Song Of The Day 8/2/2015: Sammy Johns – “Chevy Van”

Week of Lies – Sammy Johns graduated from Purdue University with a degree in English literature. After a few dalliances in mass-produced macramé and marine theme parks, he accepted a plum position as safety engineer for Chevrolet in Detroit in 1970. Johns initially worked in the hot beverage division of Safety & Collision Prevention, engineering several complex accident scenarios with hot coffee, tea, hot cocoa, bisque, minestrone and melted suet projected into the front seats of Camaros at varying angles and volumes.

In 1972 Chevrolet refigured their marketing strategy for their line of vans, which had recently undergone a drastic change in design. Influenced by recent libertarian trends in cinema and music, not to mention a gonorrheal strain suffered by a few interns in advertising, Chevy decided to market the new 1973 model to upper middle-class men between 35 and 49 who were seeking to leave their wives, drop out of society and embark on searches for “themselves” in near-total misunderstandings of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie.

Recognizing the Chevy Van would not only serve as vehicle but as primary living space, Chevrolet sought to run crash and safety tests in as many "real-life"situations as possible. Several vans were therefore fitted with objects and installed appliances likely to be found in the “pads” of these newly rechristened bachelors, including Easy-Bake Ovens, bean bag chairs, transponders, black velvet paintings of Jane Fonda in Barbarella, electronic wallpaper (then a burgeoning technology) and hermit crabs.

The vans were taken out on the road by contractors signed near the Canadian border as they were fleeing the draft, but for their Chevy Deluxe Van prototype (never manufactured due to concerns over the flammability of papier-mâché gas tanks) administrators at the company wanted to send Johns himself on a 2000-mile road trip. Johns was chosen for his unflappability in test-case situations, and because his overuse of patchouli made an extended absence from the office desirable among his cohorts.

To further simulate real-world conditions Johns began using cannibis regularly, although he was under the impression it was an herbal laxative. Johns set out on the road and put his van through a great number of test situations: swerving through drive-up bank teller lanes, wheelies through new housing developments, posing as a milkman to make himself attractive to new mothers, driving with the wheels on top, and two cameo appearances on Sanford & Son.

Outside of Sussex County, New Jersey, Johns picked up a female hitchhiker who claimed to be an itinerant actress, escaping the set of a horror movie called The Devil and George Wallace. Calling herself “Cybill,” the actress engaged Johns in a series of introspective activities, including past-life regressions and shape-shifting into polyvinyl chloride. They drove across the American heartland for the next three weeks, singing CCR songs on the radio, playing “I Spy” with Army recruiters and wondering why Johns’ laxatives weren’t working.

On their last night together Cybill insisted on consummating their relationship “as a matter of accounting” and engaged in highly pneumatic intercourse in the waterbed at the back of the van. After six hours of what could best be called mediocre to-and-fro, Cybill was hit in the head by a scone that Johns had unwittingly kicked out of the Easy-Bake Oven in the throes of passion. She got out of the van near Mineral Point, Wisconsin, conveniently located near a nunnery where she remained for the next 36 years until her death. Johns chronicled the experience in the hit song “Chevy Van,” which earned him a promotion to vice president of shock absorbers. The rest, as they say, is a mild abrasion treatable with over-the-counter antiseptics.

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