Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Summer Song

You know how every year there seems to be a sort of unofficial "summer song"? Like the song that is on everyone's radio or iPod, whether they like it or not? I always like to review the summer and think what song it might have been, even if it's a type of song I would normally loathe. I remember the year of that TLC "Waterfalls" song and lord, I sang that thing in the privacy of my shower until tiles fell off of the wall, even though I hated it (sorry, Left-Eye!). Sometimes, it's a really terrible song like Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," but you still go with it because somehow a particular song hits all the Zeitgeist buttons and there's no sense fighting it. And there's no use trying to be ornery and pick something obscure to be your summer song; you will fail. I love you, Uncle Tupelo, but nobody ever chose any of your songs to define a summer of throwing themselves down a Slip 'n Slide in the backyard. Nope. That was time for "I Want Your Sex."

I've been thinking about what this past summer's song was because the tail end of my summer was spent in rehab, where there is virtually no music at all. I was not allowed any music player - no iPod, no phone, and no access to television (except for a single monitor that played Hallmark Hall of Fame's My Name is Bill W. in an endless loop. Someone told me that they used to alternate it with another movie but that another someone stole the other movie, which upon investigation turned out to be....Robert Altman's Popeye, the very idea of which is so deliciously strange that I kept meaning to look into it).

Anyway, music was hard to come by. There was a morning meditation that - depending on who was running the show that day - would sometimes be accompanied by music, but it was almost always some sort of whale-bleating twiddly-twee-ing to make my mind go elsewhere from the place I was. Frankly, it made me want to go to a gun shop. There was one weekend counselor who would play interesting things during meditation, but even that was only for three minutes or so. Other than that, no music.

A few times a week, some of the patients residents would be rounded up and volun-told to go on the bus that would cart us to various recovery meetings around town to get us used to the idea of attending meetings. So thirteen people would cram into a short-bus and the first thing that would happen was the radio would get turned on. No talking! We were listening to music! And it was invariably the really bad kind of country music, that weird sub-genre that is always about pickup trucks and rope swings and dirt roads and Sundrop and cut-off jeans and, oh, I don't know, hookworm.  And with those songs, you are never more than one verse away from a big bottle of something or other, so it was always funny to me that we'd be a baker's dozen of alcoholics careening down a two-lane road in a bus singing boozy love songs at the top of our lungs. I mean...I didn't think we should be three-part harmonizing "Bringing in the Sheaves" or anything, but it was, well, weird.

There was one song, though, back at the ranch, that did turn out to be the official "summer song" of late August...or at least the time that I was there. For some odd reason, one morning the meditation song was Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." It was an unusual selection, what with it having little to do with sounding like the mating call of a lovesick whale, but it actually engendered pre-meditation conversation. We were asked in advance how many times Withers sings the words "I know" in it. Think about the song for a second and you'll remember the part - he repeats " I know, I know, I know...." and let me tell you: he sings it 26 times. 26! That's a lot of "I know"s.  But somehow the song stuck in everyone's mind and for the rest of my time out there, I couldn't escape the song. I'd hear it late at night on the way to get my last iced tea of the evening, or someone would whistle it while peeing on the seat in the bathroom or it'd jump from lip to lip in the lunchroom line. One night a couple of people who could really sing dug into it and sang it on the smoking porch so loudly that it echoed down the field and bounced across the bluffs across the river - you could hear it twice if you paid close attention.

I still wasn't sure why that song cropped up in meditation that day, so when I got home I looked it up on unimpeachable Wikipedia, and this is what I found:
Withers was inspired to write this song after watching the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses. He explained, in reference to the characters played by Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon, "They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. It's like going back for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren't particularly good for you. It's just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I'm not aware of."

Who knew all that shit was going on in that song?  None of that got explained that day, so I wonder if the person who picked it even knew. If not, it's yet another astonishing coincidence. If so, well, maybe they know what they're doing out there. They're sly.

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