Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Fire Island" /
Fountains of Wayne

On the Kinks Fan Club forum, some of us regulars threw together a CD of our favorite summer songs; this was my contribution. (Though truth to tell, my favorite summer song could be Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" -- god, does THAT send me back.) But nostalgia aside, this FoW tune from their brilliant Welcome Interstate Managers pretty much sums up my concept of summer. Summer, after all, is a season that belongs to children -- who else feels the freedom of summer like kids, liberated from school? Specifically teenagers -- since, as FoW puts it, "We don't need no babysitters / We don't need no father and mother."

Freedom? The world this song paints is a world where all the rules are tossed out the window, at least the rules that nice middle-class kids are bound by. It's a full catalog of forbidden behaviors: "Driving on the lawn / Sleeping on the roof / Drinking all the alcohol" -- oh yes, we've all been there. Good kids gone bad! But wait, there's more: "Cranking up the tunes / 'Til the windows break / Feeding chocolate to the dog / Jumping on the couch /'Til the feathers all come out / While our parents are on Fire Island." (For me, the parents were off at Lake Wawasee, but that's a minor detail.) Sure, it's a little infantile. What did you expect, smoking crack and having sex? No, this is a tender suburban-style rebellion, the sort of stuff that FoW has claimed as their territory. Raise your hand if this sounds like your teen years.

It's not just those evocative lyrics -- this song simply shimmers with the texture of summer. I love how those lines I've listed above ripple up the scale, each line shifting up into a new key -- it's like the lapping waves of a rising tide on the beach. The eager little rushes of syllables, tentative syncopations overlaid on an anthemic march, the obedient electric piano only gradually joined by laidback guitar and drums -- it's got an all-the-time-in-the-world quality that's pure summer. Then there's the muted trumpet solo in the bridge, a pure shot of sun-gilded 60s-era Burt Bacharach that's sheer nostalgic magic.

"We're old enough by now /To take care of each other," they declare sweetly, yearningly, in the bridge. The beautiful, bittersweet thing about this song is that they really aren't old enough to take care of each other; they're swimming naked in the pool, for chrissakes! "We're old enough by now / Don't worry 'bout a thing," they insist -- "Don't you remember last December / When you went to Steamboat Springs?" Oh, I can just imagine.

I've GOT teenage kids now; I should be listening to this with horror. But something about this song reawakens the teenager in me, makes me long to have this same kind of carefree abandon. The more I listen, the more layers of adulthood I peel off. It's August now; the nights are getting cooler, and summer is running out. Jeez, I'd better go swim naked in the pool while I've still got time.

Fire Island sample

1 comment:

iMan said...

I had never thought of Fire Island as a summer song until we made the last CD. If you hadn't sent it, probably I would never had, or maybe in 40 years I would have noticed if I'm still in this world and listening to the same music as now.

Freedom, that's certainly the perfect way to describe it, it's one of those pictures only the best songwriters can put in a song, a particular story everybody can relate to. Thanks for posting.