"It’s got leather seats, and a CD player, player, player..."
The best place to listen to music is in a car. Apart from maybe live, if the band is good and no one is spilling beer over you, and some jerk isn’t rubbing his sweaty gut into your back, and there’s a chair nearby. Sod it, the best place is in the car.
Not everything is better in the car. Sex seems like it would be fun, but ends up with the gear stick risking becoming an unintended sex aid and there’s nowhere to stretch either party’s legs comfortably. Music, however, is better.
Cars and music seem to have to grown up together, a mutual individual experience intertwined into each other’s lives. I mean, where would Bruce Springsteen be without an automobile and a stretch of open road? His output would be reduced to a song about cream cheese and being born in the USA.
In a car, on your own, music just sounds better. Partly because you are the DJ, spinning the disks in a mobile disco of one, but also because you listen more closely. You focus more on the rhythms, the words. You sing louder, not holding back from those lung-busting numbers, safe in the knowledge that on the motorway no one can hear your flat F sharp. Plus no one cares, everyone wrapped up in their own little bubble. Unless you get too close to their little bubble, at which point they make you fully aware of their presence, and never with a song.
A car without music is like a swimming pool without water. God knows what people do without a radio in the car. I can’t think of a greater horror than being stuck alone, on a motorway in an endless traffic jam, with nothing but my own thoughts to occupy me. You can’t sleep it away, you can’t chat on the phone, you can’t read a book, and you can’t really engage with deep conscious thought because half of your brain is occupied with the task of not driving the car off the edge of the road, even though secretly you have a twisted desire to do so.
Without music or anything else to occupy you, you would have to acknowledge one of the most difficult existential dilemmas: aloneness. The haunting feeling that you are separate from other people, living out a solipsistic existence where no one else really exists but you. No place is this feeling more present than while driving alone.
Trapped in a metal shell, surrounded by other people in their own metal shells, on a journey that you can’t escape from. There’s no freedom, only the illusion of freedom. Yes, you choose the roads, but you are tied to where those roads go, stuck on journeys that are pre-determined.
It is a unique feeling of solo drivers. Maybe you’ve felt that isolation at other times, sitting at home staring at Facebook profiles of cats, or in a club surrounded by drunk people when you are the designated dickhead. But with those scenarios there are ways out. There are solutions. There are no such options when driving on a motorway. You’re stuck until the torture ends, trapped in a mechanic malaise.
Heavy stuff to ponder when driving back from a mid-Welsh town where you have been pretending to be a French waiter all weekend to perplexed members of the public. The only spiritual remedy is music.
This awareness of your own separateness can be curbed through music. Music can distract, it can lift you and help remind you of something bigger than yourself. This is why people fill their boots with massive stereo speakers: to block out the noise of their despair.
Yet music can also aid in the acceptance of this realisation. Cars can be cathartic spaces, where you shut out the world around you and allow yourself to feel, letting emotions flow out like milk across a linoleum floor. Music helps turn on the taps.
This is why I have sympathy for Jeremy Clarkson. It’s not driving he loves, but an opportunity to feel something, to vent emotions he feels too twisted up to acknowledge in life outside of cars. Clarkson is probably the world’s saddest man. All his racist and steak dinner violent dramas are actually calls for help, a desperate plea for someone to rescue him from his own vast melancholia.
So if you have a car, ride out in it. Drive long into the night, until the motorways are empty and you are alone. Let those feelings in, those otherwise dangerous thoughts. Let yourself experience delicious sadness and learn to be comfortable with it.
Music, gently whispering over the sound of an engine, will never sound as sweet.