I was home for fall break sometime in September of 1993, my sophomore year at W&M. My dad kept an extra car around for me to use when I was home, a 1983 Subaru DL. It was a dusty blue with a massive chrome luggage rack on the trunk lid, which also had strips of real wood to protect the trunk lid's finish from getting rubbed by any hypothetical luggage. It looked just like this fancy GL-10 model:
It impressed no one who saw me drive by in it. My passengers were similarly unimpressed -- it had power windows and working AC, which was a bit of a big deal for me at the time, but everything else inside sucked. The whole interior was blue. The upholstery looked like fur harvested from blue mice. All of the plastic was hard and deeply grained, catching all the greasy grime and detritus that came onboard, and because the plastic was blue it provided a sharp contrast for most of this dirt, bringing the filth into clear focus. The steering wheel was a bizarre affair with two prongs at five- and seven-o'clock and small thumb hooks at three-and nine-o'clock for those who know where to properly position their fists. The controls for the lights and wipers were big black warts located outboard of the steering wheel. I've not seen such a setup anywhere else before or since, but they had a nice feel and were very functional. Kind of like tuning in Tokyo 90 degrees the wrong way. The dash had a surprisingly complete instrument cluster, including a voltmeter and oil pressure gauge. It was a lot like this, but with switches instead of window cranks.
It was a remarkably reliable car, if mechanically underwhelming. The engine was a tiny wheezy contraption better suited to powering peanut grinders than automobiles. The clutch had zero feel--push it to the floor to guarantee the gears are disengaged and slowly lift up until the tach starts spinning clockwise, otherwise there was no tangible feedback that a gear was engaged. And choosing a gear with the stupidly long shifter was more an act of divination than selection. I knew where third gear was supposed to be, but sometimes it simply wasn't there anymore. The shifter made painful crunching and clicking sounds when moved through its gates. They were so bad that I often wondered when the stick would simply snap off in my hand. Unlike all Subarus today and most from the 1980's it was only FWD, not AWD, so I once managed to beach it in a foot of snow.
It had an AM/FM radio but no tape deck. Factory beats, as TR would say. The knobs fell off before I even got my learner's permit so I had to use my thumb and forefinger as a pincers to twist the remaining metal spoke in order to make an orange needle slide left and right to select a radio station. There was a second bare spoke for the volume. In cold weather the spokes would become harder to turn, I guess because the grease in the mechanism started to solidify, so fine-tuning a station was nearly impossible after Thanksgiving. If you wanted to adjust the left-right balance or front-rear fade, you had to pull the spoke out until it clicked. Everyone on earth sets both of these parameters to the dead center detent and never touches them again. Except for my father, who loved a fucked up setting with a slight front-left bias. So every time I got the car back I had to grip these shitty spikes as hard as I could lest I go insane from the oddball sound orientation. Treble and bass adjustments were made by turning a collar behind the spikes--these fortunately did not fall off and always worked easily. It had five present buttons but pushing them merely slid the orange needle into the general vicinity of where you had previously set the button; you never knew exactly what you would get from the presets. Mercifully, it had four speakers (unlike my mother's 1986 Nissan Sentra and its one lonely cardboard mid) and acceptable sound quality. You can get an idea of it from this photo.
Despite my harsh characterization it was a fine car for my situation in the fall of 1993 and I have many fond memories of time spent inside it. You probably expect this to turn into a tale about a backseat misadventure, and a few of those definitely fall within the scope of my aforementioned fond memories. But the reason I remember so much about the radio in the Sube is because was driving it down Queen Anne Road one night in September 1993 listening to 98.7 (which sadly is now sports talk radio) when, as I approached the intersection of Queen Anne and Cherry Lane, this happened.
It was through that rattletrap device that I first experienced a Wu-Tang Clan song. Forties, shorties, White Owls, fat bags! Rub it on your skin like lotion?! Not an average Joe with average flow doing average things with average hos?! Oh shit that's the jam!! I had no idea who or what I just heard, but I wanted to hear that joint again and again.
I later conferred with some of my friends who stayed in the area and they informed me that this was a song called "Method Man" by the Wu-Tang Clan, and that they had another song called Protect Ya Neck which I heard soon thereafter. It was just as game-changingly dope as Method Man.
Parenthetically, I love this video. It looks like they made and edited it using equipment from their high school's AV closet. Everything was shot on top of or behind their project. The GZA is "The Jizah." Ghostface Killah is "Ghost Face Killer." I suspect the whole endeavor cost under $100.
Fall break ended and I returned to the Burg. Predictably, none of my fratres heard any Wu-Tang joints once during fall break, let alone again and again. So I sought out Schmandy, a white guy with dreadlocks who was considered to be an esteemed member of the rap cognoscenti by the guys in his hipper and more musically aware frat, and the fratty populace in general. I found him walking through the parking lot with a few of his brothers. When I asked if he had heard of the Wu-Tang Clan, he said no and coolly laughed and furrowed his brows as if to indicate that the name alone was goofy. I told him he needed to check them out and asked if he heard the song "Method Man" and he shook his head and stuck out his lower lip. So I said "you know, the song that goes" and spit the chorus that concludes with "M-E-T-H-O-D man!" and Schmandy replied "Anyone rapper who samples Hall and Oates must suck" and walked on.
You will doubtlessly read many deep think-pieces about "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" over the next few days because it was released 20 years ago the day after tomorrow. I could write at length about how unprecedentedly evil it sounded in 1993, how it called up images of places that nice people don't go and things that nice people don't do. How despite having big fat beats it was undanceable music, intended to be listened to very loud while very drunk and very high. And so on. Instead, however, I think the most telling thing I can write about the power of WTC's music is how I will always remember every detail of where I was and what I was doing when I first heard it. That I am also able to work in a distillation of why my time spent at William and Mary was culturally disappointing is mere gravy.