It's not often bloggers are invited to turn DJ, so of course I had to jump at the chance. First I'll set the summer stage: I grew up in a small, weird town nestled in between the Rio Grande and volcanic mountains reaching nearly 11,000 feet, so my summers were spent clambering up and down steep cliff paths, camping by the muddy brown river, poking into cool, breathing caves, and getting horribly sunburned because elevation + nobody believed in sunscreen yet. My mom's family was from Philadelphia, so we'd also sojourn back to my grandparents' little Philly rowhouse and to their littler beach bungalow in Ocean City, NJ. I got my big-city summer memories (hopscotch in alleyways, sitting on stoops, walking through the giant heart in the Franklin Museum, nights curled in the window frame whispering to the girl across the alley) and beach-bum memories (paddleball, frisbee, returning horseshoe crabs to the sea, sand in the bathing suit, bellyboarding, sucking on water ice).
For my first Ultimate Summer Song, I present "So Alive" by Love & Rockets. This song totally defined the summer I graduated high school. It actually seemed to be about me and my friends, about our final summer at home, about summertime and frenetic adolescence and pressurized possibility itself. I remember graduation day, driving around in my brown Honda Accord with my friend Krista, blasting this song as loud as my speakers would play it (that car had a good stereo, too), singing at the top of our lungs till we nearly went hoarse. This is the first song that sprang to my mind when I read about the Songs of Summer idea.
Fast forward a couple summers later. I'm visiting my aunt and uncle in LA, and my aunt, also a writer, introduces me to one of her critique partners ... who happens to be a former Miss Universe. "If you don't have any friends in the area, I have a gorgeous son who could take you out for a night on the town," she says. Well, twist my arm. I expected her son, who was indeed gorgeous, to be barely tolerant of me—forced as he was by mom to chaperone this hick kid around. But he was rather keen, it turned out, and we had a bit of a whirlwind weekend together. (My aunt and his mom were very amused. I think they got a contact high from us.) Michael's dad was a Hollywood producer and he had all sorts of cards and passes and whatnot in his wallet, so I was able to get into places I shouldn't have, being still (barely) underage. I ordered a glass of white wine at the Hard Rock Cafe and felt terribly grown up. We walked down the Sunset Strip holding hands. He kissed me on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, which apparently was meaningful in some way I didn't understand. We petted the stars at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He took me up on the bluffs and we looked out over the sparkling city. It was a very romantic few days, and ended at just the right time before we could get real about anything. And as I was listening to the Kinks a lot that summer anyway, my selection above will be forever associated with those few days, my Cinderella Weekend in Hollywood.
This song is less associated with one summer than with summer in general. I listened to the Indigo Girls a lot throughout college, as one does, and my best friend and I would bust out with harmonized a cappella versions at the slightest provocation, which sounds more charming than I suspect it was. The Girls were kind enough to include our state on most of their tours, so I got to see them perform live a number of times. They were amazing in concert. I wonder if they're still touring?
Summer 2006: Skipping way forward. I have two kids now, and this is maybe the first summer they are really listening to the music I'm always playing and holler-singing along with on car rides. The Fountains of Wayne releases a new album, and as it happens, it's pretty kid-friendly. Lyrics aside, anyway. ("Stacy's Mom": we'll just hum along with that one.) This track was one of our favorites.
Finally, I bring you a song I hear every day, the song that Alt Nation (my favorite SiriusXM channel) seems to have decided is THE Song of Summer, consider the heavy rotation it gets. Listen and you will hear why. It has that perfect blend of major chords, simple lyrics, and a cheery message. You don't want to listen to this song in the depths of winter, you'll throw things at the stereo. But poolside, with an icy-cold Stella Artois? Perfect. I will always associate this song with Summer 2014, with New York City and World Cup soccer, my sweet son just tipping into adolescence and my brilliant daughter getting set to apply to college.
Happy summer, everyone. May these be the best days of your life.