Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Column #19: Cool music took the heat out of sucky summers

"Is this record called 'Summer's Greatest Hits'?", my wife asked.

The record I had playing as we dressed that morning wasn't but, as a collection of the Lovin' Spoonful's greatest hits, could have been.

Even without their classic song, "Summer in the City", the Lovin' Spoonful still reign as the most summery-sounding band ever. Their bouncy, light songs - thoughtful but never heavy, optimistic even when sad - sound the way that summer should feel.

Just not this summer.

As kids, we loved summer because we didn't have to go to school. We were free to play with our friends, go to camp and have important but long-forgotten romances.

Today, however, summer is a poorly-planned fusion of work, familial obligations and 60-band music festivals stuffed with leather-pants-wearing 22-year-olds hoping to conquer the world and bloated has-beens who gave up trying long ago.

The part of this formula that I really don’t understand is why, if they insist on making us sit through so many bands in one day, they can’t do it in the spring and in the fall? It’s so much nicer outside then, and there’s not much competition in the festival business.

Festival headliners such as Huey Lewis and Smashing Pumpkins are just glad that they don’t have to play the State Fair yet. Wouldn’t they sound even less pathetic without sweat dripping in our ears?

I haven't been a fan of this season for a while. A surplus of bright heat and shirtless men who should, really, have more shame is bad enough. Worse, for me, though, is the lack of quality television.

No matter how exciting that action-packed sequel to that comic book movie is, it's still less than two hours long and costs almost $10 per person. What am I supposed to do the rest of the week? I'm thankful that summer TV has improved, but even the best efforts of the cable channels aren't enough to fool me into thinking that they're really trying.

The MTV series Jersey Shore is back. You already knew this, of course, due to the national media's decision to spend more time discussing Snooki's latest hot tub adventure than, say, the two wars we find ourselves mired in, or the continuing tragedy of the Gulf oil spill.

How Bruce Springsteen allowed those twits to redefine the very concept of summer fun in the name of his home state is another unforgivable scandal.

Earlier this summer, I found myself craving the Boss's second album, the unjustly lesser-known The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. I had an urge to enjoy something, anything, summery under 100 degrees (besides ice cream).

The album begins with bleating horns suggesting an impending New Orleans funeral party, so you know that you’re in for a good time.

A funk groove that playfully dates it to the '70's takes over, while Bruce narrates one of his first stories of young lovers and fighters making the best of their situation. The album is filled with voices rising in the background, the sounds of block parties and backyard bar-b-ques in full swing.

“As them sweet summer nights turn into summer dreams/Little Angel picks up Power and he slips on his jeans/And they move on out down to the scene/All the kids are dancin'.”

Accordions, organs and horns (including a tuba!) propel the swingin' shuffles and teen romance ballads; what makes this album seem so summery is its looseness, especially compared to anything the E Street band has done in the past 35 years.

They weren't famous, they were lean, hungry and wore sleeveless shirts and beards; they were less working class heroes than young guys looking for the next cold beer and/or warm companion.

“Oh Sandy, the aurora is risin' behind us/The pier lights our carnival life on the water/Runnin' down the beach at night with my boss's daughter/Well he ain't my boss no more, Sandy.”

Take that, Katy Perry.

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