Summer Songs: DJ Little Danny from Office Naps

From the editor: No way could we do a new summer songs series and not have DJ Little Danny down for a post. As the creator of Office Naps, Daniel Shiman has put together one of the best audioblogs we know out there – a fantastic mix of obscure music and Shiman’s considerable knowledge.

For his summer songs entry, Shiman dips away from his 45-only format on Office Naps and pulls out a few LP cuts that tap into his summer idealism. –O.W.

    Summer is just as much a vessel for our romantic imagination as it is baseball, cars, and youthful indiscretion. Humming within every summer song is always that ideal of our warmest months, some hazy ratio of what our imagination tells us summer should be – the breeze, the swimming hole, the sex, food, booze, and blaring music – and what our memory tells us summer was – usually with greatly exaggerated measures of the same.

    TnT Boys:
    Musical Del Alma
    From Sex Symbols / Simbolos Sexuales (Cotique, 1969).

    We shook, we did the shingaling: the history books tell us that we had fun before 1968’s “Tighten Up” riff, but I’m not so sure. The unstoppable, hypnotic beat of late ‘60s Spanish Harlem is there on “Musica Del Alma,” and, I’ll be damned, so is that riff. The TnT Boys were enthusiastic and impossibly young when they handed us “Musical Del Alma,” all buoyant with piano and pride and hot-fun-in-the-summertime grit.

    Or so I imagine. This is pure Nuyorican soul fantasia to me. “Musica Del Alma” is three minutes of cultural transcendence for someone who grew up in a small tourist town in Pennsylvania, someone now living in the West Texas desert. It’s music and peals of laughter and seared food smells rising from the late ‘60s New York City streets, and the added luxury of complete obliviousness to the inner city’s meanness. “Musica Del Alma” is the perhaps the summer song’s greatest potential realized: escapism.

    The Jesus and Mary Chain: Everything’s Alright When You’re Down
    From Barbed Wire Kisses (B-Sides and More) (Blanco Y Negro/Warner Brothers, 1988).

    For all its droning fuzz and feedback, the song’s got the right AM radio moves. ‘60s pop hooks, surf-ish guitar solos and anthemic choruses: “Everything’s Alright When You’re Down” is a great summer song. Unlike the TnT Boys, however, I hear the song today and I hear the banal, awkward reality of adolescence.

    The Jesus and Mary Chain were both a combination of everything I was between my sophomore and junior years in high school – sullen, greasy-haired, and sixties-fixated – and everything I wasn’t, but desperately wanted to be. I was gawky, with nerd glasses and bushy, uncontrollable red hair. The Jesus and Mary Chain were Scottish and unspeakably cool. Everything I could find by them, I bought and recorded dutifully to TDK 60 minute cassette. I hear “Everything’s Alright When You’re Down” today and, in other words, I’m slumped in the backseat of the family Toyota with some crappy, off-brand Walkman, willfully ignoring my parents and glaring out the window. It’s August. I think we were going to Canada. Somewhere with lakes.

    Years later I still cringe at the pubescent version of myself, and slap my forehead accordingly. Setting aside our embarrassment, though, we must include the awkward, fifteen-year-old reality of the summer song, too. This is only appropriate. This is the flipside to the fantasy of “Musica Del Alma.”

    The Cake: Baby That’s Me
    From The Cake (Decca, 1967)

    Other contributors to O-Dub’s summer songs series have noted this gap, this fantasy of summer on one hand and the actual experience of it on the other. Frequently our summer favorites float somewhere in that gulf between imagination and memory, escapism (“Musica Del Alma”) and reality (“Everything’s Alright When You’re Down”). Yeah, summer is swell but, dammit, my ass is stuck to the seat again. Summer is constantly belying its own idealism.

    I found the Cake’s debut album several Junes ago. With its Wall of Sound grandeur and psychedelic tinge, “Baby That’s Me” was the right song at the right time for someone cultivating a taste for dreamy ’60s pop. This song, too, was dutifully recorded. It went everywhere my mp3 player did: job, car, apartment, running. It was infatuation.

    The poignancy and the sweet anticipation have long passed for many of us. We may now strain to remember the month. There are families now, and homes, careers and lives evolving independently of seasonal reverie. Our awareness of summer constantly dims – even as our obsession with music persists. But the shape of summer, though diffuse, still hangs in the air around us, and as long as it does, so does the possibility of the summer song. I hear the Cake’s “Baby That’s Me” today and I remember waking one golden morning in California two summers ago, perfectly content with myself for once and perfectly aware, too, that it was summer.