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Summer has arrived with a vengeance. Last week's temps in the 40s have more than doubled, and the last few days have been the kind where glasses continuously slide down the bridge of the nose. It’s the kind of heat that can make you dizzy. It won't last of course. By next Friday temps will drop 30 degrees, but you take what you can get around here. All over the valley dudes who put off yard work because they were wearing winter coats last week are staggering, burnt red, and braving insane lines at Home Depot, all the while knowing there's a 50/50 chance whatever they are buying will be the wrong thing and need to be returned. The true boys of summer. Poor bastards.
All my summer memories are tied to a soundtrack. Music blaring out of car radios and apartment windows and 1000 back porches, as distinctive to the senses as the smell of burgers and dogs on the grill. Even as a pre-teen it was important.....as I'd carry around a transistor radio and wait for the song I just requested on the all-request station. A Doobie Brothers tune.....or the latest from Cheap Trick. Hearing the song you wanted was like a jolt of electricity....and I'd sit there and ponder how thousands of NEPAians were now singing along to "What a Fool Believes" because I REQUESTED IT. It was like doing my bit for world peace.
And then "Born in the USA" was released. Summer of 1984. I was just past Stevie Nicks's mystical edge of seventeen, and somebody had brought a boom box to the Saint Joseph summer picnic, and they were holding it over their head like John Cusack in that movie that wouldn't come out for 16 more years. The sound was huge....and the bandanas were already catching on.....and because of MTV everybody already knew all the words to "Dancing in the Dark", and everybody was already pumping their fists to the misinterpreted title track, and it was like living inside a Chevy commercial. Still, it was the greatest record release promotion I've ever seen, and poor Bruce knew nothing about it.
Back in the innocent 80s the beer tent was less....er...patrolled....than it would become. So we scaled the fence and made ourselves invisible in the back of the tent and found 21 year olds to visit the bar for us and got pleasantly wasted on plastic cups of Genesee while Prince and Michael Jackson and Madonna and Bruce himself created the music business summer blockbuster equivalent of “Jaws” and “Star Wars” and “The Exorcist” and schemed to take over the world......and turn our summers into musical kaleidoscopes…..one hit single at a time.
My high school summers were filled with Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page phases, and started my lifelong love affair with the Who. My weapon of choice was a cheap record player that fit underneath the bed and required a penny taped to its arm to keep records from incessantly skipping. I could not play the guitar, but nobody could rock the tennis racket in front of the mirror like me. The few girlfriends I had would tolerate my incessant moodiness and paralyzing shyness and crazy early curfew (my parents severely limited my cool factor with their actual parenting, a tradition I gladly carry on) for a few weeks or so, and then be gone, leaving me with yet another song that reminds me of being dumped. Peter Frampton's "Lines On My Face" will cause my self-esteem to plunge even now, and I still can't listen to Bryan Adams's "Heaven" without breaking out in hives. Somehow some guys I worked with at an after-school job found out about this, and kept requesting the song over and over on the radio while we unloaded dirty laundry from trucks. Somebody is already trying to tell you something, eh?
I'm sitting on my back porch as I write this, listening to Badlees records, wishing for more breezes. When they come, they're lovely......and wash away the heat. But they are selective.....like the playlists on that long ago radio station....so all you can do is wait for them and hope it's enough to keep you out there, finding all the words you need to find. Tonight when the world goes to bed I may sit on the front porch and search for the right songs to soundtrack the quiet street and the flickering streetlights and the leftover fireworks from Biden's last stimmie. Summer cries out for this sort of thing. Summer doesn't like to be alone. It craves constant companionship. It needs a playlist.
There's always an undercurrent of sadness in summer. The simple memories of music and friends and beer and burgers and fire pits are so fleeting......they seem to arrive and vanish like lightning bugs. The long hot days of waiting for breezes that never come, or the times spent kicking off the covers in the midst of another sleepless night, or the endless traffic and crowds that elbow the patience right out of you....those are the times of broken clocks on the wall. So soak it all up while you can. The memories, at least, will stay with you always.
Along with the music.
In a bit..