Something happens to me when I get into the car without my kids. When I put the key in the ignition and back out of the driveway, away from the endless loop of "Mom?" and the cute but sometimes tiresome questions about who makes the road and why the sky is blue and when can I go to the bathroom, I am suddenly overcome with a craving, a need for really loud music. And generally really raucous music. Yes, my musical tastes have mellowed and matured as I've gotten older, but when I'm alone in the driver's seat, I am suddenly nineteen again, at a Lollapalooza concert with my long crimson hair and nose ring, rocking out to the Smashing Pumpkins or the Beastie Boys or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (who I still love, by the way). Alone in the driver's seat, I summon my old pals Pearl Jam or the Red Hot Chili Peppers and press the "+" on the volume button until electric guitar is streaming wildly from the speakers. On the road, especially the highway, where I'm less likely to be spotted by a parent of one of my kids' friends, or a student, I can bellow along to Eddie Vedder with feverish abandon, until my throat is scratchy (this used to happen often when I was commuting back and forth from Burlington, VT every other weekend to visit Bryan here in CT) and my ears are ringing and I'm out of breath.
And there is another kind of freedom that comes with these solo car rides: the freedom to swear, to --dare I say it?--yell the "f" word as the lyrics require. Now, I'm not given to dropping expletives in my every day speech, but there's something liberating about being able to belt them out without fear of having them repeated back to me in toddler-ese. In the car alone, my inner twentysomething is released, and it feels soooo good. Each tune is like one of Proust's petite madeleines: my whole body shudders with the memory of a city where I once lived, a mountain I once hiked, a friend I once had. The other morning, on my way to physical therapy, Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" dropped me into 1984, when I was on the cusp of adolescence, fervently writing fiction on my typewriter in the basement of my parents' house, imagining novels drawn from Springsteen's motley characters and New Jersey backroads; driving later that afternoon, Widespread Panic's "Travelin' Light" transported me to Red Rocks Stadium in Denver on a hot July day in the mid-90's, the air pungent with sweat and draft beer and sweet gange fumes; on another drive, Pearl Jam's "Rearview Mirror" has me driving a minivan from Boulder to Portland, Oregon with five other folks from Sierra Club, on our way to a conference. At twenty-two, the Age of Narcissism, I didn't need to be alone in the car to sing without restraint, to let the lyrics punctuate my mood: Saw things clearer/Once you were in my/Rearview mirror
On the way home from nursery school, of course, we're back to the Wiggles or "Baby Bunglebee," as Lexi likes to call it, but that's okay, too, because, truth be known, I'll sing along to anything. Well, almost anything. And belting out "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" requires a certain shrugging off of inhibition, too, and there's no shortage of memory-association with these innocent tracks, whose words seem to have been preserved in the far recesses of my brain all these years.
After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music. --Aldous Huxley