, South Carolina. He messaged me, via his excellent Instagram: "come over and see what it's like to drive a REAL premium European automobile! Let me know if you prefer Swedish or French flavor."

The French flavor is a Peugeot 505 wagon, Appliance-Spec White, the kind of faded and normal-looking car that causes inexplicable giddy excitement in grown man-children like myself. (There's no way to explain such automotive fervor; call it a curse, if you will, stemming from an insatiable need for the perverse and the bizarre. Rationality, fiscal stability, loving relationships be damned; I would love to own a Peugeot 505. Alas, the closest I ever got was pilfering the "Peugeot 505 Turbo Wagon SW" badges from the grounds of a local junkyard.)

Advertisement

Advertisement

But the Saab harkens back to exactly what the above video points to: here "five-time Formula One World Champion and Argentine folk hero Juan Manuel Fangio piloting a SAAB 900 Turbo SPG across the Andes mountains on a covert mission to assassinate Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet." (And with that, the Hooniverse/Jalopnik love only deepens.) He picked me up at the Westin Pointsett, a beautiful hundred-year-old brick tower, and we went for a ride in the Saab, the 900 SPG of the Fangio. As a fan, a nerd, a fannerd, it was pretty goddamned great. El Narcoavion. A special force of one..

A special force of one

A photo posted by Blake Z. Rong (@bzrong) on Oct 7, 2014 at 8:50pm PDT

Fangio, as Patrick George discovered two years ago, is worth revisiting. It is always worth revisiting. The album comes with a helpful Listener's Guide, in case you need to brush up on your El Maestro/Argentinean history. Fortunately, it's a great piece of synth-driven work. Highs and lows, my friends, fast drives and slow cruises, aggression and calmness. And if you listen closely, you might even learn a thing or two about the hard-driving, hard-drinking, hard-living champion, the one they called "the bowlegged one," who was World Champion a record five times. Who's that driving that fancy car? Fangio, Juan Fangio!

Advertisement

Former Hooniverse co-conspirator Alex Kierstein and I arose from the same Spinelli-era Jalopnik with Johnson, Lieberman, Bumbeck, DAF vs FAF silliness that sunk its claws deep into our burgeoning automotive psyches. But nothing lasts forever—many of these links end at 2012, 2010, 2007. Clunkbucket hasn't been updated since 2012, because Bumbeck has gone on to a great many better things. Johnson is at Car and Driver, following a brief stint as a coworker. Kierstein went to Road & Track. I went to Autoweek. I earned a paycheck, direct deposit. Someone ordered me business cards. I donned a suit, handed them out to PR executives. There is no greater feeling than respectability, at seeing your friends succeed, at living vicariously, but it also induces a melancholy—a feeling that there was something magical there that you can never get back.

They are all my friends, these Murilee Martins and Mike Spinellis, and they influenced me in ways I could never truly express to them—everything from Iggy Pop to old Citroens to reading Kerouac to shedding my Fast and Furious destiny behind some modded Civic, not that there's anything wrong with modded Civics, no, really. When I get sentimental (read: slightly drunk) and I read their aging work, I am reminded that I am damned honored to call them my friends, not just colleagues to see at press events, and that I truly hope they consider me the same.

It's a bygone era, this Jalopnik/Hooniverse/Clunkbucket thing, before everyone grew up and went on to bigger and brighter things. The anarchy never lasts, after all. Eventually, we figure out what we're truly doing. It felt like we had all the momentum, to paraphrase the Great Doctor; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...

Advertisement

"So now...with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

The Mountain Goats' Peter Hughes Found A Better Use For A Saab Than Vampire Weekend

Amidst all the hoopla about Vampire Weekend's torching of a pair of Saabs for their Diane Young video, and the band's subsequent apology to the Saab faithful, nobody mentioned one of the best uses of a Saab in a musical context in recent years — Peter Hughes' concept album Fangio. It's a collection of songs about racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio driving a 900 SPG across the Andes mountains to kill notorious Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. And that, frankly, is the most badass concept for an album in the history of human existence.

Hughes is currently with the indie-folk outfit the Mountain Goats, but in 2010 he put out a solo album featuring songs about the fictional, Saab-hooning, dictator-killing exploits of the five-time Formula One world champion. In addition to his music, Hughes is also a big car guy, who blogs about cars, says he learned who James Joyce was from famed British auto journalist L.J.K. Setright, and once participated in a Save Saab rally in Detroit with his 900 SPG.

That same 900 SPG stars in the music video for the Fangio album, which just happens to have been directed by Jalopnik alum Davey G. Johnson. I told you this guy was a badass!

Advertisement

Advertisement

Here's what he told me about that SPG:

"I can tell you that the car in the video is (still!) my daily driver, and one of the most brilliant cars I've ever driven. Although I have to say I've never really gotten the 900 convertible thing — for me what makes the 900 Turbo so special is having this car that is fast, handles, and can swallow a refrigerator. Take the hatch and fold-flat seat out of the equation and you just have a front-wheel-drive ragtop — it misses the whole point. in which case the VW video car is no great loss, even to me. Still, that was a perfectly good set of 16" super aeros I would've happily taken off their hands."

The video has been around for a while now, but I only recently got a chance to listen to the full album for the first time. I liked it a lot. Many of the songs sound kind of early New Order-y, which is never a bad thing.

Advertisement

My favorite is "El Hombre Mas Macho," an upbeat anthemic ode to Fangio drifting an SLR, leading at Monaco, presenting the Heisman Trophy to Marilyn Monroe and killing someone named "Escobar." I'm guessing it's Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug kingpin. Fangio was a force for justice after all.

Hughes had this to say about the Vampire Weekend video:

"Hey, I don't know those guys, I've got no beef with them personally. But what do you want me to say? They're Saab-burners. They'll answer for that someday. I almost feel sorry for them."

So if you're curious about the right way to use a Saab, check out the video. And Fangio is out there on iTunes, Spotify, and on vinyl. I enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.