The Popstream: Eulogy for a Goat


As if deadly pig-borne murder-flu, Air Force One's 9/11v2.0 false alarms and the continuation of the unfortunate tendency for Michele Bachmann to say things weren't enough, this monumentally stupid and/or shitty week for America has also been accompanied by the death knell of the Pontiac brand. I'm not the world's biggest peeing-Calvin-decal-applying loyalist to any specific make of automobile, particularly one that's perpetrated so many stylistic and engineering atrocities over the last couple decades. But as a pop-culture junkie, there's two permanent losses that come with the demise of Pontiac that'd make my 10 year-old self weep profusely. The first loss is the Firebird, which even the most gearhead-illiterate would recognize as being immortalized in Smokey and the Bandit and Knight Rider, though it's also entured in less-famous fare like Radio Birdman's garage-punk anthem "455 SD" and the not-actually-that-good 1976 David Carradine film Cannonball. The other loss stings just a bit more, though: the GTO, the vehicle that invented the "medium car/absurdly large and powerful engine" muscle car trend that peaked in the late '60s/early '70s, is also no more. And even that model's recent attempted revival didn't manage to capture the American imagination in the same way that the recent retro Mustang, Charger and Camaro did, it leaves behind its own legacy of cool. It's the car Iggy drives in "Lust for Life," the model Kool Keith turns into a hook in his bizarro-rap banger "Keith Turbo," the base for the insane Monkeemobile, and the muse for Ronny & the Daytonas' "G.T.O." (a favorite live-set standby of the Replacements and Alex Chilton). And that's not all.

If you haven't seen Two-Lane Blacktop, I highly recommend it. First off, it's one of those rare post-Easy Rider counterculture-type movies that doesn't reek of patchouli and botched good intentions, though expecting any extended badassery in this largely existential film might test your patience a bit. It's a personal favorite not only for its underlying theme of the strange futility behind being more interested in going fast than going somewhere, and not just because the (aborted) coast-to-coast travelogue spends a lot of time in the kind of old-highway back country that's been razed for McMansions and franchise restaurants -- it's because Warren Oates, whose character is called "GTO" because that's the only constant known detail about him, is king of all bullshitters, picking up a continuous succession of hitchhikers and giving each one a completely different backstory. I like how he tries impressing the hitchhiker he picks up by rattling off some owners' manual specifications about his car, then kind of shrugs it off with a "whatever that is" and throws some vehicular gender confusion into the mix ("she's a real road king, all right"). The obligatory Popstream rock music quotient is fulfilled by a brief cameo from the film's other major protagonists, played by James Taylor and the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson, who do not count in recommendations against the movie because they don't talk very much and don't sing at all.

Two-Lane Blacktop wasn't a huge box-office success, so Pontiac had to wait until Burt Reynolds took that Coors-escorting, Jackie Gleason-baiting Smokey gig to get in on some of those lucrative Hollywood-spurred sales. But they did have other ways to try to lure in that crucial boomer youth demographic -- namely Paul Revere and the Raiders, the absurdly-dressed garage-rock first defense against the British Invasion who gave us the whompass 1965 classic "Just Like Me" and a couple other hits of slightly lesser whompassitude. Their jingle for the new-for-1969 GTO Judge is kind of lightweight by comparison, but it also sounds like the kind of punchy, poppy sort of number that a band like Yo La Tengo could probably do a great cover of.

And finally, here's a 1995 Munich mini-set by Japanese garage-punks Teengenerate, who start off with a raucous, almost incoherent rendition of the Devil Dogs' "My GTO". I'm pretty sure they're singing about the Pontiac and not the Mitsubishi, at least.