Sunday, August 26, 2007


Summer now dwindles to its close. Prolonged sigh. Even though I'm not that big a fan of summer -- the temperatures, the indolence, the frenetic sense of fun to be had at all costs -- I do like its detachment from the rest of the academic year and those twin batches of inexorable thirteen week rhythms. Summer lets you get your own rhythm back. I was reminded of that on a recent drive up to Boston and back: as late as a few summers ago, a roadtrip for the hell of it was de rigueur in the summer. As the Cracker song asks, "where have those days gone?" It was a pleasure, fleeting as all the summers I can reckon, to just pound that interstate with everything a 21st century precision auto can deliver. But at no matter what speed, what we're chasing is some magical glimmer of summer that is already -- Daisy's green-light-like -- gone. Which means that, even more than Christmas and New Year's, summer's fraught with the weight of the past, strung out over months rather than a mere week or two. It kinda gets you down, if you let it. The recurring passing of all those things that must pass.

Admittedly, the melancholy of August, for me, is wrapped up with the fact that my birthday occurs during its span. That "Other Side of Summer" that another August baby -- Declan McManus, aka Elvis Costello -- notes. So the ebbing of the season is marked by a turn of that great big wheel from one age to the next, overhung by the return to school of all those in that stage of things, and by the light's decline in general. As I come up on a year of blogging I also note how summer has been a large hiatus from leaving a textual mark in cyberspace -- attributable in part to time away, attributable also to weeks of steady progress on lit crit, but also attributable to what yet another August baby, Van Morrison, calls "hymns to the silence": that feeling of being sweetly disconnected from your own monologue. But it hasn't all been silence, there's always music:

Sounds of Summer

Though I got it upon it's release in March, Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank has continued to sink in. The first song I fell in love with, "Missed the Boat," grew into the "song of the summer" for me, much as TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" was the song of the spring making me deliriously happy ("show you what all the howling's for" indeed) -- which only got to me due to a discerning student placing it as lead off on a disc of songs by people utterly unknown to me (which disc was appreciated on my road jaunts this summer as well). MM's album is more than a one-hit wonder though -- "Dashboard" and "Little Motel" also jumped out early, but on this Boston trip it was "Parting of the Sensory" ("some day you will die somehow and something will steal your carbon") and "Invisible" ("you're not invisible in your car") I got caught up in. The other Spring acquisition that continues to grow is Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, where the early favorite was "What Light," but "Impossible Germany" and "You Are My Face" are possibly better. The song from the album I shared most is "Either Way" because it's so short and sweet. At times Jeff Tweedy's vocals sound remarkably like (yet another August baby) Jerry Garcia, and the album in general does have that kind of tempered optimism that the Dead were fond of evincing.

The only actual summer releases I bought new (on the annual birthday return to the town of me alma mater while also visiting me actual mater -- yet another August baby) are Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which is pleasant but hasn't sunk in -- "The Underdog," which has a video, is the one that demands airplay -- and Richard Thompson's Sweet Warrior, which finds him pretty spunky lyrically and musically, but my early fave is "Take Care the Road You Choose" because it's one of the few melancholic tunes on the album, in the manner of "I've Got No Right to Have It All" and "How I Wanted To" and other darkly delicious songs.

In honor of my aging further, my daughter laid a tape of tunes on me on which the stand-out songs from this year are Jarvis Cocker's "Heavy Weather" (which seems to forecast general disaster with 60s-ish upbeat hooks) and "Black Magic" (which channels Tommy James' "Crimson and Clover" in a kind of triumph over nostalgia) and The Veils' "Nux Vomica" and "One Night on Earth," which both find singer Finn Andrews making unearthly vocal sounds as only he can. You have to suffer to sing the blues, they say, but this guy sounds like he's singing to suffer. Meanwhile, "Road Trippin'," a Red Hot Chili Pepper's song my goddaughter sent my way, emerged a summer favorite for the sake of what's left of an idyllic sense of the road. My first foray into the music of Ryan Adams (via this summer's Lucky Tiger) garnered "The Sun Also Sets" -- which has the kind of foreboding about time passing I can get behind, and I expect "Halloweenhead" will be gracing some tapes come October.

Older stuff that finally found its way to me is Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (2005) -- which has some youthfully pissed-off songs on it -- notably "Landlocked Blues" and "Road to Joy" -- and a couple songs from Springsteen's 2005 album Devils and Dust: "All I'm Thinking About" and especially "Maria's Bed" -- if songs can't convince us a woman can be the center of the universe, where would we find romantic longing? On the flip side, let's put "Go Tell the Women," Nick Cave at his most sardonic, fronting Grinderman: "we're sick and tired / of all this self-serving grieving / all we wanted was a little consensual rape in the afternoon and maybe a bit more in the evening / we are scientists, we do genetics / we leave religion to the psychos and fanatics / but we are tired / we've got nothing to believe in / we are lost / go tell the women that we're leaving."

Th-th-th-that's all, folks!

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