Summer. As Janis Joplin wailed, part blues and part ecstasy, ‘Summer…time…time…’ Daylight that lingers until the verge of another day, but by the end the whole summer has passed in the wink of a firefly. With the heat and haze and the long orange afternoons, it’s as though the moment and memory are one. Here then is a timeline of summer songs to guide you through the paradoxes of a season (a lifetime?) that’s both forever and a day.
Memorial Day Weekend
“My Morning Song,” The Black Crowes
(Revving the Engines) (Taking Stock)
Roll call, baby, so up and at ‘em. Summer has begun, so better get off on the right foot. Make some coffee—the good stuff stashed in the freezer, not that flaky brown crap in the cupboard—then flip through the paper and see what’s up in the world.
Then stock up for the season: groceries, a haircut before the real heat comes down, flip-flops, beer, an extra ice cube tray, whatever. Then put on some deadly black shades, smoke some of that good dope stashed in the freezer (if that’s what you do, and if you don’t, well…), then hop in the car and drive as far as possible for every item. Take any back road you can find, go 20 blocks in the wrong direction, do what you have to do but make this first morning of summer last. Caught in construction for half an hour? Push the seat back and love every second of it. Stuck behind the school bus? How sweet it is! And while you’re driving around town like Old Man Befuddled, let the Black Crowes’ ‘My Morning Song’ rip from the speakers. ‘Some kind of new light’ is right cause this summer, like every one beforehand, is going to be the best of your life. And when the Crowes hit that break in the middle, where the slide guitar and the singer and the perfect, perfect swelling backgrounds go hell-for-leather into every promise that a lover can make, just let the whole thing wash over you and know how perfect the chorus, the summer, your whole life is going to be:
March me down to the seven seas
Bury me with a ruby ring
Kiss me baby on an Easter Sunday
And make my haze go away
Memorial Day Weekend, continued
“Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones
(Throttling Down) (Every Now and Then, Zen)
What a day, what a day, what a day. You’re showered, you’re shaved, you’re wearing that favorite, funky shirt you get such a kick out of, and the night is settling down just right. Sit alone at a sidewalk café, sit alone at the big window of the pub down the street, and just watch all the people- everyone looking fine—stroll around. Everyone’s come out at dusk, to catch a breeze, to stretch on the stoop, to kick back on a porch, to give a holler to some buddies down the block. Just like you, everyone’s meeting someone, everyone’s got somewhere to go, everyone waiting on a friend and no doubt that friend will show. No one’s lonely, no one’s lost, and even when that crazy street person comes hobbling by, drop a dollar or two on them. Who knows, you may end up sharing a stoop with them before the night is through.
“Sweet Baby,” Macy Gray
(True Love or Something Like It)
A promise made, a promise kept. It’s a late night slow dance in a smoky back room, in the center of the living room, those keyboard notes chiming from the inside out, Sweet sweet baby, life is crazy but one thing I am sure of… and whatever frenzy happening around- the kids up too late, someone fighting down the block—all of it’s just another tide of the seven seas you’re adrift on, that favorite funky shirt a sail, billowing. …I will love you now and ever.
Fourth of July
“Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta,” Geto Boys
(Bells and Whistles) (The Bombs Bursting in Air)
There’s kicking back, and then there’s kicking it. This is for that afternoon, friends over way before you expected to see anyone, phone ringing, then friends’ cells ringing, and guess what: it’s a party at your place whether you knew it or not. Not one damn thing is going to be accomplished this day, so start seriously kicking it. You’ll need about five ashtrays, and watch your lighter because someone for sure is going to try to snake it, send someone to the store for ice, then bring the blender right out onto the porch if you have to. Sure, not one of you is a gangster or even anything close but the whole party is a fantasy world anyway, no one is going to get one goddamn thing done today or the next probably. And either way, when the man in the song mentions how, ‘some got killed in the… past,’ feel that pause in his delivery and just be glad someone was there to go to the store in the first place.
“Hello Operator,” The White Stripes
(Where’s the Rent Money, Motherfucker?) (You Done Fucked Up)
All right, it’s July, and getting more and more like Joo-ly. A lot of things undone, a few too many days wasted, and you really shouldn’t have called in to work last Monday just so you could spend an extra day up at the lake. The fridge is empty, a few more than normal bills are around, and that unemployed friend who calls every day just to tell you how fucked up they got last night is starting to bug the hell out of you: ‘Get a job, get a life, get anything, just stay outta my hair!’ You woke this morning with a heat headache and the first clear thought of the day was that line from Predator: ‘If it bleeds, we can kill it.’ Time to brew up some of that crappy brown coffee, then toss in some instant (tastes just like Tavern on the Green!) for the pure heartburn of it and turn up The White Stripes’ ‘Hello Operator’ as loud as you can take it. Check that: louder than that, make it a downright unpleasant listening experience, and release your inner piss and vinegar. If the phone rings, pick it up, hold it to the speakers, ‘How you gonna get your money?’ and then rip the whole set up, answering machine included, out of the wall. One way or another, you’ll still end up hearing all about it by the time next weekend rolls around. Bleed on me, indeed.
“Thunder Kiss ‘65,” White Zombie
(Slash and Burn) (Backcountry Death Chant) (You Hate Yourself and You Wanna Die)
To paraphrase Sully in Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool, ‘Something has got to fucking give.’ This is especially true if you live in the country and you’re just another dog seeking shade during the Dogs Days. Your ride isn’t running, it’s a six mile walk through dust and insect buzz for smokes at the nearest store, everyone’s bored, everyone’s brain dead, everyone’s broke. Time for a barn-burning. Plug the phone back in, call everyone you know, and have all of them head out for the quietest, most secluded orchard or back lot pasture y’all can find without having to worry about the sheriff trolling by. Then make a crop circle, every car and sprung-shocked truck with its lights on, and let the sparks fly. Whoop, howl, send some fireworks sailing, do whatever you have to do to let it all out. And when you hear your fellow white zombies blare from the fuzzy cassette player, ‘my motor-psycho nightmare freakout…I got a heart atomic style,’ kick the burn barrel right over and stomp the ashes. Hell, even if the tape player eats the cassette, that still isn’t a problem: somewhere in the backseat is Soundgarden and ‘Slaves and Bulldozers’ will work just as well for your own private exorcism.
Dog Days, continued
“Schizophrenia,” Sonic Youth
(Ashes, Embers, and Mist) (Resting Comfortably)
A thunderstorm, thank god, rain and maybe an end to the drought. Anything to take the edge off the parch, even if the raindrops are kind of greasy and don’t seem to cool much of anything down. Still, it keeps everyone inside for one night, and it’s time to spend your free time wisely. Put Sonic Youth’s ‘Schizophrenia’ on repeat and let the atonal jangling soothe your already jangled nerves. It’s like hair of the dog, and after a while you’ll feel pretty good. Maybe even good enough to pick up a guitar and try to play along. Sure, the tuning is so fucked no one is the history of the world has ever managed to actually duplicate those amazing guitar lines, but still, if you warp enough strings you’ll probably get pretty close. Just like horseshoes and hand grenades.
Labor Day Weekend
(Ripples on Still Water) (Arc of a Diver)
It’s late at night, it’s late summer, it feels late in your life. No, it’s not like years ago, it’s something else. Already the summer is mostly vanished. Everyone’s repeating stories about the crazy stunts they pulled in June. ‘Man, I thought for sure we were all gonna get arrested, did you see that? What the fuck, the dude is nuts. Damn, wonder where that crazy bastard is tonight?’ Then a silence comes across everyone, across you alone later, nightswimming deserves a quite night. They say water is the passage to another world, another realm. Ghosts speak in water, from the bottom of wells, from ponds swum in, clothes thrown to the rocks, splashing naked to them, you know they’re waiting for you away from everyone else, just to be alone, to tread water together, away from everyone else for awhile. Ghosts speak from the clothes on the rocks. Ghosts speak to you alone, late at night, diving down, nightswimming in memories all that quiet night.
“Back to Ohio,” The Pretenders
(Packing Up, Packing It In)
You’ve heard of existential freedom but never quite believed it. Well, guess what, summer is about up and you’re living it. Things change, you change, nothing stops even though for three months everything has felt suspended, as much vapor has the waves coming up off the highways. Time to shake off the cobwebs, put out the trash, wipe down the counters, and get ready for something else, even in it isn’t what you expect or even hope for. As long as you have some kind of drumbeat, some kind of rhythmic stutter to get you out of the house and down the road, you’ll be just fine. Most everyone’s left town anyway, and there ain’t no sense waiting around. Besides, like the man said, it’s late September and baby you really need to get back to school.
“Come on Up to the House,” Tom Waits
(Last Call) (Leaf Fall) (Latching the Screen Door)
Last call. Last night. Last moths swarming the porch light above your head, last smoke stubbed out in a coffee can ashtray, last match flicked burning into the lawn. Last melted ice cubes in the glass, last late-night scores from the radio perched in the screen window, last time you see the cat creep the bushes, its yellow eyes reflecting as it gives a quick glance then slinks away.
The car is gassed up, the duffel bags packed, the sandwiches wrapped in the fridge, the coffee maker and alarm set to go off early, early the next morning. Wonder where the summer went, wonder what next. Its feels like the afterlife already, and that’s all right too. Figure wherever you land is going to be home, with a flock of friends and family coming down like birds all around your head. Despite a chill in the night air, it feels like summer is about to begin again, better head on in, up the steps into the house, and let Waits’ words echo as you go from room to room, turning off all the lights.
All your cryin don’t do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I’m just a passin thru
Come on up to the house