Friday, July 16, 2010
Summertime, and the List'nin' Is Easy
Consulting the heavens somehow, the ancients knew to celebrate the arrival of Summer. Extra warmth, days running long, rich green growths a-plenty, foods accumulating for the cold months ahead. "Sumer is icumen in, Llude sing cuccu!" is how they phrased it a couple of millenia ago; a cooler, post-Modernist phrase for 2010 might be "The Summer Knows..."
But Western Washington is wet. Grey skies from November till... well, till the clouds finally part, which is usually, finally, about mid-July. Spring here is an unexpected burden: lots of rain, speckles of sun, days getting longer and longer but still no real relief from the grey. Suicide numbers rise. Calendar Summer begins, and still it's raining. It's all anyone can talk about as the irritation mounts: "When's this crap going to end? Damn it, the days are already getting shorter--where the hell's the sun?"
But suddenly it's Summer, a glorious brightness stretching all the way from, say, July 10 to mid-October and beyond. (Yes, that's the tourism secret: September is a great time to visit Seattle.) And one benefit of so much grey for so much of the year is that whenever the sun does come out--mid-morning briefly or just near sunset (during the grey seasons), or for a whole Summer day--life becomes perfect. Shoulders straighten, faces smile, eyes shine. Sun--yes, sun!
Even the radio stations celebrate; all the great pop hits for Summer fill the airwaves for a time. Foremost is the Gershwin classic "Summertime" and those familiar lyrics: "...the livin' is easy; Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high. Your daddy's rich and your mama's good-lookin', So hush, little baby, don't you cry." Usually a Jazz version, you'll likely hear Sidney Bechet on clarinet, or Miles trumpet it with Gil Evans, Ella from the Porgy and Bess sessions with Satch, or maybe Sarah Vaughan freely interpreting early or late. There are scores, maybe hundreds, to choose from (and most of the pictures I've posted represent a selection of Porgy and Bess jackets).
The Rock music playlists showcase a few other faves as well. For simple (okay, almost simple-minded) joy it's the Jamies sing-chanting over and over, "It's summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime, summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime... etc." before the voices finally arrive at sum, I mean some imagery: "Well, shut those books and throw 'em away, Say goodbye to dull school days, Look alive and change your ways, It's summertime."
Adequate only. For a more challenging view of things, check short-lived rockabilly hero Eddie Cochran speeding through his great "Summertime Blues" (shredded nicely also by Cochran fans The Who), which rather than grim is actually exhilarating!
Well, I'm gonna raise a fuss, I'm gonna raise a holler,
'Bout a-workin' all summer just to try to earn a dollar.
Well, time I called my baby tryin' to get a date,
The boss says, "No dice, son, you gotta work late."
Sometimes I wonder what I'm a-gonna do,
'Cause there ain't no cure for the summertime blues....
Gonna take two weeks, gonna have a fine vacation,
Gonna take my problem to the United Nations;
Well, I called my congressman, but he says, "Whoa,
I'd like to help you, son, but you're too young to vote."
Sometimes I wonder what I'm a-gonna do,
'Cause there ain't no cure for the summertime blues.
Though some lyrics are available for it, the all-time Summer pop hit is usually heard as an instrumental--and that description couldn't point to anything but "Theme from 'A Summer Place'," attempted by many (from Billy Vaughn and Andy Williams to The Ventures and The Lettermen), but a huge seller and chart-topper and Grammy award-winner as played by Percy Faith and his Orchestra. As a teen in 1960, I enjoyed many a slow dance pressed close to one scrumptious female or another thanks to transplanted Englishman Percy, one of the high kings of Easy Listening. And "Summer Place," i' Faith, was still #18 among the 100 Best Pop Hits (or some such category) as recently as 2008, and it still holds the record for instrumental at the top of the charts for the most weeks.
In fact, I'd venture the guess that people who've never heard the tune before could listen today and feel the warmth and ease of Summer sweep over them. As those neglected lyrics promise, to lovers and novices alike:
There's a summer place
Where it may rain or storm
Yet I'm safe and warm
For within that summer place
Your arms reach out to me...
Sounds like a true Puget Sound Summer.