Summer, 1980. My parents’ car was a huge, gas-guzzling, Chrysler New Yorker, solid white with white leather upholstery. It had an 8-track tape player in the dash. Most of the 8-track tapes I had were secondhand, given by friends (people were generally over the 8-track thing by 1980), bought at garage sales or thrift stores. I had Frampton Comes Alive, a couple of easy listening ones, some light rock. I think I had an America album on 8-track.

My two Queen 8-tracks were the only ones I ever bought new. Not many stores sold 8-track tapes at that time. I had to go to the specialty music store at Northpark Mall and buy them. New 8-track tapes had authority. They were clunky and seemed very heavy. I bought Queen’s Live Killers album and, of course, Night at the Opera. I had to have them new, this was my favorite band at the time.

My girlfriend chastised me for spending that kind of money on 8-tracks. Her daddy had an 8-track deck that could record, she could have taped them for me. She called me a wastrel. She did not get it at all.

That was the summer I learned to drive. I got a learner’s permit and went out to see my sister, a 45 minute drive that could stretch to an hour if you knew the long way out to Carrollton, Texas. Her home seemed like it was on the edge of nowhere. I could roll the windows in that big New Yorker down and drive down razor-straight 2-lane Texas roads past pastures and Texaco stations, no police, no other drivers in sight.

All the time, Freddie Mercury would be wailing Bohemian Rhapsody or Brian May would be soaring through his extended live guitar solo on Brighton Rock, the one where the tracks run out midway through and you have to wait for the tape to switch tracks:

Dadaladalada DOW DOW DAAAHW dahn dahn dookadooka … KER …. CH-U-U-U-KKK

Shookashooka dahn dann dahn …

...and so forth … but who cares? It was summer in Texas, too hot to do anything but drive somewhere godforsaken and see my favorite older sister and maybe her husband, show off my driving prowess and pretend that I was the king of the roadways.

The car got totalled a few years later (I wasn’t driving), the sister and brother-in-law split up and Carrollton is a bustling little community now. The little roads through nowhere lead past strip malls, apartment complexes and housing developments. My 8-track tapes are long gone.

But I still get a hint of nostalgia when I hear that guitar solo, on crystal-clear CD with no track changes …

Dukka dukka dahn dann dahnn ...


Reprinted in Paul Grushkin's Rockin' Down the Highway (Voyageur, St. Paul, MN, 2006). Under the title Ker...ch-u-u-u-kkk

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