The cover of Neko Case’s 2009 album, Middle Cyclone, featured the redheaded indie-folk singer barefoot and brandishing a sword on the hood of her 1967 Mercury Cougar, ready to head into battle. “I thought, ‘If I were a 10-year-old boy in 1982, what would my fantasy album cover be?'” Case says of the image she conceived with photographer Jason Creps while living in Tucson, Arizona. “I would have a sword, because [fantasy film] The Beastmaster was big then, and I would be standing on the hood of a muscle car. I thought, ‘It’s either gonna be really great, or it’s gonna flop.'” In the end, she got a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package.
On Friday, Case is raffling off her Cougar, which she bought about eight years ago in Denver and named Angie Dickinson shortly thereafter. She’s calling the giveaway the Mercury Cougar-Rama Muscle Car-‘Splosion, and the proceeds will benefit 826 National, a charity that assists children ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills and publishes books of their stories. Author Dave Eggers cofounded the organization’s Valencia flagship chapter near San Francisco, and serves on the board of directors for its New York chapter.
Case, who is currently working on a new album and will be doing separate tours with both power-pop crew the New Pornographers and her own solo group later this year, hopes the car will help 826 reach its $45,000 target for the drawing. To ramp up to the grand-prize car giveaway, she and other generous donors have contributed items ranging from a guitar signed by Elton John, Elvis Costello, and others to a giant collection of Sub Pop LPs. Today, they’re offering up a 1966 Gretsch “Silver Duke” guitar that she’s gigged with and gotten signed by artists like Michael Stipe, Britt Daniel, Black Thought, and others. And, as if giving away her car weren’t enough, she and 826 are including a bevy of other items that will also be given away Friday: a drumhead signed by the New Pornographers, a Chipotle dinner for 10, CD prize packs, and more. All of this generosity, she says, is helping soften the blow of letting go of one of her favorite rides.
What first attracted you to the Cougar?
I love ’60s cars. I loved the sequential taillights on it, and I just loved the shape of it.
Why are you getting rid of it?
I realized that old cars are a lot like guitars, where if you’re not home a lot and can’t give them attention, you should really sell them. They should be taken care of. Luckily, the car has lived in Arizona for a long time, so it’s in really good shape: Arizona is really nice to cars. I really didn’t want to sell it, because I was so attached to it. So I realized the way I would feel OK about getting rid of the car is giving it to some kind of charity, like 826.
What are some of the best times you had in the car?
Tucson is the best place to drive an old car at night in the summer, because you can always have all the windows down. The smell of old car leather is just the most nostalgic, calming smell. And it has this great tube radio. It’s the little things. I never jumped the shark in it or anything [laughs], but it was good for taking a nice drive up the Catalina Mountains or whatever. I drove it to South by Southwest once. That was pretty fun.
How did you originally find out about 826 National?
I got involved in 826 through [clothing designer] Poketo in Los Angeles. I started buying their T-shirts online because they were the softest T-shirts I ever felt. We started talking because they were fans of mine, and the idea came up about designing a charity T-shirt to wear. I thought, “That’s gonna be so great.” They gave me a list of a few charities, and I totally fell in love with 826.
I visited 826’s flagship center in San Francisco, and I realized, “This is exactly what I needed as a kid.” I loved the way it’s tailored to challenge the kids, and the way the program is set up so kids can actually see their words and ideas in printed form. It’s a big deal to a little kid to see a physical example of what they could be, and kids really respond to that. Also, it’s great that they care about the way things look as well. Not only are the kids writing books, they’re writing beautiful books.
You’ve been pretty vocal about your love of 826 and the raffle on Twitter.
I’ve been over-Tweeting like crazy. I’m pretty new to Twitter, so I didn’t understand the rules. Apparently I’m spamming, which is something that’s bad. People are giving me a break, though. They have been so supportive and given me a lot of Retweets. My hugest goal was to get a Retweet from Questlove, because he has all these followers and he’s so great. And he totally gave me one! I was like, “This is a Twitter victory!” It was really appropriate, too, because he and the Roots actually signed the guitar we’re giving away today.
How do you feel about the drawing, now that you’re two days away from the grand prize?
I feel really fulfilled, and I feel really excited. I went from not wanting to sell this car to being ecstatic. I can’t wait to see who wins it, because I cannot wait to give it to a good home.
Is there anything else you want to say about the charity?
I want to thank everybody for putting up with me on Twitter. I will calm down once the raffle is done. But I’m excited. I can’t help it. Thanks, everyone, for helping.