Songs About Cars: A Personal Essay on Musical Counterculture

Aug 5, 2016 | Guitarability

A vehicle is an artist’s home—a safe haven from failed gallery showings and withheld bar ring percentages. At the end of the night, your van is your bed; your pillow and closet and personal entertainment center. It’s a threshold for intimacy with a stranger or four or none. Perhaps with your hand, college radio, and peanut butter sandwiches. It’s a housing for release and contemplation of said act—a spot for evaluation of an evening and its shortcomings or overwhelming success and where you stand amid all of it.


I want to be back in the van, where evil never would nor could nor should ever understand. Back in the van, it’s anything, but their outrageous grandstand.Say Anything
Vigil and Thieves with Anthony Green (Circa Survive, Saosin) in St. Louis, September 2014

Vigil and Thieves with Anthony Green (Circa Survive, Saosin) in St. Louis, September 2014

It’s the birth canal for those two-hour conversations partitioned for what you’ve created, what could be better, and which gas station is more likely to have outdoor displays of twelve-pack Dr. Pepper and whether or not you’ll be inclined to grab one on your way out from a complimentary sink bath. I’ve often fantasized about this.

It’s as if artistry and poverty go innately hand-in-hand. There comes a point in every musician’s career when they simultaneously crave a record deal and a glove compartment full of yellow mustard packets and empty Red Bull cans.

Back of the van with Mister and Luna

Back of the van with Mister and Luna

A van is a crate—a catalogue of reflection and debate and disapproval, supposedly a safety net from outside influences but never neglecting to harvest what is internal and inflicting of doubt. It’s where you ferment in your own underwear and challenge the melodic integrity of Brand New’s  “Your Favourite Weapon” and note the spelling error on the first pressing of the album.

Only in the van do I imagine myself smoking pot for the first time. It’s almost like a christening. A song without a chorus. Only I’ve never done it, period. You can’t help but stare at an extended 1988 Granny Smith apple Club Wagon and not think “green.”

A van is also a confessional. Throw four— hell, even two menstrual women into a moving box and what do you get?

Grenadina en route to Cleveland, May 2013

Grenadina en route to Cleveland, May 2013

A van is also a domain for sexual experimentation. When you’re pressing tight corners with a guitar case under your ass, you begin to work with the circumstances, and perhaps to your advantage. Gravity is your friend. So is the sound port in a bass drum.

In a van, you learn to become more concise with your language, such as saying things like “fuck you,” “no,” “sure,” and “I don’t know.”

A van allows you to pretend to be on the road while you’re on the road. It’s a moving home and, sure, a stereotype for puppy pedaling pedophiles and college dropouts, but it’s also an ever-changing invitation. It’s full of condensed break-ups, betrayal, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Camel Lights, one-night stands, arrogance, and wit.

Vigil and Thieves at Hampton Beach, May 2014

Vigil and Thieves at Hampton Beach, May 2014

In the van, I am littered with envy and knowledge and a pining for losing everything I’ve ever owned. I see true liberation and carelessness. I see clean slates with 122,000 miles on them. I see a willingness to give and give and create and never ask for anything in return, even when the engine dies.

Steph Castor

Steph Castor is a writer, musician and performance poet currently residing in Kansas City, MO. She attended Columbia College Chicago for Poetry as well as the University of Kansas for Creative Writing and plays guitar for an alternative indie rock band called Vigil and Thieves.

She founded the #LFK Poetry Slam and has written for various publications including Guitar WorldTattoo, Curve Magazine and more. She enjoys indie music, tattoo culture, hip hop, vegan food, whiskey, and east coast beaches.

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