It’s Memorial Day Weekend which means that as we celebrate the informal return of summer, it also means we’re relaunching our annual Summer Songs posts.
It all began here. Now, in our third year, we’ve gotten even more ambitious, with over 10 guests invited to muse on what their perfect summer songs are.
First up: Eric Weisbard. Enjoy.
The Loser’s Lounge: Islands in the Stream (no recording available)
Jonathan Richman: That Summer Feeling
From Jonathan, Sings (Rough Trade, 1983)
The first guest for 2007’s Summer Songs season is Eric Weisbard. I first met Eric back in the late ’90s when he was the music editor at the Village Voice and not long thereafter, he joined the staff at the Experience Music Project and seeing him would become a yearly event thanks to all the work he put in assembling the annual Pop Music Conference. Since he and his wife Ann Powers ended up in Los Angeles not long before me and my family came down, I’ve had the pleasure of spending even more time with them and have constantly reminded myself that Eric has a scary, encyclopedic memory for all things music-related. He knows every anecdote and story you can imagine, cross-genre.
These days, apart from EMP, Eric stays busy with book writing, having already helped put the Spin Alternative Record Guide together as well as writing an entire book on Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion. He’s currently finishing up his long-delayed PhD dissertation from UC Berkeley (Bears, holla!). With that, here’s Eric Weisbard’s ruminations on summer songs*:
- Summer for me is sleepaway camp, that great invention of Jewish parents looking for a way to make their kids full-on Americans rather than pasty Yids. Michael Rogin and many others have written about how Jews “became white.” Summer camp is how we became tanned. My parents, both former counselors, are among the least rocking people I know. But they loved the beach, lobster in Maine, tennis, and Catskills holidays, and they sent me first to a summer camp in the Poconos sponsored by the once-socialist Workmen’s Circle and then to a place around an unspellably Indian-named lake in New Hampshire. Like most things my parents pushed, I eventually hated summer camp, but my own variants – bicycle trips via American Youth Hostels, a consistent habit of uprooting myself in the sweaty season – owe a lot to it. Summer is all about the getaway.
Which makes summer songs the music I found when I got there. It was “Plastic People” by Frank Zappa in NH, heard via a bunkmate with an older brother and some hippie ken who introduced me to the concept of underground sounds, or maybe of using music to sneer. It was “My Way” performed by Sid Vicious, which three punk girls on one of my bicycle trips listened to obsessively, decoding the words as if Sid’s were the only version available. And it was “Rebel Without a Pause,” whistling like a new Yankee Doodle out of the cars that went boom the summer I moved from Princeton to Berkeley and took with me a (duh) black Public Enemy t-shirt that bizarrely accorded me a smidgen of rap cred.
Did the genres stop changing with the seasons, or did I just get older? Preparing to move back from Cali to New York City, my summer song was Neil Young’s post-grunge “I’m the Ocean,” a manifesto of realized rockhead that attached to my own triumphant feelings driving around his immense ranch as my first cover story for Spin coincided with their offering me my first job. The summer of 2001 was the opposite: exchanging media for museum work in Seattle, my wife Ann and I slamdanced, on September 8, with the college radio crowd, at Josh’s wedding at the summer camp in Maine that his rich stepfather had bought to recapture childhood, to the unapologetically retro Loser’s Lounge live rendition of “Islands in the Stream” — thirtywhatevers settling in for the long haul and saying goodbye to more than we realized. Most recently, when I got to Los Angeles last year for a summer that began May 1 and rarely blinked, my companion in air conditioned traffic snarls was Los Abandoned’s Spanglish power-pop; I was a parent myself now, benign about a younger generation’s (and different immigrant group’s) need to dance along the line between assimilation and conquest.
Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling” was the song I thought of first when you asked me about the subject. It’s programmatic, comprehensive, and refuses to let you say no. But ask yourself, is he really nostalgic for his childhood or rather haunted by feeling like a (Jewish) outsider to the whole Beach Boys endless summer thing? Or think about Will Smith’s “Summertime,” “That Summer” by Garth Brooks, or Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69.” Three varieties of mainstream reverie, each is about finding a new way to fly into the sun. The fantasy was set in myth long before we all got there. The challenge of the summer song is to see what place for you there is anyway.
*Given the number of songs in this post, I divshare-d them as a way to reduce bandwidth. Sorry for the inconvenience.