(Me, summer 2004. Back when I had short hair. It’s very strange looking at that now.)
For whatever reason, the advent of summer has bought back a lot memories. And most of these memories somehow revolve a specific song, and are tied to a specific moment in time, which will be forever etched in my mind. Every time I listen to The New Pornographers’ “Use It”, I’m immediately transported back to the summer of 2007. The Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” takes me back to my teenage self when I used to listen to that dubbed cassette version of Sand in the Vaseline on my Walkman during road trips with my parents. And some of these songs, well, I probably wouldn’t write about them otherwise. (And for those I mention here, you know who are, though for the public domain, you shall remain nameless.)
Offspring – “Come out and Play” (Summer 1994)
The summer of 1994 was the first summer I really remember. Not surprisingly it’s also the first summer where I could identify songs which were popular and the older kids were listening to. That summer I was on a Swim Team with two my childhood friends (who are also still my best-friends). Even at this early age, getting up at 8 o’clock during the summer was not something I wanted to do. As we swam laps, the lifeguards would blast music on their stereo. I’m sure there were other songs, but the only two songs I seem to remember playing were Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” and Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”. I really hated “Daughter” – it would be years before I actually liked the song and Pearl Jam themselves. Even then I could sense that Eddie Vedder meant everything that he said. “Come Out and Play” though, as much as I tried to pretend I hated it, I secretly liked its chunky rhythms and aggressiveness. And even if you disliked the song it was hard to get away from, “you gotta keep’em separated!”. Being 12, I was impressionable and if the 16 year old lifeguards thought it was cool, obviously it must be cool. They knew every single word.
Years later, when I first discovered the Itunes Store in the summer of 2004 – “Come Out and Play” was one of the first songs I bought. I’m not ashamed to admit.
Beck – “Where’s It’s At” (1996)
“Where It’s At” still remains a great song, however it remains stuck in 1996 – a song where time doesn’t apply. It hasn’t aged, but it doesn’t seem to fit into a broader context. Part of it probably has to do with its mesh of sounds and hook – “I got two turn tables and a microphone!” – which was inescapable in the summer of 1996. My older brother who was 21 at the time, suggested that Beck’s Odelay was the Highway 61 Revisited of his generation. Quite a bit of hyperbole on his part, I think. This was the first summer when I was allowed to actually hang out with him, and we used to blast this song constantly. Its odd keyboards, bleeps, robotic voices, and stream of consciousness lyrics were unlike I ever heard. I had previously been under the impression that songs had to have a certain sound and structure to be good – and “Where It’s At” demolished my previous ideas of what a song could actually sound like. Oddly enough, the very things that make me critical of it now, were very appealing to my teenage self in 1996. The windows of the car were down, the music was very loud. Those who stared at us at we drove around, just didn’t seem to get it (whatever I thought it was at the time).
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Scar Tissue” (Summer of 1999)
“Scar Tissue” is a song that captures the sound of a hot summer evening. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a lot of good song, but this is the one that comes close to perfection. Its melody is infectious, and John Frusciante’s guitar breaks are tasteful and full of beauty. This song was everywhere in the summer of 1999 – the year that I was about to enter my senior year of high school. The summer before I had gotten my driver’s license, but it was this summer that I was really able to drive around by myself and get out of the house, even if it was just driving to Borders. To me, the song represented wide open spaces and possibilities. By being able to drive, I had achieved a sense of freedom that was previously unavailable. “Scar Tissue” was a radio staple that summer, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.
U2 – “Bad”
2001 was the summer of U2. The previous fall they had released the fantastic All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reaffirmed their status after the abysmal Pop a few years earlier. When they toured the US that summer, it would be the first time I would see them after years of trying. As a live band, U2 have few rivals and “Bad” has always been the centerpiece of their show whenever they play it. It’s also one of the few U2 songs that is different every single time they play it. Sometimes it could be 12 or 13 minutes long with several extended endings or 7 minutes long. Bono would often sing lines from other songs such as “Sympathy for the Devil”, “People Have the Power”, “Norwegian Wood” and U2’s own “40” before the band kicked it back into high gear. I’ve read that the song is about heroin addiction, but it’s also much more than that – it’s about letting go and not taking life for granted. When Bono shouts “not fade away!” as the band kicks in and The Edge repeats his delayed chords, it really is transcendent, to use a cliche term. I spent the summer of 2001, downloading as many U2 bootlegs from that tour, simply trying to find as many variations of “Bad” as I could. And each version is magical in its own way.
More to come.