Fangio Listener’s Guide, Part II:
The Songs, Explained

His Saab is an Angry Saab

That’s me, actually, not Fangio. Read the full story at the reliably awesome Clunkbucket.

Pleased to report that as of this week Fayettenam is not just taking but filling orders for both the 7″ single and the LP. They exist!

Today, in celebration of this fact, some further elaboration to enhance your listening experience.

01 Operational Detachment Juan Manuel Fangio
02 El Narcoavión
03 My God Is An Angry God (Juan Manuel Fangio Castiga Los Pecados Del Mundo)
04 La Consciencia Intranquila de Juan Manuel Fangio
05 Edwardian Gray
06 Bebe’s Song
07 El Hombre Más Macho
08 Compared To Their Predecessors, Today’s Politically Motivated Kidnappers Are Total Dicks
09 Los Viejos
10 Beat Your Halfshafts Into Swords (The Radicalization And Redemption Of Juan Manuel Fangio)

Operational Detachment Juan Manuel Fangio
In which Fangio introduces himself, and provides as tangible an explanation for whatever magical mechanism has made possible his resurrection as we’re going to get. The first lines allude to a story from Leo Levine’s Fangio obituary for Road & Track: “It took a remarkable man to maintain his equilibrium. One night in Buenos Aires when we entered a restaurant, the entire assemblage stood. This was thirty years after he retired.” The “stripped of every badge” line refers both to Fangio’s unofficial and unaffiliated status as a rogue agent who takes his orders from no one, and to the Saab 900 Turbo that serves as his primary undercover vehicle, high-performance SPG variants of which typically shipped from the factory sans rear nameplates.

once upon a time I couldn’t go out to eat
without everyone in the room
rising to their feet
I couldn’t go shopping
I couldn’t walk down the street

but I traded that all in a long, long time ago
in exchange for immortality
some sort of purchase on my soul
I struck a sinner’s bargain
late one summer night
not to be a hero
but for the chance to make things right

now I roll invisible, stripped of every badge
for maximized efficiency I’ve but a single task
I’m more than an assassin
and I’m not a hired gun
I’m Operational Detachment
Juan Manuel Fangio
I’m a special force of one

El Narcoavión
(Tr. the drug plane.) Working title: “Protocol for Impersonating a Trafficker of Illegal Goods and Substances in Order to Gain Access to and Win Confidence of Cartel Leadership While Avoiding Detection by International Authorities.” “Garlic and cocoa leaves” were remedies used by Fangio and his navigator to overcome fatigue and altitude sickness during the 1940 Gran Premio del Norte, a two-week, six-thousand-mile race over public roads from Buenos Aires to Lima and back. Fangio won the race in a ’39 Chevrolet.

find a light twin-engined airframe
rip out all the seats
stuff every inch with hidden bladders
filled with aviation gasoline
arm yourself with a small revolver
garlic and cocoa leaves
now you’re good for direct service
from Florida to Medellín

and if there’s E-2Cs around
just stay under the radar
and if the Sinaloa shoot you down
just take one of these

once you’re back in U.S. airspace
stay beneath one thousand feet
pick your favorite abandoned airfield
and set her down nice and neat
call your man to arrange the drop-off
tell him where and when to meet
announce your flight, you’re all alright now
get yourself something to eat

and when there’s federales on your tail
you can jettison your cargo
and if you need to spend a night in jail
next time: submarines

My God Is an Angry God (Juan Manuel Fangio Castiga los Pecados del Mundo)
(Tr. Juan Manuel Fangio punishes the sins of the world.) The first of the “mission” songs finds Fangio taking out a target about whom we know little more than that he doesn’t seem to have any business hanging out in a synagogue. The venue is significant, however, in that our Catholic-born protagonist finds in the idea of the Old Testament God—the “God of wrath”—a measure of validation for the role he’s taken on. Jericho/Buffalo confusion merely a symptom of overarching Borgesian spatiotemporal displacement.

I killed a man in a synagogue last night
I put him in a headlock
and I squeezed out his cursed life
afterwards I put the windows down
and I drove til it was light
I killed a man in a synagogue last night

I killed a man at the Temple Beth last night
when I was done I looked up
and saw a god I recognized
I said you know what he was doing here
I hope that makes it right
I killed a man at the Temple Beth last night

I killed a guy in Jericho last night
I killed a guy in Jericho last night
for every set of circumstances
there are corresponding consequences
I killed a guy in Buffalo last night

La Consciencia Intranquila de Juan Manuel Fangio
(Tr. the guilty conscience of Juan Manuel Fangio.) A catalog of underworld activity in which our hero may or may not be involved, this song at the very least provides a broad outline of the universe he inhabits. It also expands, albeit somewhat vaguely, on the notion alluded to in the album’s opener, that this Fangio is haunted by an inescapable sense of shame, a need “to make things right.” As Ricky Watters wondered: For who? For what?

narcos in Colombia
anthrax traced to Wichita
backpack bomb Islamabad
where you gonna run?

IEDs in Kandahar
hijacking Paris–Dakar
you’re not the man they think you are
where you gonna run?

Juan, where you gonna run?
when it’s you you’re running from

the pirates of Somalia
the thieves that guard LaGuardia
they’re picking out a part of you
where you gonna run?

the face that haunts you in your sleep
the threat that lurks on every street
the promise that you couldn’t keep
where you gonna run?

Juan, where you gonna run?
when it’s you you’re running from

Edwardian Gray
Another mission song, this one finds Fangio reunited with the vehicle that two decades earlier accompanied him on his failed attempt to assassinate Augusto Pinochet. Think of it in the tradition of great American rock’n’roll songs about cars, like “Little Deuce Coupe” or “Little GTO,” except this one is about a 1988 Saab 900 Turbo SPG. And the guy driving the car is on his way to kill someone. (Incidentally, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this might be the first time in the history of music that the term “greenhouse” in its automotive design context has been used in a pop song. Can somebody wiki this?)

they met me at the airport just like they said they would
one guy with a sign, two more with a hood
we all nodded politely and headed for the door
they bound my wrists behind me and put me on the floor

two long hours in the back of a van
driven badly around the city just as fast as they can
off came the hood, up went the door
and I got a funny feeling — I’ve been here before

a business park on the outskirts of town
three units back, two units down
we scanned our palms and irises and stepped inside
sure enough — there was my ride

a Swedish stunner in Edwardian Gray
with a sagging headliner and a dirty ashtray
a two-liter four under a clamshell hood
boosting plenty healthy and sounding good

that roof so high, the hood so low
the way the greenhouse wraps around its occupants
it just says go
I’ve never had a more faithful steed
safety, comfort, stealth and speed

it had been more than twenty years since I put her away
but one whiff of cracked leather
brought me right back to that day
nothing that anyone could do about it now
and there were more important issues at hand

I grabbed that rubbery shifter and I threw it in first
spun the front tires and launched with a lurch
I had a pressing obligation one thousand miles away
with a — well let’s just say “an old friend”

across the high arid plains I drove all night
not another vehicle or soul in sight
sixteen valves tapping out the code
the oldest song I know

I reached my destination in a cold, cold sweat
how I was received I honestly forget
my friend must have known why I had come
he didn’t even try to run

that roof so high, the hood so low
the way that function has made a slave of form
it just says go
I’ve never had a more faithful steed
safety, comfort, stealth and speed

Bebe’s Song
Every story needs a love interest. “Bebe” was Andreina Berruet, Fangio’s companion for twenty years. She accompanied him to races throughout his career and they frequently appeared together in photos in the European motoring press, who tactfully referred to her as Fangio’s wife. Significantly, such photos appeared less frequently, if indeed at all, in their native Argentina, as in fact they weren’t married, and it’s been claimed that she was married to someone else altogether.

well of course there were others
in the end there was only one
from the best days to the worst days
to the broken, bloody cursed days
you were my keeper, you patched me up

what was in it for you, Bebe?
through good and bad you were always there
that husband of yours didn’t notice
he didn’t notice or he didn’t care

you gave up the child I gave you
perhaps I was child enough
you needed someone to take care of
I needed your patience, I needed your love

what was in it for you, Bebe?
through good and bad you were always there
that husband of yours didn’t notice
he didn’t notice or he didn’t care

El Hombre Más Macho
A sing-along.

who’s that driving that fancy car?
Fangio, Juan Fangio!
who’s that drifting that SLR?
Fangio, Juan Fangio!
who crossed the Andes in a rusty Saab?
Fangio, Juan Fangio!
who put the final bullet in Escobar?
Juan Manuel Fangio

who’s that leading at Monaco?
Fangio, Juan Fangio!
who’s that sideways through Nouveau Monde?
Fangio, Juan Fangio!
who gave the Heisman to Marilyn Monroe?
Fangio, Juan Fangio!
¿quien es el hombre más macho?
Juan Manuel Fangio

Compared to Their Predecessors,
Today’s Politically Motivated Kidnappers Are Total Dicks

Finding himself held hostage in a harsh and hostile landscape, Fangio reminisces about the time he got kidnapped on his way out to dinner before the Cuban Grand Prix. He was sure it was a practical joke, but no, these kids with beards and guns were Castro revolutionaries and they assured him that they were serious. Serious enough, at least, to detain him in a nicely furnished apartment and act like total fanboys while the Battista’s “bourgeois” Grand Prix went on without him (until an accident killed a bunch of spectators and the race was suspended, anyway). Afterwards they dropped him off with the Argentine embassy, the seeds of political enlightenment having been planted. Years later, Fangio would receive a get-well card from one of his captors, now representing Cuba’s Ministry of Commerce. ¡A tu salud! (This actually happened, by the way.)

late winter
snow still on the ground
eleven weeks now
these guys aren’t fucking around

it’s not like Havana in 1958
it sounds weird to say but those guys were okay
a case could be made
that they saved my life that day

I remember talking
Cuban sandwiches and beers
which title meant the most to me?
asked my most gracious host of me

like Stockholm Syndrome except in reverse
I charmed the pants right off of them
smiling they sent me home again

twenty-four years later I had a heart bypass
I got a card: “Get well soon Señor Fangio”
signed, Movimiento 26 de Julio

a tu salud, Señor Fangio
get well soon Señor Fangio
Movimiento 26 de Julio
get well soon Señor Fangio
we miss you too Señor Fangio
hope you’re doing good Señor Fangio
things are good here Señor Fangio
get well soon Señor Fangio

Los Viejos
(Tr. the old ones, or the old men.) Another mission, another long solo drive through forbidding and familiar terrain, and another opportunity for inevitable reflections on absence and loss. The mention of “the disappeared” hints at a creeping awareness of what’s really haunting our Fangio, but for now it’s easier and perhaps safer to ponder the fates of those directly known to him: his family; his navigator Daniel Urritia, killed in an accident during the 1948 Gran Premio del America del Sur; his former teammate Onofre Marimón, killed during practice at the Nürburgring in 1954; and a roll-call of contemporaries who fell victim to the occupational hazards and war-like mortality rates of mid-century automobile racing.

sometimes I miss my mom and dad
my brother and his kid
but I can’t afford to look back now
it’s not like I ever did

I lost my best friend on a road like this
and another at the ‘ring
since then the disappeared have piled high
hands up if you know what I mean

so as I drive along this precipice tonight
it comes as no surprise
when the mind begins to play its tricks
and the ghosts pull up alongside

Wolfgang, Luigi, Alberto
Peter and Pierre
Pedro y Ricardo
look now, the gang’s all here

Beat Your Halfshafts Into Swords
(The Radicalization and Redemption of Juan Manuel Fangio)

It starts innocently enough, with a conversational and entirely reasonable response to the unpleasantness of certain aspects of Fangio’s chosen vocation; from there the tone turns wistful, as our narrator recalls his hometown and the distance, both physical and emotional, between his life now and the occasions of his greatest glory. Then comes a third verse, though, and suddenly shit gets real. For the first time, Fangio comes face to face with his demons and confesses his shame for his silence during the Guerra Sucia, for the artful dodge of one “not interested in politics,” for his cowardice and betrayal of the very people who had elevated him to the status of national hero. For the first time, the true nature of Fangio’s mission is made clear: redemption for himself, and revenge for his fellow countrymen—revenge against not a particular regime or nation, not just the CIA or the cartels, not just the IMF or the WTO, but against every agent of oppression that has served to exploit and terrorize the people of Latin America for the last five hundred years.

I don’t like to kill
it gives me little satisfaction
to do what’s now required
of the responsible man of action
the psychopaths and sadists
they bring such joy to the task
but me, yeah, not so much
why do you ask?

it’s been too many years
since I dropped in on Balcarce
the town where I was born
where I kept my Maserati
it’s a sweet 250F
I last drove at Spa, 1954
it was like an extension of my body then
not anymore

regrets, I’ve had a few
well okay, I’ve had a lot
I was courageous, a hero on the track
and off it I was not
I watched my countrymen
sent off to their deaths
and I never said a word
instead I used my celebrity and my fame
and I hid behind my name as a shield
a fucking shield
when it should have been a sword

COMMENTS / 6 COMMENTS

Your notes and lyrics are both appreciated and elucidating! Thanks so much for this great album.

Posted by Carl Schlachte on Aug 26 10 at 4:27 pm

I saw you at Zoop and have been anxiously awaiting it ever since. Totally worth it.

Posted by Sarah on Sep 02 10 at 9:35 pm

HOLY FUCKING SHIT. I have just completed my second listen-through of this album (the first being ZOOP, naturally). god DAMN it, it’s so awesome, and everyone will love it, and thank you.

Posted by MilesD on Sep 02 10 at 9:38 pm

P.S. I had to listen to it with my friend miles, which was complicated because he is on the east coast and I am on the west. We synched up to discuss in IM conversations that took part largely in ALL CAPS BECAUSE IT WAS SO AWESOMMMEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Sarah on Sep 02 10 at 9:44 pm

I have to say, this has been one of the most exciting musical-narrative experiences in my life. I haven’t felt like this since I first heard Rocky Raccoon and fell in love with stories told through song.

Posted by Mo on Sep 03 10 at 8:29 pm

This album is AWSOME!

Posted by Alejandro on Oct 19 11 at 11:10 pm

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