Songs About Cars - Steph Castor

“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.”

-Max Bemis


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.

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 complementary 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 Taco Bell hot sauce and empty Red Bull cans.

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 being dangerous 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 “monster.”


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

A van is a domain for spacial experimentation. When you’re pressing tight corners with a guitar case digging into your back 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 “go away,” “no,” “sure,” “fuck you,” 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 kidnapping getaways and college dropouts, but it’s also an ever-changing invitation. It’s full of condensed break-ups, betrayal, cheap drinks, cigarettes, temporary faces, arrogance, and wit.


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 is a Kansas City poet and writer and of two collections, Keep Her in Your Mouth (Thirty West Publishing, 2020) and Bedroom Music (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), as well as an open-minded musician, novice photographer, half-way decent chef, passionate foodie, avid adventurer, content marketer, and other (usually) intriguing characters. Castor spends most of her days in the local community darkroom, tearing up local tennis courts with her queer Kansas City skate crew, or trying out a new recipe. Past work can be found in favorite cultural and entertainment media outlets including Curve Magazine, Guitar Girl Magazine, Guitar World, Tattoo.com and many more.

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