summer time (and the hit parade)

Beach_montauk_1Sanneh offers a paean to summer in the Times today. It’s about “the song of the summer” which this year happens to be by Mariah Carey.

Sanneh does his characteristically elegant job describing the song “We belong together,” the artist’s  return to grace, the state of the music industry, and one or two trends shaping contemporary taste (e.g., the “thug love duet”). The song of summer is expertly contextualized, and the Times manages, for once, to get this right: to take contemporary culture seriously and help us see what it is and why it is…while it still is (active and extant).

The song of summer is a telling cultural institution. I am pretty sure no such thing existed in 12th century France or even 19th century America. And I believe I can say with some confidence that nothing of this kind exists in contemporary North Korea. (Though I understand there is a large and active Kelly Clarkson contingent there.)

Any song of summer is a little miracle of consensus. Somehow we choose, in our mysterious way, that this is the song of summer. And this is no mere popularity contest, a simple designation of “the song we like best.”

No, the song of summer will have many responsibilities heaped upon it. It must be the sound that, on early hearing, manages to communicate the impossible riches of the summer to come, and, by August, it must be the song that is already giving off a “world we have lost” nostalgia. And twenty years hence this song must be capable of allowing today’s 14 year old to recall with archival perfection her favorite blouse, what her sun tan lotion smelled like, and a general “sense impression” of the world that was the summer of 2005.

This is a lot to ask of a tune. But “We Belong Together” is that cultural operator that will make this summer a “culture of the moment” within a larger cultural system that so streams with change and discontinuity that the very idea of consensus and compartment is implausible. (And we think divas are paid too well!)

So I started wondering if there was somewhere in blog land, a post that would capture the power of the song of the moment for someone who was 14. I didn’t quite find anything, but I did find this. It was written yesterday by a teenager in Lubbock, Texas.

Ok so ONCE again…SO many people are demanding another blog…well A person but it still counts. And so i figured i would do a little sumation of the summer. Let’s see i arrived in Lubbock the day after graduation so basically ive been here for eternity and at first i seriously thought i would die from being so bored. Like i havent seen my parents all year or whatever, but really after the first week being here i felt pretty caught up!! I love em and all and im glad i get to see them now..but seriously its been ALL summer.


but THANKfully ashley came and stayed with me a week! I was so happy!!!! WE had so much fun…so many things happened like everyday. For example, getting trapped in a dimly lit, sketchy (love that word!) hastings parking lot at 12;30 am by this hispanic stalker guy. he completely blocked the exit with his car and I was so close to hitting him. I braked really hard and Ashley and i both look at each other and scram(past of scream). And being the stalker that he is…stares us down like pieces of meat. And finally when I realize i need to reverse (after being so traumatized) he follows us out the other way…tailgaitng us for a mile down the road. My house was only like 2 blocks away but i knew i couldnt go home b/c then he would know where i live!! (those lifetime movies taught me well ;-]) I dont know how but we lost him…WOW what a relief that was the scariest thing ever.

Yes, this girl can write. It is prose straight out of speech, but this is harder than it looks. Let us close this glass-bottom glimpse of someone’s summer and the kind of thing that is going to return from memory with Proust like perfection, when in 2025, our blogger hears “We Belong Together.”

And so just as we are leaving at like 10pm we walk to the car and i see this guy with his hood you know you HAVE to ask if he needs help. And he was like "i could use some plyers" SO i was like plyers…plyers.. I had this roadside kit my grandpa gave me that i never opened. But I proceed to look for the plyers he needs and I reach for what appears to be plyers. I said "OH here they are! But why does these have a rope connected to them???" He said "those are jumper cables."


Merey Moo. 2005.  untitled post. BloggyBlogBlog.  Aug. 3 entry.   (tiny editorial changes made)
Sanneh, Kelefa. 2005. The Summer Buzz: Cicadas and Mariah Carey. The New York Times. Aug. 4, 2005, here.

7 thoughts on “summer time (and the hit parade)

  1. ashke

    [OT Comment]

    Hi, I’d just like to tell you that you’ve partly inspired me to take a sociology module in university (okay, so anthropology and sociology is different but it was the closest module we have here…) So, thanks for sharing your interesting insights on this blog!

  2. CarolGee

    Great post. I had a little flash memory of my own 1953 summer at the pool with coconut suntan smells and glittering turquoise water. Your teen blogger wrote from where 3 of our kids went to school, and she captured it!

  3. Grant

    Ashke, that’s a lot to answer for, but thanks. Best, Grant

    CarolGee, I was trying to think about how to invite people to find their own best song of summer, but I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound lame. Glad to hear you took the initiative. Thanks, Grant

  4. cm

    My best song of summer would have to be Kim Mitchell’s Patio Laterns. Not the most imaginative choice, granted, but it takes me back to the summer of ’86 and working at a country club. I was a lousy waitress, and developed an aversion to the smell of coffee, but man, did I have fun.

  5. anti-oedipus

    uh? there actually are lots of summer songs in 12th century Europe, but they were outlawed by the power hungry Christian movement who called it pagan. in fact most pre-christian agrarian societies identified with the practices of a season-based religion, so i would also imagine North Korea has their fair share of summer song favorites too, but what does Kelly Clarkson have to do with any of this? well a lot of the functionality and meaning of the song has to do with creating a long term Taylorded identity, it can be in the form of proselytizing communist Korean agrarians, or proselytizing marketeers, thus the origin of american idol’s Clarkson, i think the results speak for themselves.
    As for the scientific explanations for why a particular form of proselytism gets stuck in our head… actually it has very little to do with consumers high-minded concepts of identity….
    I found this BBC Science article a while back that explains earworms: ‘Brain itch’ keeps songs in the head…

    ps-thank you so much for sharing those pearls of wisdom from Lubbock

  6. Andrew Lodge

    I read your interesting comments on earworms and would like to tell you about our earworms, a unique combination of music, scientific innovation and a fresh approach to modern learning.

    We recently demonstrated our concept at a Press exhibition in Cambridge, which sparked a BBC News report, just launching now…

    earworms (mbt) – Accelerated learning – in a nutshell:

    Teaching approach. How to memorise the target language.

    Ever wondered why you just can’t get that song out of your head? earworms uses this same brain function to boost the retention of words and phrases when learning a language. It’s a well known fact that we use only a fraction of our brain power and traditional book learning is now recognised as not suiting every learner.

    Course author Marlon Lodge recognised this early on in the context of his teaching and has developed simple techniques which open up and exploit more of the brain’s native power. He explains: “Music is an ideal medium for learning. It gets to deeper subconscious levels of your memory, and most people really enjoy it….Although you feel that you are just listening to music, subconsciously you are taking in masses of verbs, nouns and connecting words, and picking up the correct accent all the time!”

    The idea is as simple as it is old. Before the age of writing, ancient historical events (e.g. in the Finnish sagas) were recorded in verse and song form for easy memorisation. In his book ‘Songlines’ Bruce Chatwin describes how the Australian Aborigines were able to navigate their way across hundreds of miles of desert to their ancestral hunting grounds without maps. And how? The extensive lyrics of their traditional songs were exact descriptions of the routes!

    Rhythm and words, i.e. song and verse, have always been a very powerful memory aid, and this is supported by recent scientific research*. The advertising industry knows only too well how powerful music can be in getting the message across with brainwashing-like jingles and sound-bites. earworms (mbt) puts this potential to a positive educational use.

    What you learn. How the courses are structured.

    earworms adopts the so-called lexical approach to language. In essence, this means we look at language in terms of whole meaningful chunks, then break these down into their component bite-sized, easily digestible, easily absorbable parts and then reconstruct them. You not only learn complete, immediately useful phrases, you also intuitively learn something about the structure (the grammar) of the language.

    These ‘chunks’ which the learner can ‘mix and match’, gradually build up to cover whole areas of the language.

    This may sound logical to the layman, but it is only very recently that this approach (as expounded by Michael Lewis in his book “The Lexical Approach”) has been taken up in the classroom.

    *In the March 2005 issue of the journal “Nature” researchers at Dartmouth College in the US reported that they had pinpointed the region of the brain where ‘earworms’ or catchy tunes reside, the auditory cortex. They found that the sounds and words that have actually been heard can be readily recalled from the auditory cortex where the brain can perceptually hear or reconstruct them. Music, it seems, is the ideal catalyst to memorisation.

    The reasons for lack of language learning motivation has a lot to do with our preconceptions – that it must be difficult, time consuming and dry, and this pretty much reflects the state of affairs in the UK language learning scene.

    Learning through music and repetition is especially effective for young learners!

    Given the widespread popularity of pop music especially in Britain, and the fact that music has been scientifically proven to be an excellent memory aid, earworms is a language learning tool ‘made in heaven’ for UK learners, especially young learners who the government has in its sights at the moment. The system has been extremely successful in classroom tests, and the resonance among teachers and pupils has been more than enthusiastic.

    A common reaction has been “Why hasn’t this been done before?” or “At last a learning product that really helps you to remember!”

    Why hasn’t music been used more in education up to now?

    Imagine kids at school getting a CD of hip-hop songs with all the historical dates or all the French verbs they have to learn, or all the countries and capitals of the world! Wouldn’t that make their (and teachers’) school lives much easier, much more fun, much more successful.

    Rest assured we are working on it.

    Best Regards
    Andrew Lodge

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