Convertibles are fun, right? Except for what they don't tell you. gets in the driver's seat.


You're probably not thinking about convertibles right now. Nobody thinks about convertibles in the dead of winter. Not enviously, at any rate. Smugly, perhaps. Or curiously. (Hmmm, wonder how those babies do in this weather?) But not at all covetously. Which, in the end, is the only way convertibles were meant to be thought of.

If they were food, convertibles would be ice-cream cones. If they were clothing, they'd be bikinis. If they were parts of speech, they'd be verbs. By way of comparison, and also because I enjoy taking gratuitous swipes at them, SUVs would be meatloaf, overcoats, and nouns.

Convertibles are summer. SUVs are winter.

Which is why, if you are thinking about convertibles, you are crazy. Either that, or you, like me, own one.

We bought a convertible not long ago. I thought it was going to be fun. And it has been. But it's also been nerve-racking.

You might expect the reason has to do with the top. But they prepare you for that. They tell you in advance about pulling over before putting up your top when it begins to rain, because otherwise the wind might rip your car's top off and send it flying down the street like a hat. They tell you about how to put the top up and show you how to latch it.

The problem is what they don't tell you. What they don't tell you is that the most important consideration when purchasing a convertible is your taste in music.

Because you have the top down, the music you play can be heard by the whole world. Because you are in a convertible, you have a responsibility to play certain music.

Say, for example, you are driving down the street, when out of the blue, the Carpenters' song "We've Only Just Begun" comes on. Needless to say, you immediately turn the station. Changing "We've Only Just Begun" is a no-brainer. But let's say Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" comes on. What then? Does "I Will Survive" possess that certain something that you as a convertible driver want the world to hear as you whiz by? Or is it the kind of song that pedestrians, upon glancing over at the car and sizing up the music, think, "Great car. Too bad the driver doesn't have the taste to drive it."

If, on the other hand, Barry White's "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe" comes on, you blast it. This is a song made for convertibles. "Girl, I don't know, I don't know why … Can't get enough of your love, babe." Barry White's deep, rich, bedroom voice is romance personified. A convertible is romance automobilified. The two together would be a marriage made in heaven, except that neither Barry White nor convertibles are about marriage. They're about freedom. So you could say that Barry White and convertibles are a one-night stand made in heaven.

Anyone who owns a car radio knows, however, that there are a lot more Carpenterses than Barry Whites on the dial. So driving a convertible is a nerve-racking thing.

I'm here to help.

You may not be thinking of driving or buying a convertible at this moment. But you will. And when you do, let me provide a guide so that you don't go through that awkward stage of not even recognizing the importance of playing music that says the right things about you and your car.

First off, almost anything by Aretha Franklin is great, but especially "Respect." Nirvana is also good. So are most pre-1971 Rolling Stones songs. Ditto same-era Stevie Wonder. And, of course, Funkadelic, although it's not very often that Funkadelic gets played on the radio.

It's okay that these are oldies. A convertible is nostalgia in motion. It embodies simpler times and the abandon of youth. Oldies owe their lifeblood to car radios, which came of age in the '60s.

That is not to say you can't listen to contemporary music. In fact, you should. Current popular music captures a fleeting moment in time. In their own way, convertibles do the same thing. They are the pop songs of vehicles.

Keep in mind, however, that place makes a difference. If you are in a city, for example, hip-hop is perfect (unless you're a middle-aged white guy, in which case you'd be like a toupee falling from a bald head at the coolest nightclub in town). In the country, you might want to bring along a CD of Hank Williams (the elder) or Asleep At The Wheel.

Some songs rely on the weather. Take, for example, Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street." This is undeniably one of the all-time great songs. But it is also a mean song. ("I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes … You'd know what a drag it is to see you.") On a pretty spring day, this song just sounds harsh. But it is perfect for one of those oppressively hot summer days when everybody is already on edge and the viciousness of the song rises up from the streets like the heat itself.

Which is one of the reasons our convertible is more my wife's car than mine. She doesn't care as much about these things. If she likes a song, she listens to it, worldly obligations be damned. Personally, I find that irresponsible. But there is another reason the convertible is her car: It is a chick car.

Now, you're asking, what happens if, despite your best button-pushing intentions, the best you can do is Lenny Kravitz? Good question. Kravitz is fine as far as he goes, which, owing to his derivative '70s' licks, isn't very. In this case, you have two options. If you like Kravitz, you can listen just loud enough to ensure that only you hear it. Or you can turn off the radio entirely and feign deep thought, as if something big and complicated is going on in your life, something too consuming for frivolous distractions like pop music. In the old days, you might let a cigarette dangle loosely from your fingers, your arm extended out the window. In these anti-smoking times, you might consider running a hand through your hair in a tortured manner, à la James Dean. I know. This one's a toughie.

But that is precisely my point.

Nobody said owning a convertible was going to be easy. Actually, everybody says that. Or thinks that.

But they're wrong.

Don't even get me started on sunglasses.

Just be glad it's wintertime and you don't have to be thinking about convertibles.