I believe there’s some truth to the adage that we often want what we don’t have, instead of appreciating what we currently possess. As an avid music collector across many different genres, I’m frequently on the lookout for the next great find, sound or artist, and I’ve become quite adept at researching the sounds I’m looking for or have read about. I’m not necessarily talking about “digging in the crates” for vintage LPs, as I have no turntable and a very limited selection of vinyl, but rather about the music itself.
I still collect compact discs, as I discovered some time after the advent of the availability of digital music files for purchase (and the subsequent crash of my home computer, even if it had been backed up) that I value liner notes and pictures. It’s also much easier to conceptualize what it is I’m in the mood to listen to if I can do a quick visual scan of my CD library and pick something out, rather than using “CTRL-F” or scrolling with my mouse for the perfect music for my specific mood.
I listen to my MP3 player on “shuffle” with my earbuds in when I’m in the office, but it has been a completely different ballgame since I’ve been working from home for the past four weeks. I will now put on an entire album and listen to it from start to finish as a cohesive collection of songs, whether a studio recording, hits collection, or multi-artist compilation. I keep the volume at a level that’s high enough that I can hear the music well, but low enough so as not to cause unwanted distraction as I tend to my vocation.
Since last month, instead my usual habit of buying many items on my “want list” on the various sites through which I purchase music, I’ve been listening to stuff I already own – and it has been glorious. I’m quite proud of the music library I’ve curated over the years, and I now feel as though I should relax for a while with my music-hunting. My bank account also thanks me. I haven’t given it up buying new-to-me music entirely, but those purchases have slowed to a trickle.
With that said, the discovery of this 1971 track featured on a compilation, “Chevrolet” by American blues musician Taj Mahal (née Henry Saint Clair Fredericks), reminded me of a ’67 Impala I had photographed in the western part of my hometown of Flint, Michigan, over nine years ago. Some sample lyrics:
“Gonna buy you a Chevrolet, gon’ buy you a Chevrolet. Gonna buy you a Chevrolet… Just to do som’thing for you, Babe. Just to do som’thing for you.
Gonna build you a house and home (with my bare hands), build you a house and home. Gonna build you a house and home… Baby, to do som’thing for you.”
Let’s be honest. Who isn’t singing the blues a little bit these days? I’m not taking anything for granted, and I have so much to be thankful for right now. When I imagine the future, though, I find it very hard to envision that many people will be pining for the “good, old year of 2020”. Who knows? Perhaps we will. Let’s just say, though, that in reviewing these pictures of this ’67 Impala (with “Chevrolet” playing in the background), it’s not that hard to feel a bit nostalgic for a time and place when this car was not a cool, weather-worn classic, but just another workaday appliance used to get groceries and shuttle the kiddies to Little League.
This car was parked outside a since-closed auto repair shop, Severance Service, which was formerly a Union 76 gas station and even before that, a “Hi-Speed” based on its architecture. The overall aesthetic of this garage harkened back to a time when even lowly commercial buildings like this had certain architectural elements that displayed true artistry. With its gleaming white and green tiles and tower on the corner closest to the intersection, this building could just as easily have been a hamburger restaurant or diner as it was a full-service gas station. If I squint while I look at these photos, it’s not all that hard to imagine this weather-worn Impala in much nicer, daily-driven condition, parked in front of a gas pump and getting its windows squeegee’d clean by an attendant in a crisp, white uniform.
What makes the location of this sighting even better is that the former Severance Service is at the corner of Flushing Road and Chevrolet Avenue. This area in the west end of Flint is not far from a couple of the major GM factories that use to stand and operate here (“Chevy-In-The-Hole” and Buick City, both demolished years ago), and was once very upper-middle-class. In fact, this intersection used to also have a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop, a pharmacy, the Ambassador Bar (which held Flint’s first liquor license after Prohibition was repealed), and a few other businesses. These are all gone now.
Flint built the ’67 Impala, along with numerous other cities in both the U.S. and Canada. Buick may have been headquartered in Flint for close to a century and may also be the brand most associated with this industrial city, but “Chevrolet” has much stronger associations, to me, with my hometown. The relatively prestigious Buick plant may have been where many factory workers aspired to work, but Chevrolet is what the average autoworker here actually drove. Chevy was the brand for the working man and woman, much like blues, rock and R&B music forms contained many of his or her anthems.
I wonder if this Impala had belonged to Mr. Severance, who had owned this shop and decided to hang up his dream of bringing it back to its (Flint-built?) glory one day – maybe also as a gift to Mrs. Severance, who perhaps had also loved this car. I did not know the Severance family, but my mind wanders. This Impala hardtop sedan was one example of Chevrolet’s full-size passenger car line, the entire range being the most popular in the country that year with about 1,047,000 sold. This included the Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala (including an SS variant) and Caprice model lines, variously available (depending on model line) as pillared and hardtop two- and four-doors, convertibles, and station wagons. Engines ranged from a 155-horsepower 250-cubic inch six cylinder all the way up to the Impala SS427’s 385-hp V8.
Much has changed at this intersection since I took these pictures in the early part of 2011. Severance Service has closed, that cool, vintage “Union 76” sign is no longer present, the tower is gone from this building, and production of the Chevrolet Impala is slated to end after this model year. The more I think about it, perhaps the inevitability of change in the world is part of what draws me to music so much (outside of its inherent enjoyability). This Taj Mahal tune, though far from current, continues to live on in a way that many other tangibles simply cannot. Whether or not the narrator of that song actually ended up building his lady that house and / or buying her that Chevrolet, I’m happier for having heard Mr. Frederickson sing about it.
Saturday, February 19, 2011.