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Chris Cornell – Show Me How to Live

“This radio station was named Kowalski in honor of the last American hero to whom speed means freedom of the soul. The question is not when he’s gonna stop but who is gonna stop him.”
Audioslave’s Show me How to Live videoclip opening quote.

Last week, May 17th, Chris Cornell, singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave,  died in Detroit at the age of 52. First of all, our sincere condolences to his family. The reason is not for us to question or judge. What matters is that he was a gifted singer and his music makes the world a better place.

For lots of us rock music and motoring is a perfect match. And so it apparently was for Chris, as we can see by one of his videoclips, Show me How to Live, where he drives a Challenger R/T. At first it just seems to be Chris and his band cruising through the desert getting in all sort of trouble. But for those who likes cars, movies and Audioslave it is much more. For those that are not familiar, follow an explanation of why this specific videoclip is so meaningful, specially at this moment. First follow part of the song’s lyric.

And with the early dawn
Moving right along, I couldn’t buy an eye-ful of sleep
And in the aching night under satellites, I was not received
Built with stolen parts, a telephone in my heart
Someone get me a priest to put my mind to bed
This ringing in my head, is this a cure or is this a disease?

Nail in my hand, from my creator
You gave me life, now show me how to live

And in the after birth, on the quiet earth 
Let the stains remind you, you thought you made a man
You better think again, before my role defines you

Nail in my hand, from my creator
You gave me life, now show me how to live

And in your waiting hands, I will land, and roll out of my skin
And in your final hours I will stand, ready to begin?
Ready to begin? Ready to begin? Ready to begin?

At first the lyrics seem to be about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it is because both have the same theme: creation, purpose, life’s meaning. What does it have with motoring? You might wonder. For that, you must understand the movie 1971’s Vanishing Point in which the video was based and why it fits the lyrics:

The movie has 2 main characters:
  • Kowalski, a car delivery driver, ex nascar driver, ex bike racer, ex detective and a Vietnam medal of honor veteran. In short terms, a true bad-ass.
  • And the 1970 Alpine White 375bhp Magnum Dodge Challenger R/T. Can you think of a better named car for the movie?  Challenger!

Kowalski

The plot runs around Kowalski’s attempt to deliver the car from Denver-Colorado to San Francisco – California, a 1200 miles (1900 km) in one day. Obviously he attracts police attention and his drive turns into a 4 states high-speed pursuit.

The starting point is in Denver on a late Friday night, where Kowalski insists he has to reach San Francisco the next day at 15:00 pm, even though the delivery is not due until Monday. The reason for that is unclear, he just says: “I gotta be in Frisco 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.”.

Kowalski drives across Utah and into Nevada, with the police unable to catch him. During the pursuit, Kowalski listens to christian radio station KOW, on which a blind disc jockey called Super Soul, listens to the police radio frequency and encourages him. Super Soul seems to understand Kowalski and seems to see and hear Kowalski’s reactions.

During the police chase across Nevada, Kowalski finds himself surrounded and heads into the desert. After he blows a left front tire and becomes lost, Kowalski is rescued by an old prospector who catches snakes in the desert. After Kowalski is given fuel, the old man redirects him back to the highway. There, he picks up two hitchhikers stranded en route to San Francisco with a “Just Married” sign in their rear window. When they attempt to hold him up at gunpoint, Kowalski throws them out of the car and continues on his journey.

At one moment Kowalski suspects that Super Soul’s broadcast is now being directed by the police to entrap him. Confirming that the police are indeed waiting at the border, Kowalski receives help from a hippie biker, called Angel to get through the roadblock. He finally reaches California by Saturday 7:12 pm. During the journey Kowalski has memories flashbacks: racing accidents, his girlfriend’s tragic death and preventing his police partner from raping a young woman.

On Sunday morning, California police, who have been tracking Kowalski’s movements, set up a roadblock with two bulldozers in the small town of Cisco, where Kowalski will be passing. As the Challenger approaches at high-speed, he smiles as he sees the light glinting from between the bulldozers just before he crashes.

FinalScene

By the way, by definition vanishing point is a point in the image plane where the projections (or drawings) of a set of parallel lines in space intersect. On a straight plain road it would be the horizon where the road ends, therefore the movie title “Vanishing Point“.

There are a lot of references in the movie. I like to think that Kowalski’s journey is a symbol of life. He is on the road, just drives for drive, trying to reach his destiny. “Super Soul” guides  and talks to him even though he is blind and one can’t speak to the other. Against his will “Super Soul” misleads Kowalski, but eventually “Angel” helps him getting through. There is evil disguised as good on more than one occasion. When he finds himself rock bottom lost in the desert, changing a flat tire and a viper is about to strike, help comes to his aid. And he is always accompanied by his faithful White Challenger to get him through the journey.

At the end I like this interpretation, based on MotorTrend magazine: “To Kowalski, it was still a hole to escape through. It symbolized that no matter how far they push or chase you, no one can truly take away your freedom, there is always a light, it is not the end of the road.”. Kowalski drives to drive, with no real purpose for doing what he’s doing. He decides to give his life its definition and meaning, with complete freedom over his actions.

I finish this post by quoting one of Super Soul‘s radio broadcast:

“And there goes the challenger being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels
The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver
The last american hero
The electric centaur, the demigod
The super driver of the golden west
Two nasty cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver
The police numbers are getting closer, closer, closer…
To our soul-hero in his soul-mobile
Yeah, baby, they about to strike
They gonna get him, smash him
Rape the last beautiful free soul on this planet
But it is written
If the evil spirit arms a tiger with claws
Brahman* provides wings for the dove”

*The divine and absolute power of being that is the source and sustainer of the universe.

 

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