What is the Dragon Wagon? The Dragon Wagon was a lime green 1982 Chrysler station wagon that a friend of mine was given by his parents circa 1986 when he got his license. This was no mere car. It was a chariot … spiriting a group of young men and women off to find parties on Friday and Saturday nights that 50% of the time didn’t exist, 25% of the time existed but had already been busted up by police, 15% of the time existed but had no beer left … but it was that magic 10% of the time when the party was still active … and had beer or other liquid or herbal spirits … that we all sought.
The car was so magical that one night the owner decided to permanently enshrine this vehicle as the Dragon Wagon by using reflector tape on the side to label this vehicle. I don’t know if it was the booze or some other muse that caused him to spell “dragon” as “dragin”. Oh, and he also tried to put the Van Halen symbol on the car, only he got the “H” and the “V” mixed up … which meant he was worshipping “Han Valen.” Laugh all you want to, but worshipping “Han Valen” is way cooler in my book.
I don’t know when this vehicle finally bought the farm. It was either when my friend struck a cable box … or it just died the type of grisly death you hear about in Tom Waits songs … but it was truly a great car. In honor of this vehicle, I am posting songs that I remember hearing in this automobile during pivotal moments of my misspent youth.
“Swan Swan H” – REM
“Cigarette” – The Smithereens
“A Forest” – The Cure
“Beautiful Girl” – Van Halen
“Can’t Get There From Here” – REM
A song R.E.M. composed for Milos Forman’s Andy Kaufman-biopic “Man on the Moon” in 1999. A beautiful song about death and dying. 14 years later, it still packs quite the emotional punch without being sappy or melodramatic.
First up is the grinding, distortion-heavy,machine-like anthem of paranoia “Strange” by Wire, from their 1977 debut “Pink Flag.” As classic as this song is, the more upbeat, rollicking, garage band cover by R.E.M. from 1987’s “Document” album is probably better known. I can’t say which one I like better. I love how positively creepy and dreadful the original is, yet the R.E.M. version is one of their best, hardest rocking tunes. You decide.
Another great track from R.E.M.’s superior 1992 album “Automatic for the People.” This was a minor hit back in the early 1990s, but isn’t played that much these days. Apparently, R.E.M. didn’t like the mix on the album and … well … ignored playing this for several tours, until 2008, when they played it in Vancouver, BC on their “Accelerate” tour. R.E.M. is entitled to their opinion, but I always loved this song.
REM did a great (and more famous) version of this, but the original smokes it. What can I say? I’m a sucker for clunky beats and nasal vocals.
A rare (and very baroque) ballad by Mott the Hoople, from 1971. According to legend, lead singer Ian Hunter wrote it while he going through an early divorce, as Waterlow Park in North London was where he used to take his children. You can tell that R.E.M. likely took notes when composing “Drive.”
R.E.M. rocks harder than they ever have on this loving homage to early 1970s glitter rock. “Bomb” and the 1996 album it came from (“New Adventures in Hi-Fi”) are terrifically underrated and worth checking out if you’ve never heard them or dismissed them back in the day, as many did.
A truly lovely song from 1992’s “Automatic for the People,” arguably R.E.M’s finest hour as a recording band. Yes, they have had many peaks in their distinguished career, but this is the album I always come back to and a rare album that sounds just as fresh today as the year it came out (which was, yikes, 20 years ago!).