Tesla announced a radical new upgrade to its Autopilot self-diving technology on Wednesday — so radical in terms of hardware and software that it could be more than a year before we get to see a fully autonomous Tesla drive itself from Los Angeles to New York, the ultimate futuristic road trip.
To support the announcement, Tesla released a video showing a Model S sedan on Autopilot exiting a garage and going on a self-driving journey before pulling into Tesla HQ and parallel parking itself (automated parallel parking is nothing new, but a car finding a spot and executing this most vexing of maneuvers for student drivers was still impressive).
A very 21st-century commute.
But here’s what was weird about the video: the choice of music. It was “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones, a tune from the band’s 1966 album “Aftermath” that’s frequently heard these days on classic-rock radio. It’s notable for the exotic, proto-psychedelic instrumentation — primarily the sitar — provided by founding member Brian Jones, who was pushed out the group in 1969 and replaced by Mick Taylor, beginning a run of recordings that many consider the Stones’ finest work.
“Paint It Black” is a moody number that’s often described as being about depression.
“I see a red door and I want it painted black/No colours anymore, I want them to turn black/I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head until my darkness goes” is how the lyrics, co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, go for the first verse.
It doesn’t exactly pick up from there: “I look inside myself and see my heart is black/I see my red door and I must have it painted black/Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts/It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black.”
The song does have a propulsive, percussive quality that keeps it bouncing along, a counterpoint to the gloom. Maybe that’s why Tesla chose it. Or perhaps Tesla’s musical director was subliminally channeling the sadness that driving enthusiasts are feeling as a future in which the steering wheel goes away gets closer to reality.
Personally, I think that “Paint It Black’s” trippy sonic energy is what attracted Tesla to it. If you’re ever been a Tesla car that’s running Autopilot, there’s something hallucinogenic about the initial experience. It’s dislocates you from your familiar reality.
And that isn’t depressing at all, once you get used to it.
Here’s a clip of the Stones performing the song, complete with Jones on Sitar:
And here’s Tesla’s video: