It really wasn’t planned that this song follow “Listening to Levon” on my countdown, but it’s nice that it worked out that way.
In “Listening to Levon”, Cohn tells us he was sitting in his dad’s “blue Valiant” but this is the song he really associates with his father. It’s a very heart-felt piece of nostalgia and, like many of Cohn’s songs, gentle while remaining pop-ish. Whenever I hear it, I’m struck by how thoroughly successfully it evokes the memory of being a child. My dad didn’t own a silver Thunderbird (or a blue Valiant — the only car my dad ever purchased new was a 1983.5 Chrysler Reliant K car, notorious as one of the worst cars to ever roll out of Detroit). But I totally get the vibe Cohn is sending in this song. There’s pride and wonder and just a hint of loss.
Great big fins and painted steel
Man it looked just like the Batmobile
With my old man behind the wheel
I just love the line about the Batmobile (even though, of course, the Batmobile is black and not silver :-P). That’s exactly what a six-year-old might say describing his dad’s new car. And the pride that radiates through — “with my old man behind the wheel” — is palpable.
He got up every morning
While i was still asleep
But I remember the sound of him shuffling around
Then right before the crack of dawn
I heard him turn the motor on
But when I got up they were gone
Here too Cohn brilliantly evokes childhood. Who hasn’t heard their father (or mother) rooting around the house in the early hours, before any children are supposed to be awake? Who can’t read in there a safe feeling of being provided for? I can definitely empathize with the thought of jumping out of bed to say goodbye without realizing that, if the motor’s on, he’ll have pulled out long before I get there. Here is the moment of loss that often informs Cohn’s songs — not teary mourning, but a soft regret.
I suppose this songs speaks to me because of how and when I lost my father. By the time the song came out he’d been gone eight years; there would be no chance to sit and reminisce with him. My memories of my dad are wrapped in the same misty nostalgia that informs this song. What remain are glimpses and impressions of the man he was, but as a kid I didn’t have the context to weave them into a real understanding of him. Cohn’s sparse tribute to his dad honors that incompleteness and captures the important parts anyway. To a young boy, his father is more than a person; he’s the living concept, the very definition, of what it is to be a man.
Don’t gimme no Buick
Son you must take my word
If there’s a God in heaven
He’s got a Silver Thunderbird
You can keep your Eldorados
And the foreign car’s absurd
Me I want to go down
In a Silver Thunderbird