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.)
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 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!
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...
"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."