Monday, June 13, 2011

That Summer Song

There was a song – I can't remember what it was but I've spent my whole life trying.
Something to do with a highway. Route something. No, it's not what you're thinking. Not that one. Something else.
When you're young and you have a transistor radio by your side like a faithful dog, you live your life by music. Especially summer music. Pop radio stations like CHUM and CFTR played the hits in quick-fire rotation and you probably heard the big songs a thousand times. But if you're quiet now, if you're in tune with the memories of your own skin, you will find there is one place, one moment, when you remember each song.
Except this one.
My uncle and aunt owned a marina in cottage country back in the summers of music and my cousins worked there, all of them, pumping gas, scooping ice cream, selling confectionaries and comic books at the store. The dress code was decidedly casual – the girls, all great looking, curvaceous girls, wore bikinis pretty much 24/7. They were the bronzed goddesses of the gas pumps, selling oil and ice with dazzling smiles and toned long limbs. The radio was the background buzz to what was essentially the lake's living, breathing hive. You went there every day to pick up a Toronto Star and a bag of milk, or a container of worms, while Bridge Over Troubled Water, Some Kind of Wonderful or Maybe I'm Amazed thrummed to the beat of gassy outboard motors and Detroit land yachts.
Until my uncle built a proper house my cousins' bedrooms were rustic sleeping cabins, built decades before by previous owners who dreamed of finding gold in the wallets of travellers seeking the quiet of a northern lake and the song of the loons. Even then the cabins were falling down but no one cared. How utterly perfect to have their own space, physically removed from parents. They decorated their cabins with Beatles posters and their dressers were looped with the dazzling bling of faux pearls and beads in a rainbow of groovy colours. This was just past the Summer of Love, remember, and all you needed to be cool was a cascade of wavy hair, a tan, cut-offs, a bikini top and beads.
The song was playing when I sat on the end of one of their beds, listening to their quick chatter as they were getting ready for a Saturday night with their boyfriends. They laughed loudly, constantly, as they tried to improve on what was already gorgeous. Already perfect.  I was that much younger than my cousins that I wasn't a part of this ritual, or the golden sunshine of their summer lives. 
I wanted to be, though. So much that I can still taste it.
The beads shone in the late afternoon's rosy light and the song played.
I'd give anything to remember what it was.
Hey there - I wrote this piece for a summer tourist guide my company just published for the cottage country crowd in Huntsville, Ontario. The theme of Summer Scene is summer music, the songs that you hear on the radio that make you say, "Yah! Summer!" If you're interested, you can see pdfs from the publication here.
The photo, above, was taken when I was about 13 or 14 years old. That's me in the green tube top, back when I could get away with such nonsense, snugged up close to my first boyfriend, Peter Budd, a tuba player from Windsor, Ontario. Sitting above us are my sister, Liz, and the Megarry brothers, Kevin and Andrew. Their dad was the publisher of the Globe & Mail and I always kicked my arse for dumping Andrew after we dated one summer. I mean, it would have been handy graduating from journalism school when your boyfriend's dad is the publisher of Canada's national newspaper. (WHAT was I thinking?) Standing at top is another friend, whose name escapes me, and my brother, Bill. I can't believe I forget the cute blond's name. Again, WHAT was I thinking????
I couldn't end this without sharing at least one of my favourite summer songs. Strangely, I wouldn't have put God Only Knows by The Beach Boys on the top of my list but I heard it this morning when Brian Wilson was interviewed (he's touring in Canada this year) and it stuck in my head all day long.
I'm curious: what's your favourite summer song?


  1. My problem is I can't remember them!!!

  2. "In the air tonight", by Phil Collins.

    I remember so many summer nights, flying down the highway with that song on the radio. 1986? 1987? We all smelled of sweat, cheap beer and mosquito repellent, and when that song came on, we all thought of missed opportunities and lovers who had lied to us.

    Or at least, that's what I always thought of...

  3. Omigawd, Tony, I was old and married in 1986! But I do love that song - it reminds me of the beginning of my newspaper career, alone in strange towns, that weird echoing Collins tune like a soundtrack to adventure.
    I'd love to hear more about that lying lover....

  4. Oh Man. I have several. It just depends on my mood and the memory at hand, but I'd have to say this is my hands down favorite...

    Great post Cathy. :)

  5. What a great nostalgic piece, Cathy. Song? How about Spaceship Superstar by Prism. Our US and British friends probably haven't heard of them.

    ps...what WERE you thinking!

  6. I LOVE this. What a great piece, and that photo is priceless. Look how cute you were even then.

    I think the one song that always reminds me of summer is Two Princes by the Spin Doctors - 1992 or maybe '93. The road trips that year were unforgettable.

  7. I remember summers with transistor radios dangling from handlebars. Your's with your cousins sound like summertime perfection. Great piece Cathy!

    How about Bob Seger's Night Moves?

  8. Songs and memories really go hand in hand. It's amazing the memories that songs evoke. Everytime I hear really old school rap music where they don't curse (Like De La Soul) I think about driving in my friend Lynn's car all over for no reason except that we had nothing to do. Great post!

  9. Anything by the Beach Boys! Yes! This captures those beautiful times of summer in our youthful, carefree days.
    Thanks for your visit and your comment at sixtyfivewhatnow. I'd love to return here and share these tidbits of golden days.

    (p.s. In one of my memoir pieces, another blog of mine called lakeviewer-wheniwasyourage, I wrote about meeting one of the Beach Boys when they were just starting, the night the local station played Surfer Girl on the radio for the first time.)

  10. Great Piece Cathy! Love the retro pic, very nice!

    Ohhh boy... Transistor Radios! They before my time I'm afraid. But they sound like they were good times indeed.

    It's funny that when asked to think of a specific song for summer, thoughts go instantly to older classics, and times when songs stuck around long enough to become classics.

    Now with MP3 players and instant downloadable songs, it's almost like they have become throw-away tunes with about as much staying power as a mosquito in a hurricane. Now we just listen to song until we get bored and move on to the next.

    Makes you wonder... is the making of a classic song a dying art?

  11. Dude, that's actually one of my favorite things you've written, Cathy. That has such a wistful flow, tugging out nostalgia.

  12. Yes, great piece of writing! Love the photo. You and your sister are dolls - surrounded by trouble-makers. That guy with his fist in the air scares me. And the one in the Texas shirt - he's stoned, totally.

    There's way too many songs to name, but as a wee lad I had a particular fondness for "Spirit in the Sky".

  13. Great piece of writing!

    I can more quickly recall summer songs that I didn't like, for instance that Nelly song with Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child, because they'd be on the radio AAALLL the time and each time I'd clench my fists and bare my teeth in irritation...but despite it all, those unbearable songs do bring up good summer memories when I hear them.

  14. Great post and pic Cathy!
    For me my favourite summer tune was The Boys of Summer by Don Henley and anything by The Eagles anytime!

  15. I can't remember names of songs, but when I'm listening to the 80's channel there is always a few that come on that take me back to skiing at the lake. Oh, the days of freedom. :) I thought I was already a follower, but I guess not, so I am now. :)


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