I have previously made reference before here at CC to my Depeche Mode fandom earlier in my life. A few specific things this week led me down the path of rediscovering both the DM albums in my possession and also this photo I had taken almost ten years ago. At this writing, this Saturday, March 5th stands to be the first day of 2022 to reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius), and most of my windows are open at home. I’ve also been painstakingly uploading all of my digitized music onto my portable music player (remember those?) so as to keep my phone free. The combination of the cool breeze blowing into my living space, this time of year conjuring up memories of the school year almost being over, and also refamiliarizing myself with music I’ve purchased over the years has me feeling nostalgic for the first tastes of independence that came at a very crucial time in my life.
My first exposure to Depeche Mode was from my brother who was quite a bit older than me, but by the time I had “discovered” them on my own, it was a revelation and something I was able to completely separate in my mind from associations with my brother. Without repeating everything I had written in that essay linked above from three years ago, and with the experience of hindsight, I’ll just say that it was a combination of impressive electronic production and lyrics that were alternately dark, disconnected, and occasionally hopeful that made this band one of my favorites at a time when I tried to make sense of many aspects of my own existence. Putting their discography through a sieve, 1987’s Music For The Masses, an album that was already years old by the time I had discovered it, was the one that resonated with me the most for a while. The lead-off track, “Never Let Me Down Again“, contains the lyric: “I’m taking a ride with my best friend…”
Riding around in my friends’ cars became an electrifying, new experience for the teenaged me. Even then, I took note of the strong sense of purpose that seemed to come from riding somewhere with someone. Before this, the only times I would ride in a car would be most often while with a parent on the way to the grocery store, church, or the mall. Being a passive participant in a joyride with peers was thrilling in a completely nonsexual way that seemed almost as powerful. To be chosen as a passenger in someone’s car for a leisure trip could feel like an intimate act of being let into someone’s personal space and prized possession, and the length of the journey could be like a measure of how much trust the owner / driver placed in being able to be comfortable around me, even if I wasn’t yet as comfortable in my own skin. There was also a sense of belonging, which was something I craved. Some of my happiest, most contented memories have been of being a passenger in a car.
When I snapped the lead photo in 2012, I was riding in my friend Mark’s (name changed, as he’s a pretty private person) 1980 MGB Limited Edition on a summer night while on the way to a party. Mark’s is the first MGB I had ever ridden in, and have since. The car had been in his family since new, having first belonged to his sister, after which he had purchased it from her later on. Taking a top-down night ride to the north Chicago neighborhood where the party was being held had me lost in the sensory experience of everything – the sounds, smells, noise/vibration/harshness, etc., reminding me much of those teenage joyrides. The car was tiny (I can’t imagine what riding in an even smaller MG Midget would be like) and low to the ground, as the slightly-raised, U.S.-spec cars still had only five inches of ground clearance.
The 1980 MGB is a hair under five feet wide (a full ten inches narrower than the ’74 Pinto I write about earlier this month), just under 50 inches tall, and just over 158 inches long. Mark and I were in close quarters in that car, which took a little getting used to, but he was and is my good friend, so it didn’t feel as weird as it might have with someone else. The Limited Edition option package offered on the ’79 and final-year 1980 models included special striping, wide tires on special alloy wheels, a front air dam, special steering wheel, and a few other accoutrements. The advertisement posted above also includes a luggage rack as being one of those features, but I don’t remember seeing an MGB of any vintage without one.
According to one source, there were only 6,668 MGBs equipped with the LE package. Mark no longer owns his example, but I’m glad I had the foresight on one balmy, summer night to try to capture with my camera a visual representation of what it felt like to be watching the world pass us by from the passenger seat of my good friend’s classic, British roadster. I’m generally much more content and at peace these days than to really get into Depeche Mode (some of my friends used to refer to them as “Depressed Mode”) the way I did thirty-some years ago, as I’ve had far fewer days of strange highs and strange lows since my conflicted teenage years and young adulthood. (The album version and not the single remix of “Strangelove” is the definitive one for me.) To listen to DM again, though, brings me back to a time when an effective, temporary escape from personal emotional conflict was found both in music and in the passenger’s seat of a best friend’s car.
Saturday, July 28, 2012.