Benjamin Lamb was just like many young dudes—giddy, sneaking peaks at glossy magazines, awash in the vibrant images that made him feel far beyond his years. The bodies, the shapes. It’s pretty common for a teenager to get a little obsessed… with cars.
In the ’70s and ’80s, long before Lamb laid down bass lines for the city’s most legendary bands (including currently with Lydia Loveless) he was an avid collector of hot rod exploitation comics—yes, those are a thing—the genre sparking a long-term obsession with the American road and the multitude of vehicles running down them.
“Boy meets girl, boy loses drag race, girl leaves boy for guy with faster car, boy spends summer building hot rod, then wins rematch but meets new girl who appreciates him for who he is (a guy with an even faster car, apparently),” Lamb laughed. “The plots are generic and the art is pretty crude, but there was an inexplicable appeal to me about them.”
One could say the same for Lamb’s current obsession, a series of hand-cut wall pieces that pay tribute to famous vehicles and, in some cases, their famous passengers. Or in rare cases, fictional characters who haven’t had the chance to gas up an American Classic—picture Jabba the Hut in a green Gremlin.
(614) caught up with Lamb this month in the rare space between Loveless tours to go under the hood and find out more about his artistic predilection.
Besides the comics, what else connects a rock and roll bass player with cars—is it because you spend most of your damn time in a van? Like many people before me, I have always been obsessed with cars. As a kid, I collected Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, and swore that when I grew up I would own a Porsche—even if I had to sleep in it. Well, the sleeping in a car part certainly came true, just not the Porsche part [laughs]. As a musician and an artist though, I seem to have chosen a path that involves driving dilapidated shitboxes for the rest of my life, so I figured if I wanted to have a Porsche, I was going to have to make my own. My current vehicle, a 2000 Ford Econoline van with 200,000 miles on it, is the newest, nicest vehicle I have ever owned, and we are basically destroying it through touring. So I’m trying to immortalize it while it’s still around.
Anyway, 30 years later, I was experimenting with woodworking and trying to create dimensional pieces, and I had all these car comics laying around. So I scanned a cover that showed a big crash with car parts flying everywhere, printed it out, mounted it to plywood, and cut all the pieces out. I then showed it to my uncle, who’s also an artist, and he said, “Well you could do that…or you could just draw your own damn art instead of ripping off someone else.” And so it has just laid in a pile since then, unassembled, and I figured I should do just that.
As cheesy as this may sound, is there something kind of quintessentially American about cars/trucks/vans? The way you play with the iconography of it strikes me that way. That in this country, we’re not just obsessed with celebrity people, but even famous vehicles. OJ’s Ford Bronco, JFK’s motorcade, James Dean’s and Raoul Duke’s convertibles…is this in some way a tribute to that? Hey, everybody loves cheese! Cars are pretty popular throughout the world; to a Midwestern kid like me, they represent the epitome of freedom. Where I grew up, as soon as you could keep your balance, you got a bike, and you rode it everywhere. And as soon as you turned 15, you got a learner’s permit, and at 16 you got your license, and then that was it. Perhaps it’s more a Midwestern/rural thing though…people from NYC may live their whole lives without ever driving, but out in the country—it’s essential. We met our friends in them, lost our virginity in them, smashed them into trees. A significant portion of my high school population died in them. But when you are 16 and driving a car, it’s usually the most liberating and terrifying thing you’ve experienced up to that point.
“As a musician and an artist, I seem to have chosen a path that involves driving dilapidated shitboxes for the rest of my life, so I figured if I wanted to have a Porsche, I was going to have to make my own.”
What has surprised you about going down this path? Are there combinations that were slightly unexpected when you look back, in terms of what the format tells you to do? Jabba the Hut in the Gremlin stands out to me. As in, they seem to fit together almost immediately but not in any overt sense… I do love Star Wars. And as you alluded, I did a series of Star Wars characters in the classic vehicles I thought would be appropriate for their respective dispositions. It’s certainly not the most original thing in the world, but it was a fun exploration of putting those characters into our universe. Luke had his Landspeeder, and without that thing—he was screwed out in the desert! So I stuck him in an old ’60s 4×4; it seemed right up his alley for hauling droids around in the boonies. And I have always dug anthropomorphizing the AT-AT walkers, so I put a few in the back of a pickup that Darth Vader was driving to go camping. I know the subject matter is somewhat juvenile, but I just can’t care [laughs]. And along those lines, there’s a song called “Fett’s Vette” so I had to go with that one. He got a different Corvette than Prince though.
Are these astute enough questions for cool, wooden sideviews of vehicles? This is about the best I can hope for [laughs]. I’m not holding my breath for an interview with ARTscene any time soon.
What was your first car? I know you love bikes and have a reverence for them. Does that extend to just anything in that realm? My first car was a tan 1974 Plymouth Valiant. It was the family’s daily driver until my mom hit a deer on the way to work. The front was destroyed, so we found a red front end in a junkyard, and the whole pile was passed on to me. It was then christened “The Deerslayer” and my friends and I wreaked havoc on Pickaway County in that thing. Eventually the back end rusted out and the leaf springs pushed their way through the trunk and it affected a low-rider stance in the rear. Which maybe was not as cool as it sounds, which is admittedly not much. My dad had it welded together and traded the whole car to a kid for a CD player and like, 10 CDs. (This was 1987 so it was sort of a big deal to have a CD player). A few weeks later, the kid’s grandmother declared the car to be a piece of shit and demanded they trade back. To my dad’s credit, he said “no.” He’s never been afraid to stand up to kids or grandmothers.
I have yet to recreate The Deerslayer in plywood form, but it’s coming for sure.
What else can fit in this? Spaceships? Tanks? Submarines? Segways? As much as I fetishize the cars, I think the more important thing than just sticking person A in car B is to try and tell a story with the final piece. Ideally the final work creates new questions that the viewer answers. I’m working on a commercial jet piece with about 70 people in it, that involves every screwed-up thing that has ever happened to anyone who has flown. Of course, the fact that I am announcing my intentions to create this piece is probably guaranteeing that I will never finish it. Hotel rooms are another thing I plan to pursue because I love architecture and dwellings just about as much as I do transportation.
It’s always struck me how odd it is that we care about the design and look of vehicles, and it’s a point of pride/desire/admiration, etc. Except while we’re in our cars, we can’t actually see what they look like, or what we look like in them. It sounds silly, that’s part of the simple thing I like about these pieces, is that it kind of connects the passengers and the vehicle, aesthetically. Thoughts? Yeah, you love a Ferrari but you really love everyone seeing you in a Ferrari. You don’t buy it for you, you sort of buy it for everyone else to look at, with you in it. For me, a guy who will never get to own a Ferrari GTO, or an AC Cobra, or a Lamborghini, the way for me to really experience the design and the lines of these cars is to recreate them. I could draw them, and then I would have an image of them. For some reason though, cutting those iconic lines and shapes out of wood, sanding them down, and painting them really takes me there, way more so than just drawing or painting them. I feel like I have experienced that car in a way I could never otherwise. And when I’m done, I don’t just have an image of it, I have an actual version of it—a literal icon. How many rich guys have storerooms full of classic cars that will never be driven, that they purchased out of some childlike desire to merely possess them—to collect them all? Well, my much more economical solution for people with similar passions is to let me recreate those cars for you, and put you in the driver’s seat. Other people can worry about what it all means, but you’ll have it, I’ll get off on making it, and I’ll be that much better at drawing and woodworking. And hopefully I’ll have a few bucks in my picket to survive on until our next tour starts.
See Lamb’s pieces hang at Lost Weekend Records (2960 N High St) through the end of December. For more of his work, visit etsy.com/shop/3rdShiftDesigner.