Roxanne Tellier – Summers of Songs
This is not my Wet Hot American Summer. I’m not cavorting on beaches, fending off amorous, slightly intoxicated hotties while sprinting across hot sand in an improbable bikini, and then gathering around a romantic campfire eating s’mores while some talented and ‘mature’ looking fellow strums a guitar for a singalong.
Nope, them days is long gone, if they ever existed. And they probably only ever belonged to Annette Funicello – she may have held the patent on Beach Blanket Bingos… and maybe Bob, in his Stockton youth. The Beach Boys definitely had a lock on the sound of summer itself.
Canadian summers were always a little more sedate. Maybe it’s because Canadian winters, being endlessly cold and dark except in beer commercials, ramp up the anticipation for a few days of sun and relaxation untilnothing – and certainly not the few weeks of uncertain rain or shine – can quite compete with the hype.
As a general rule, Canadian beach sand can get very hot, but the water, being mainly lake-derived, rarely gets over the temperature of a cold bath. An intrepid Canuck learns early that proper beach protocol is to dip in a toe, shiver, and then gird your loins for a plunge into the freezing liquid, where you immediately duck under until all but your head is submerged, and yell to your companions, “It’s not so bad once you’re in!”
For the timid and the dreamy, a trip to the beach is more likely to involve stumbling over the jagged stones on the shore in your flip flops, hoping to catch just enough of a breeze and spray to cool down.
There are a few incredibly lovely lakes in Ontario – Sand Dunes comes to mind, where we once spent a few hours, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other families desperate to have just one fun day in the sun, and trying to keep the sand out of the sandwiches.
Torontonians can ferry out to the Toronto Islands, with families heading straight for Centreville, where apparently the sun is always shining on Far Enough Farm and the kiddie rides. You can bring a picnic, and rent a bike, a canoe or a kayak, while humming the Cowsills’ “Indian Lake.” The daring head for the clothing-optional beach on the western shore of Hanlan’s Point.
Closer to the city, you can attend Edgefest 3 and see Mother Mother, Kongos, and Scott Helman at Echo Beach this August.
It was all so different when I was a kid, even beyond the fantasies induced by Beach Party flicks, Elvis romps and Beach Boys songs. Come summer, a kid was usually on his or her own, and had to fend for themselves in the heat. Montreal summers were glaringly bright, the sun reflecting harshly off the concrete, and the crowded, standing room only buses redolent of sweat, garlic, and dime store perfume. It was a time to check out Jarry Park to catch the Expos, or to take an insanely long bus ride out to Belmont Park, which was falling apart in a wonderfully creepy fashion. The arcade reeked of burnt popcorn and worse, and the rides – especially the Wild Mouse – were suspect, but a kid could spend a whole day there for under a buck, including bus fare.
As a teen, my summers were mainly city bound. My girlfriends and I would start to tan in the spring, lying bonelessly in our back yards, slathered from head to toe in baby oil. The truly fashionable used sun reflectors to capture every ray. This ritual was necessary before heading to the local outdoor community pool, where it would have been beyond devastating to appear with any part of your body “fish belly white.”
The teenagers would gather near the deep end, clustered by age group or appearance. Few would actually swim; pool water, with it’s chlorine, could seriously damage our Summer Blonde or lemon streaked hair. And bathing suits, pre-spandex, tended to stretch out with or without much exertion. No, we were there to see and be seen, portable radios blaring, fingers crossed that one of the boys would see beyond our gawky physiques to the teen angel concealed within. And even the most casual encounter meant we were his forever … or at least until school was back in session.
It was either summer school or a summer job in the sixties,so we worked at the Dairy Queen, the Orange Julep, or the A&W. The beauty of working at any place where other kids hung out was that the owners were usually savvy enough to keep their radios set to a happening station, like CFOX, where Dean Hagopian, Charles P. Rodney Chandler or Roger Scott played the hits.
By 1969, CKGM-FM had morphed into CHOM-FM, and the music got really groovy. Doug Pringle was the city’s top DJ, and he was THE voice of Montreal for years, interviewing everyone from Marc Bolan to Jesse Winchester, with multiple stops in between. The summer of ’72 brought the Watergate Scandal, 11 Israeli athletes killed at the Munich Olympics, and the IRA planting car bombs, but we were more interested in listening to Seals and Crofts.
By ’76, I was single again, and the Olympics had come to Montreal. When I wasn’t hanging at the Olympic Village, I was on Crescent Street, dancing to disco, and vaguely aware that punk was creeping towards North America in pointy-toed shoes. I’d be leaving for Toronto soon, but until then, me and my platforms were takin’ it to the streets.
In 1983, new wave was firmly established in the charts. Girl groups like The Go Gos and The Bangles had owned the summer charts in 1980, ’81 and ’82, but a more adult sound was emerging as the artists of the 70’s, like Martha Davis of The Motels, aged and lost their youths and innocence. We were all growing up, with the music leading the way.
Although the Tragically Hip didn’t appear on the scene until 1987, they came out of the gate sounding like the voice of Canada. “Blow at High Dough,” “38 Years Old,” and “Fifty Mission Cap” pulled a Maple Leaf flag over the band, but in 1998, they nailed Ontarian summers forever with “Bobcaygeon.”
Summer music has kind of gone downhill for me in the last 15 years. There aren’t as many songs that capture that summery feeling. Hitting it in the summer is not the same as being a classic summer song. Sure, you had Nelly’s “Hot in Here” in 2002, but that was mainly about getting jiggy, in any season. 2010’s “California Gurls” by Katy Perryis fun,but itcan’t hold a candle to the Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” … or even David Lee Roth’s version.
So, yeah, I’m out of the loop, but I’ll still stack any of my summer songs against any that have come along in the last decade and a half. From the innocence of the Loving Spoonful’s “Rain on the Roof” to The Who’s raucous “Summertime Blues,”Martha and the Vandella’s “Heatwave,” and The Kinks louche “Sunny Afternoon,” to the brassy horns of Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park,” I’ve got a full house and a royal flush of bona fide summer music. And that’s even before I pull out Billy Stewart’s 1966 hybrid of “Summertime” that ticks every box ….
So fire up the ol’ cassette Walkman and speedwalk to your favourite boardwalk! We’ve only got a few more weeks until it’s time to roll up the beach and “See You In September.”
Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday
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Roxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.