Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cruel summer

Some songs will always remind me of summer, no matter how many times I hear them. I used to listen to my radio while I waited to fall asleep every night. If I was lucky, a relatively cool breeze would blow in just over the head of my bed, a respite from the day's oppressive heat.

And when I say summer, I lived in a part of California where we had two seasons: hot and cold. Summer to me could very well have been in April, but when you're wearing shorts and still sweating your ass off, it seems summery.

Interestingly, the three songs that remind me the most of summer despite having heard them a bajillion times in the years since they were new all came from the same summer. So now I'll make a little like Casey Kasem and do a mini countdown.

3. "All I Need is a Miracle," by Mike + The Mechanics

Released in March 1986, this had been a radio staple for a while by the time it seared itself into my memory. At the end of sixth grade, we had a pool party. The radio was tuned to the local Top 40 station, and for one of the few times that school year, I didn't feel like a total outsider.

Sure, I wore a T-shirt in the pool because I was self-conscious and I wore my glasses so I could, you know, see, but I didn't get much crap about it that day. Everyone was busy having fun.

You know how when you're a kid, everything compresses to a single point sometimes? For a moment in that pool, with this song playing in the background, everything just kind of came together and I actually felt happy. I thought that maybe seventh grade wouldn't be so bad. For that brief pinprick in time, there was hope.

Happy moments come fairly rarely in middle school, so it's not surprising that they stay with you.

2. "Human," by The Human League

Released in August 1986, I don't think this hit the charts till at least September, by which time seventh grade had started, but it was still pretty hot. Plus, since that feeling of hope hadn't quite panned out thus far, it suited my melancholy attitude. I know it's not really about feeling alienated, but since I felt that way in junior high school, anything the slightest bit sad was an anthem for not fitting in.

"What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round" by The Monkees served a similar purpose, so you see how little I paid attention to the lyrics. What can I say? I was emo before emo was emo.

1. "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off," by Jermaine Stewart

Now it's not so much that I particularly liked this song, though I kinda did. But it hit the charts in May 1986 and was in heavy rotation--one of those songs they played every hour.

It didn't occur to me at the time that the song referred to AIDS; I just thought it was a song about abstinence in general. And honestly, selling abstinence to a hopeless nerd is like selling Crayolas to the blind. Though I have to admit that I was puzzled even then. The message I got: Sex = bad; drinking cherry wine = A-OK.

Seemed to me that if you drank enough cherry wine, you had a better chance of taking your clothes off. But I was a miserable, cynical 11-year-old, so I could've been wrong.

Still, this morning, more than 20 years later, I heard this song on my way to work, and for a second I was back in my bed, waiting to fall asleep and hoping for a cool breeze.

Fortunately, I wasn't driving.