Wilco--"Passenger Side" (mp3)
TLC--"No Scrubs" (mp3)
Death Cab For Cutie--"Passenger Seat" (mp3)
I have two wingmen in my life. One is a chihuahua named Taco. The other, a rubber ducky with a St. Patrick's Day hat that I caught in a parade in New Orleans, sits in the space between the visor and the ceiling on the passenger side of one of our cars. But, since I live and drive with a family full of females who are always pulling down the visor to look in the mirror, the duck usually kicks around on the floor.
Suffice it to say, we are not talking "wingman" in the bar pick-up-scene sense, but just that pal in the other seat who accompanies you on your journey, whatever and wherever it may be.
Of the great philosophical questions that I have pondered, there is, perhaps, none more mundane than the one came during a drama workshop with some guy John knew back in the 90's. We were talking about the play Hamlet and he asked us to decide if our life was Hamlet, which character would we be? I decided I would be Horatio, the observer, the one who is left standing to tell the tale of woe that surrounds him, with the bodies scattered everywhere and the foreign army captain demanding to know what had just taken place.
Hmmm.....deep stuff, you say, probably mockingly, but maybe it is. How do you decide when to take the passenger seat, next to the driver, maybe helping to navigate, maybe just keeping company? How do I?
Will you be the Sundance Kid to my Butch Cassidy? Will I be the Nick Carraway to your Jay Gatsby? Will you be Catwoman to my Batman? Will I be Todd Palin to your Sarah? I know, I know, it sounds more like a discussion of Halloween costumes than a life choice. But the fact remains, how do you know when to take the passenger seat and how do you know when to drive?
Consider the situations in the songs above for a moment. The Wilco narrator has lost his license, and so even in the semi-comic circumstances of the song, he has no choice but to "ride in another's car," even if the driver is a lousy, wasted one. TLC weighs in from a status perspective--if a guy can't even get his own "ride," he's a worthless "scrub," and not worth the time of any self-respecting woman. And, finally, our Death Cab singer, who I assume is unable to drive, for one reason or another, since "you are driving me home" suggests a passive circumstance, is in absolute bliss in the passenger side, taking the opportunity for romantic reverie about the connectedness with both the driver and all things in the universe.
All of which tell us, if nothing else, that being the one in the passenger seat is fraught with ambiguous symbolism. Are you cohort, loser, sidekick, lover, second banana, lucky one? Think of what a coup it is when teenagers head to a car and the first one who thinks of it calls, "Shotgun!" That secures him (most likely) the coveted spot where he can see out the front window, get the big picture. Back then, it seemed so simple. Now, most of us think we want to be the one behind the wheel in most situations, because that is what successful adulthood in a competitive, capitalistic society seems to demand, but that chance to chill and go for a ride with no pressure, and little expectation, except to offer an opinion or to point out a bump in the road once in a while, that's not such a bad thing. Who were you trying to impress, anyway?
"Passenger Side" comes from Wilco's first cd, A.M. You remember, I'm sure, "No Scrubs" from TLC's Fan Mail. And "Passenger Seat," a song once recommended for a mix of contemporary wedding songs on N.P.R., first appeared on Transatlanticism. All are available at Itunes.