Goodbye Mulberry: The Songs That Defined My Time With My First Car

Harley Geffner says goodbye to his Honda Civic with an ode to the music and relationships that made his time with his first car so memorable.
By    July 16, 2021

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Harley Geffner still can’t believe Starburys were $15.


When I first got you in 2019, I couldn’t be stopped. I felt like the most powerful person on the planet – a feeling most probably feel when they acquire their first car. It was like I had an impenetrable force field around me, protecting me from the wider world and all of its troubles. It was my own little space. After moving to LA in 2017, I got a bike – and figured that anywhere that I was going more than 5 miles away (probably the barrier of an unpleasant distance to bike), I’d make friends who could pick me up. I was right for the most part, but didn’t realize how much different shit would be with a car. I was the one who could be in charge of plans now, pull up on people randomly, say I’m doing this and I’m coming to pick up whoever on the way.

Your long past is somewhat of a mystery (you’ve been running since ‘09 and I know the first owner’s name was Cristina), but my friend who had you before me – well let’s just say he was a real G. A 38 year old from Malaga who was miserable at home, and came to LA to live what he called “The California Dream,” before giving up on it after 6 years and moving back to Spain to smoke hash and work construction jobs again. I once asked him what the California Dream meant to him and he said “dinero and bitches my friend.”

He realized after a few years here that the first part of his dream had been crushed by the weight of not being able to do shit as an undocumented immigrant. He was working busboy jobs under the table, and when he finally met and moved in with my old roommate, he was able to run Postmates using you under her name. It still wasn’t enough to support him though, so he would sell coke to UCLA grads at West LA bars on the side too. He was a smooth ass motherfucker. I used to hop in the car sometimes while he and Deb ran Postmates together, chain smoking cigs with a big plastic cup of Sailor Jerrys and Diet Coke for each in the cup holder.

The cig burns are still all over your fabric, part of your story. He knew every shortcut though, every alley, every way to get around West LA traffic. And he would whip the hell out of you through the tightest spaces with an insane level of confidence. You and your dimensions were part of his outer shell, just like you became a part of mine. The big homie left me a bunch of Spanish Flamenco CDs which he wore out too. I’ve bumped ‘em a few times to pay homage. I also found the best Missy Elliot album (miss e… so addictive) buried in your trunk literally last week and excavated old Hov, Busta, and Ludacris verses.

Music was a huge part of my relationship with you. Being in cars, owning a car, changes the way you listen to music. Some of it is literally made for car speakers. Try listening to a banging G Perico song off your phone speaker – it’s just not the same. So in the Douglas Martini style of documentation, here’s a little ode to the music, the relationships, and just a few moments of the life I’ve lived with you over the last year and a half (with most names changed of course).

Rucci & RJ – “Windows Down”

James is sitting next to me peeling a perfectly sized blunt out of a Fronto leaf. It’s a Saturday night and some random group of friends I met at a bar the weekend before invited me to a house party in San Bernardino or some shit. They showed me pics of the pool and house and it looked insane, mansion-esque really. James and I shared a friend, who had an incredibly adventurous spirit and would be on random shit like this all the time, and he had passed away kinda recently. I think James was trying to embody his spirit by saying yes to a random expedition like this. I lied and said the drive would be an hour, knowing damn well it would be almost 2. It didn’t matter, we were bumping heaters and smoking fatties and chilling the whole ride down.

We listened to Rucci’s album Midget 2 twice in a row. The kicker was the final song on the tape, where Rucci melodically bounces “Okay I’m ridin’ round the city with my muthafuckin windows down, with my windows doooown.” James asked me to roll up the window so he could finish rolling our second blunt of the drive. The party was a let-down but we didn’t give a shit. We were proud of ourselves for making the move – there was a not insignificant chance it could have been the best night of our lives. We listened to Larry June on the way home in the morning.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “So Good At Being in Trouble”

I ran the whole gamut of emotions with you. There was a point I had real hope. Things had been looking a little bleak previously, but Tara, or really the idea of Tara changed that for me. Tara, similarly to in my initial years in LA, biked everywhere – she lived in Santa Monica and biked to the beach everyday after work. Will Rogers was her favorite. She made awesome paintings full of emotion, liked really good indie music which she put me on to, and was just a pure and free spirit. She introduced me to Arlo Parks, Little Dragon, Nubya Garcia, MICHELLE, Cosmo Pyke, and so many more. We had a group chat with another friend that was almost exclusively a music sharing chat. Just “this is my sunny morning song today” type texts.

I fell for her pretty hard in a pretty short period of time. I think it was really her independence that attracted me so much – that she went to the beach every day by herself just to stare at the waves and read – then would bike on home once the sun set. She also just had a really well thought out perspective on the world that I felt I could learn from, and was learning from. I drove you, with her in the passenger, to all my favorite spots, Mulberry. I took her to the top of Topanga overlook while bumping Burna Boy in the mountains, took her to Hinanos, would say “leave your bike at home, I’ll pick you up and we can go to Will Rogers together after work.” She felt like a real old-soul, just way wise beyond her years. There was a point we were hanging out 3 or 4 times a week, and often would just be at the beach sitting next to each other in silence, entranced by the patterns of the waves. Things felt like they were being pieced back together in my life after they had been so mercilessly ripped apart.

We’re sitting in you, the windows are down and we’re driving down the PCH from a Malibu beach – the sky is orange, red, purple, romantic. She’s on the aux, and plays Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s “So Good At Being In Trouble.” I look at her sandy hair blowing back in the wind and think to myself that I can see us doing this for a long time. I can really imagine a full-on life together. I hadn’t felt this way about anyone since high school. The song will always be remembered by me as a beacon of hope. I still play it and think about how I felt during those moments. “It’s a strange, old state of mind.”

Just as soon as Tara gave me hope though, she hammered me back into despair. She told me in her own way – a very gentle way in I think it was October 2020 – that she wasn’t interested in the life that I had envisioned, the life in my mind that was giving me hope and piecing me back together. The vision was shattered, and it took a while to build my confidence back up after that.

Berhana – “California”

I’m driving up the California coast on a Saturday afternoon. I’m going the long way, through the curvy roads on the side of the mountain to visit my friend K in Oakland, where I’ll be staying with him for a week and working remotely because I could do that now with the pandemic. I asked Twitter for music recommendations for coastline drives and a friend from college recommended Berhana’s 2019 album HAN. I listened to it a few times on the trip. The album starts with an interlude of a flight attendant’s voice telling us to buckle up, that we’re in for a ride, and that attendant’s voice is interspersed throughout the album, telling us to tamper with smoke detectors, that we’ve hit an altitude of 120 beats per minute, etc.

Berhana made you feel like a spaceship. “California” comes on and I want to say it transported me, but really it was showing me exactly where I was. I was looking at freakin’ Narnia out of my window. It’s Big Sur, I’m by myself, smoking a little blunt I rolled, and seeing the biblical-looking rocks meeting tide pools below with sun peeking through the clouds and a forest to my right. The synths are padding the environment around me as the song builds and builds. The whole thing feels so lush – I’m fully in the present in a way that’s only achievable in moments like these. The outro to California kicks in, which is just the synth loop for a minute and 30 seconds. I start yelling over it “Riding round this brand new California, there’s a star above the clouds to liiight the way,” then devolve into a full on freestyle, just kicking ideas around, letting random thoughts jump in and out of existence over this beautiful loop. I ran back the outro a few times ‘cuz I wasn’t done talking my shit.

YG & Nipsey Hussle – “Fuck Donald Trump”

You were at every protest with me, parked right around the corner. When I was getting arrested by LAPD for being a human being alive past 5pm, I explained I was just trying to get back to you like you were a siren call begging me to make it. Well, I didn’t that night. But the next day (maybe a few days later, I don’t remember), we were right back at it. My friend Kayla, who was introduced to me by the Philosopher King of this site, is sitting on your window, full torso hanging out of your right side with a huge FUCK DONALD TRUMP sign. We’re slowly riding through the Hollywood protest area alternating between YG and N.W.A. while cop cars burn around us. Modern day protest music of course. This was about 30 minutes before we got tear-gassed and jumped into a random person’s yard who hurriedly invited us in for fizzy drinks from Trader Joe’s.

Radio Base – “Bless The Bottle”

Jakeil and I are parked side-by-side in Venice, right by the beach. We have the two best spots in the whole of Washington Plaza. We finished eating our double cheeseburgers from our favorite bar Hinanos an hour or so ago, and have collected a group of 5 or so randos around our cars. One is our friend who is there every night, this 70-year old Japanese woman whose name I’m not even going to attempt to make up an alias for. She would always have a beer with us when she saw us, but preferred the Sangria from the to-go window at the Venice Whaler. Your engine is on, your windows are down, and you’re pumping out music at full volume while we pass around a bottle of Cazadores, chain smoke blunts, and listen to LA rap. We’ve got a 12-rack of Modelos in your backseat too, which we’re passing out to all the people we’ve collected for our parking lot pimpin’ sesh. At that time, Jakeil was still ingratiating me to all that west coast rap had to offer. He would put me onto mad shit. He looked at me and said “you know bless the bottle right?” I nod my head no and he looks shocked – making a beeline to my phone to drop the beat.

From the first notes, I already know it’s a hit. “There’s a Bottle, On the Ground and, We Finna Pound it, So Bless the Bottle.” He drops the bottle and spreads his arms to back us all up into a circle around it, then starts two-steppin to the beat. So we all start two-steppin around the bottle with him. There are moments in the song where you gotta pick it up and swig. Everyone including the likely unhoused guy who’d been chilling with us for the last two hours gets a turn. It’s covid time and we’re being reckless, but Jakeil doesn’t believe in Covid and I’m just being an idiot. Jakeil later tells me about how it’s an I.E. classic and that it was a staple at every west coast rap party he would go to since high school. He tells me how they’d pass around water bottles in these venues for everyone to step around. I remember a few months later, we’re on the beach with a group of my friends, mostly Korean. Jakeil plays “Bless The Bottle” from the portable speaker and we two-step around the soju while everyone laughs. He keeps calling it “Sochi.”

SAULT – “Free”

One of the strongest memories I have is in the few months after Jakeil passed, I needed to clear my head one night. Never would I have even thought I’d be in the valley with you but once Jakeil died, our housing situation obviously fell through and I needed something cheap so this is where I ended up. In Tarzana of all places. It’s named that because this is where the creator of Tarzan is from. What a weird fucking place. But here I was driving you around late at night, the sun had just set and I was going back and forth on Victory Boulevard right past the basketball courts listening to “Free.” At first it feels triumphant – then it feels, well, freeing. “What will be will bee,” a soft voice sings over the drums. I thought about the passage of time, how things come and go naturally – the way of the Tao, how it is what it is – and then the end comes. Oh boy. The end of “Free” would just ring over and over in my head for almost 5 months after this drive. Here I am writing this letter to you right now, in my little force field one final time before you’re being crushed for parts tomorrow, waiting for the end of the song to kick in. I’m staring at the airbag shooting out of the fragments of your wheel and the plaque on your rearview mirror (adorned with shells from Morro Bay) that reads “In Loving Memory of Jakeil Ray Reynolds” that Jakeil’s mom gave me. The triumphant, light attitude of the song takes a turn and the chanting comes in – “I know I can’t make it on my own – when I’m low I try hard to keep you close.” I remember bawling my eyes out screaming these lyrics on a Tuesday night after work on Victory Boulevard. Of all the different ways I grieved, this was the most cathartic.

Paul Johnson & DJ Deeon – “Let Me See You Butterfly”

I’m two White Claws deep and pick up my friend Lola from her apartment in Santa Monica. The plan is literally just to drive around listening to music and catch up on this Thursday night. We go up Olympic, and then back. I’m pretending I have good music taste by just playing dance music I heard on the most recent PJAR – I don’t know shit about dance music but I do love the good stuff. There’s Stacey Q’s “2 of Hearts,” Mr. Flagio’s “Take A Chance,” and Jax Jones’ “Play,” but the kicker was Paul Johnson and DJ Deeon’s “Let Me See You Butterfly.” It’s 5 minutes of electricity – repetitive but not tiresome – and makes us both want to hop out of the car to take a dance break. Our arms are waving around, we’re bouncing up and down in the car, and my dog is in the backseat getting a kick out of it and trying to barrel his way to the front to join in on the action. I think about my priorities, and how this is really the important shit. I hope and I’m sure I’ll make new memories in my next car, but these memories with you are forever.

Thank you, Mulberry.

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