"Black mercedes benz"

 

I have a bad ass mama. Truly. 

She was a bad ass from the time I can remember. She looked cooler than hell when she picked me up from school as a kid, rollin up in her black Mercedes-Benz with the windows down, her waist-long red hair blowing in the wind, singing along to The Pointer Sisters and Aretha Franklin. That’s where I learned to sing like no one was watching, from riding around with her. I also learned to drive from her, both my mama and that car. She used to let me sit in her lap and steer on the way home, sometimes she'd even let me do the pedals from the end of our street. 

When I turned 16, I passed my driver’s test in that black Mercedes Benz. Shortly after, Jackie sold it to some guy in Mississippi and I was so mad at him for that. I was supposed to end up with that car!! But it was older by that time and he thought we needed to trade it in before anything went wrong. Plus neither of them really wanted me driving a Mercedes for my first car and I can’t blame them. (I wrecked every car I drove for the first four years of having a driver’s license.) But I would spend the next twenty years looking for one just like it, looking for a car that could help me get back to something I had lost a long time ago. It was deep, the connection between my mom and that car. It was a gift from my father for her 30th birthday. She loved that car and she loved my father. It was a heartbreaking divorce for both of them I’m sure, but I lived with my mother so I saw her on a daily basis. I was too young to understand the complexities of adult relationships, as children often are. But I watched it all from the passenger side of her Mercedes. 

Which just happened to be the blackest, most baddest car you can imagine. Remember those cars that the monarchy pulled up in in that movie “Coming To America?” The long, shiny, boat-like black Mercedes with the shiny silver hood emblem? We had one of those, and I can remember driving the back roads out into the countryside north of Houston (in what is now the suburb of Tomball), going for a drive out to the barn where Mom kept her horse. It was only a 30 minute drive out to the barn, but those afternoon drives with my mama in her black Mercedes stretch on in my memory like my whole childhood was spent driving that stretch of highway. I can still remember my blue Keds sticking straight out from the front seat, Mom’s freckled hand on the leather wheel, no wedding ring on her finger. The other hand always rested on the gear stick on the console between the front seats like she was ready to shift at any moment. Even though it was automatic, I guess she was just more comfortable that way. 

We’d be driving along listening to music and I’d look over at her. Mommy,  my hero. Sometimes I would catch her crying but I didn’t need to ask her why she was sad. I knew she missed Dad. I wanted to make Mom happy, so I would try to be extra charming on days when I knew she was struggling. I would always start telling her to go faster - “Go eighty! Go eighty!” 80mph was the speed when the needle on the speedometer was straight up and and for some reason I thought that was really going. She always started laughing at how excited I got over speed. She’d gun the engine real quick like we were in a race car and that just made me squeal like a little girl. Then we’d both start laughing our heads off, it worked every time.

I love those memories, even though deep down we were both hurting. We were learning to make our own fun, doing our best to sing through the tears. It was a tactic that would carry me through my own heartbreaks and pains years later, as an adult, only I was usually driving around in a 15-passenger van when I was singing along and crying to the music. It wasn’t until after I wrote the song - years later in fact, and maybe because I wrote the song - that I found my own black Mercedes Benz in a used car lot in San Antonio. It wasn’t nearly as fancy as Mom’s. Hers was brand new in 1986 and had all the bells and whistles. This one was a 24-year-old 300SE that had a busted radio and a busted AC, but it only had 129,000 miles on it and the car was in great shape. 

Mom was with me that day too. She was honking at me from the parking lot to hurry up and make up my mind. There was a storm coming and we could hear the tornado sirens going off, but I was holding the cash in my hand and haggling with the salesman in his trailer. I wasn’t sure whether or not to buy it. By that time I was 36, the same age my mom was when we used to go for those drives out to Tomball, and struggling with an identity crisis of my own. I had recently sold my touring van, done with my music career for good I thought, and I knew I only wanted to buy that car for sentimental reasons. But when I sat behind the wheel and felt the leather in my hands, something about the whole story just seemed right. In the end, I had to borrow an extra $500 from Mom because $3000 had been my budget, but the guy would't come off the price anymore. Even though she was giving me shit for taking so long, I could tell Mom liked the idea of me driving her old car too. She gave me the extra money and I handed it to the salesman in exchange for the keys to my very own black Mercedes Benz. Mom was smiling when I drove away from the parking lot in it and every time I pull up in her driveway, she still comes out to greet me and says, “That car is so you.” 

This song is about finding your mojo when you need it most - when you’ve lost your heart and soul and you don’t know who you are anymore. It happens to all of us on the journey of life, if we’re lucky enough to love anything that much. It’s also about the passing on of feminine strength from one woman to another, from one generation to the next. I count myself extremely blessed to have been raised by such a strong mother, one who taught me that I was strong enough to survive the ups and downs that life would bring me and how to do it in style. Now every time I get behind the wheel of that old car, I think of her. I roll the windows down everywhere I go because it’s hot in Texas and I still don’t have a working AC, nor did I ever fix the radio. But it gets me down the road and most the time I don’t even mind the fact that I’m sweating my ass off…

It feels a helluva lot cooler doing it in a Mercedes Benz.