When I was a little girl, I had to work in my father’s vegetable garden every summer. My father has a work ethic that makes mine look nonexistent, so the school’s-out-for-summer stuff does not exist in my family. Basically, I was either put to work at my house, weeding and spraying insecticide, or we had to go to my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania, where we’d fix up the house and the yard all summer. When I got older and started to figure out what I wanted to do, I spent a summer going to a local college and taking dance classes – anything to keep from mowing the lawn. But, really, aside from that, I do not associate summer with fun and free time, not as a child.
So maybe that’s why when I think of my favorite summer songs, the ones I think of are attached to angst-ridden memories. Actually, I like the summer better than the winter. For one thing, I like the heat better than the cold – I still don’t have air conditioning. I hate air conditioning. Because I don’t like to be tricked. I want to know exactly how hot it is, and I’d rather just adapt to the heat, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. I also think summer is a superior season because you can see everybody’s outfits. You can’t make fashion statements when it’s cold out, and you never know what anyone’s wearing. And it’s just a lot easier to see people in the summer, so they can’t trick you, either.
Both of my stories take place in New York – and I think New York is the best place to be in the summer, even if the heat and humidity make everybody grouchy. It may be more civilized in California, because it always gets cool at night, but it’s so boring to be there. It’s always summer in L.A., so no one appreciates it. When summertime comes in New York, everybody seems to be celebrating for three months; it feels like the city comes to life.
When I think about what a summer song is, at first I think of something celebratory and up – but that’s not really quite it, because I’ve dug some pretty incredible summer songs that weren’t. But it definitely has to have a phat groove. It’s not about Enya in the summertime, you know what I mean? For example, “Don’t You Want Me,” by the Human League, reminds me of the early days of Danceteria, in New York. I lived on the Lower East Side, at Fourth and B, in a tenement apartment – without air conditioning. I didn’t have a record deal yet, but my demos were hot off the press, and I used to go to Danceteria every weekend, trying to meet the DJ or an A&R person to give my tape to. I’d spend all night on the dance floor in some hideous outfit while all the pretty, skinny, fashionable girls threw their drinks on me. But when that song came on, I forgot my humiliation. I didn’t care that I was soaking wet and didn’t have any friends.
Prince’s “When Doves Cry” was another song I used to escape into when it first came out. By then I did have a record contract, and I had moved to a nice loft on Broome and West Broadway. But there was still no elevator, so I had to walk up six flights of steps to get to my loft. I rode my bike everywhere, with a Walkman and headphones on, and one hot summer day I came in and I just couldn’t carry my bike up those stairs one more time. I was hating my family and my life at the time, and I just collapsed in the stairwell with that song playing in my headphones, crying my heart out and feeling incredibly sorry for myself.
You may have noticed that both of these stories are about music as a vehicle for transcending misery (the story of my life). I do think that music is the most spiritually evolved art form. And it is absolutely the most universal: It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are or how well-educated you are or how cool you are – how rich, how poor, how anything. It’s primal, and it’s visceral, and it’s a cure for the summertime blues. It’s about coming to life.
Adapt to the heat.
© Rolling Stone