In Neil Young’s hit song, Long May You Run, the second verse opens with the phrase, “Well it was back in Blind River in 1962, when I last saw you alive.” Sault girl as I am, the words stir up memories of family trips to Sudbury in which we passed through this quaint little town located along the north shore of Lake Huron. I can still recall one spot in particular, the cozy little restaurant named Carlo’s.
Now, I can’t say what Blind River was like in 1962, that was before my time. What the song really conjures up however, is the image of Glenn Gould driving north along Highway 17. “His destinations of choice were almost always north, and included Manitoulin Island, in Georgian Bay, as well as Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, Marathon, Thunder Bay, and other towns along the rugged, lonely north shore of Lake Superior, where he admired the ‘Group of Seven woebegoneness’ of the countryside.” (Kevin Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 2003). For Glenn, small towns represented ideal places in which to write, study and think. In his own words, they offered a kind of “blessed isolation.”
In the spirit of a Gouldian road trip along the rugged landscapes of the Cambrian Shield, I’m going to hang a left here and take a slightly different route from the direction in which this post is currently headed. That is to say, that this is not a post about the philosophy of Gouldian solitude. For that, one need look no further than The Solitude Trilogy, a quasi-autobiographical collection of radio documentaries created by Glenn.
That song of Neil Young however, has me on a completely different path. Have a listen:
While the song makes me think of Glenn driving through Blind River in the 1960’s and 70’s on his way further north (hey, that’s the name of my blog!) it also has me musing about what this scene might have looked like. I am referring of course, to Glenn’s choice of car. As any fan will tell you, Glenn was quite fond of his cars, or, as Bazzana puts it, “He was one of those North Americans who are in love with their cars.”
The cars Glenn liked most were American made. I’ll admit that a trip to the Glenn Gould Archives at the National Library of Canada would probably put me in touch with a host of details about the specifics of Glenn’s various ‘apartments on wheels’ however, right now I’m feeling more of an inclination to put myself in the hands of the folks at Lincoln Continental and take a ride back in time. While Glenn’s cars were many, in his later years it was his Lincoln Town Car of which he was particularly fond.
Google the phrase, “Glenn Gould’s cars” and you’ll find pictures of him at the wheel of his beloved Longfellow (Lance was the nickname he gave to his Chevrolet Monte Carlo.) While I’m hardly knowledgeable about cars, I do so love to look. Here’s a commercial for the 1970 Lincoln Continental. This may not be the precise year of Longfellow (talk about a pun and a half) but you get the idea. He sure did like a big car. I like to think that Glenn identified with the epic proportions of this car. Witness for example, his own extensive note-taking, recording splices and even his lengthy telephone conversations. Short-winded he was not!
Measuring 225 inches in length, this car was sure to get a person out of Toronto although, by the time the head lights got to Blind River, the tail lights were probably still just getting onto the 400. But I digress. Luxury is the motto of this car and with it’s “sweeping expansive wood tone,” and optional AM/FM stereo radio integrated into the instrument panel (“eliminating the floor adaptor”…!!) this car must have really lived up to Glenn’s need for an apartment on wheels. Incidentally, when you look up the photo of Glenn driving, you’ll note that he’s not wearing a seat belt. For goodness sake, Glenn, buckle up! I guess it’s just another sign of how much things have changed.
One of the things I find most amusing about this car is the way in which things are hidden. Advertised in the commercial are the “concealed headlamps” and “concealed windshield wipers.” And don’t forget those “fender skirts”. Of particular interest to the car is the “improved sound package,” designed to “reduce outside noise.” So, when you’re driving past the Big Nickel and conducting along with a Mahler Symphony on the radio (yes, Glenn did this) you don’t need to worry about being heard.
The various selling points of this car are in themselves rather Gouldian, the intensely private Glenn having tried very hard to conceal himself from the public. Talk about concealed head lights and windshield wipers. I realize that my attempt at humour here is about as successful as Glenn’s Karlheinz Klopweisser skit. My sincerest apologies.
More than thirty-five years later (Glenn died in 1982) and the folks at Lincoln Continental have slimmed down the 1970 behemoth to a modest 201.4 inches. So, today’s model is basically two feet shorter than Glenn’s but still nearly twenty inches longer than a Honda Civic. St. Aubert, my own little gentleman (now blushing in the garage) is bursting his buttons. Have a look at what Glenn’s choice of car looks like today:
In all fairness, this is a nice looking car but boy those fender skirts sure had personality. If Glenn were still alive, I have a hunch that while features such as the heated seats and automatic window screens would be a delight for keeping him warm and rid of unwanted sunlight (not to mention what I suspect is a much more powerful engine for getting out of the GTA) this car has a few un-Gouldian features, namely the backseat passenger audio controls. While out for a drive with Glenn, nobody but Glenn controlled the audio. Nobody!
The long and short of it is that while styles change, the basic function of any automobile is to get us safely and comfortably (and hopefully with as little a carbon footprint as possible) from point A to B. What really matters is the location of those two points and, if you’re like Glenn, then point B is likely going to be somewhere along the north shore of Lake Superior.
Safe driving and remember to fasten that seat belt!