A brilliant red Barchetta from a better vanished time….
Imagine a near future of motor laws, turbine freights and zones fenced off by what they call “the wire.” Now imagine that every Sunday you go outside this “wire” to an old farm nobody knows about where your uncle lives. Finally, imagine that he preserved an old machine for you from fifty years ago. It’s not a driverless car, it’s not a flying car and it’s not a post-apocalyptic war machine.
It’s brilliant red. And it’s a Barchetta. And so the story begins in the first-person narrative rock and roll masterpiece, “Red Barchetta” by Rush, one of the best storyteller bands of the 70s and 80s, and if this song is not the only futuristic-hotrod-in-a-science-fiction rock song, then it’s the best futuristic-hotrod-in-a-science-fiction rock song. The song appeared on their 1981 album Moving Pictures and was inspired by the short story “A Nice Morning Drive” by Richard S. Foster.
The narrator—yeah, we’re talking about rock and roll lyrics—the narrator, in the voice of lead singer Geddy Lee, leaves the city, eludes “the eyes” and hops a “turbine freight.” “The eyes” may have been just human eyes, but we’ve been so educated in science fiction since 1981 that we know eyes could be cameras.
Our hero visits his “White-haired uncle” every Sunday at what used to be a farm where his uncle has hidden “An old machine” and “To keep it as new/Has been his dearest dream.” It’s a “brilliant Red Barchetta/From a better vanished time.”
So the kid takes it out, feels the wind in his hair, feels the “Well-oiled leather,” and sees “the blur of the landscape.” All of that until “a gleaming alloy air-car” that’s “two-lanes wide” starts chasing him. Upon re-reading the lyrics today I’m befuddled to admit I don’t know why I always thought this was a cops and a cop car. I mean, who else would it be. You got a kid driving a fast car then the cops aren’t far behind.
And what ensues I can accurately guess is the absolute only car chase set in the future in a rock and roll song. A second air-car even “joins the chase.” They’re called air-cars so they must be flying. Of course, the police would have flying cars before we do. However, they might be hovercraft that stay just above the ground because as our hero rides like the wind “Straining the limits” he finally leaves both vehicles stranded at a one-lane bridge, which a hovercraft probably couldn’t go over. After that he goes back to his uncle’s and they dream by the fireside.
Remember those times you didn’t drive or couldn’t drive or maybe you were stuck in town for a bit and you finally get out on the open road? That’s what this kid felt every Sunday, and with no Sunday drivers at that, except those pesky police.
A barchetta—pronounced with a “k”; Yeah, Geddy knows now—a barchetta is an open 2-seater Italian style sportscar according to Wikipedia. Some sources explain that it’s a particular type of Ferrari, but I’m not about to destroy everybody’s interpretation of their own fantasy red Barchetta.
While we’re all waiting for our flying cars, I’d like to get behind the wheel of a Red Barchetta. Maybe one day I’ll feel the wind in my hair if I have any left, and I’ll feel the “shifting and drifting/mechanical music/adrenaline surge” with “every nerve aware.”