Today’s song is kind of a request. Today is the birthday of my oldest friend, Tim—Happy Birthday!—and it so happens that Alex Chilton’s birthday is the 28th. Chilton who died in 2010, was the leading figure of Big Star, a short-lived but much admired band from the early Seventies. “September Gurls,” written by Chilton, states “December boys got it bad.” And that’s the line that seems to make a claim for December boys, set against those September girls that “do so much.”
What is it those December boys have “got bad”? I’m not too sure. I suppose it’s a certain infatuation with “September girls.” When Tim laid this song on me on a tape back in the mid-Eighties (none of us knew Big Star until bands like R.E.M. and The Feelies and the dBs and The Replacements started touting them), September girls were easy to imagine. Being in college and seeing troupes of girls returning to school each fall accords well with the song’s feel. Or living near or working at a college. The spelling of “girls” as “gurls” reminds one of “those lovely seaside girls / your head it simply swurls” from “Seaside Girls,” a song that drifts through the day in Joyce’s Ulysses. September gurls make heads swurl as well.
How can I deny what’s inside / Even though I’ll keep away / Maybe we’ll love all our days / December boys got it bad
That’s the part that sticks with me. The denial of a feeling, and keeping away from a temptation that might actually be a fulfillment. The third line seems to open the door for hope or maybe it’s suggesting a lifetime of unrequited love, which is what the December boy has got, bad. Fair enough, not so much a downer or bummer as a statement of affective dysfunction. Loving, as in lying, against time. Fun!
And Chilton, whose band Big Star became one of those lodestars in the Eighties, a blast from a past that, to my ears, becomes more acute as time goes on, is a melancholy master, much of the time. In fact, my song of tribute was likely to have been “Nighttime” (“I hate it here, get me out of here”) or the aforementioned “Kangaroo” or maybe the song that summed up a certain bluesy feeling some of us might recognize as parental, “Blue Moon.” There are even darker songs, and there are some, particularly on the first album, that are very jangly and Byrds-meets-Kinks like. A nice vibe of Seventies spirit, not too angsty. But where the “mellow” edges are starting to fray, as they tended to do, all too often.
There’s always the spike of the bridge here to give us a lift: “Oooh when she makes love to me” and then a nice little musical ellipsis. So maybe things aren’t so bad for our December boy, as he sounds like a passively patient lad getting some presents, those favors every good boy deserves.
I loved you, well, never mind / I’ve been crying all the time
The “never mind” sets the tone. As in: one could say a lot more about that and the crying over what was or could’ve been, but that state of having it bad is just one of those things you learn to live with, pilgrim.
It’s a fitting song, here on the day after Christmas, because that’s when you really know for sure the year is going, going, gone. Did you not get what you wished for? Better luck next year. And it’s got that Chilton jangle that recalls to me, often, that “morning after” state wherein one feels a bit bruised by the liberties one took with one’s psyche the night before yet still opens wondering eyes upon a strong day newly dawned. It seems to me a song at peace with its yearning. At a certain point all we can do is enjoy the pageant as it passes. September girls do so much.