Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ten from Fountains of Wayne: "Fire Island"


"Fire Island" / Fountains of Wayne

What?  The only Fountains of Wayne song you know is their one pop hit, "Stacy's Mom"?  Now that's a shame.  Permit me to widen your horizons, with not one but ten FOW tracks that prove their genius...   

From Welcome Interstate Managers (2003).

As we face the end of summer, what could be better than this ode to an American suburban summer?

It's like a party montage from a John Hughes film, a catalog of forbidden teen behavior: "Driving on the lawn / Sleeping on the roof / Drinking all the alcohol" -- 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.)

This track shimmers with the texture of summer. Each line of the verses ripples up the scale in an eager rush of syllables, while shifting into a new key, like lapping waves on the beach. And that muted trumpet solo in the bridge -- it's a pure shot of sun-gilded 60s-era Bacharachiana, sheer nostalgic magic.

"We're old enough by now /To take care of each other," the kids declare in that yearning bridge. Of course, we know 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 raised teenage kids; I should be listening to this with horror. But something about this song reawakens the teenager in me. The more I listen, the more layers of adulthood I peel off. It's September 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.


NickS said...

Random note: I have no idea what Fire Island is like these days, but my reference point for it is having seen it mentioned in biographical essays about Auden -- when he moved from Britain to the US he fell in love with Fire Island as a gay party spot. From wikipedia:

The Great Hurricane of 1938 devastated much of the island and made it appear undesirable to many. However, Duffy's Hotel remained relatively undamaged. According to legend, the gay population began to concentrate in Cherry Grove at Duffy's Hotel with Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden dressed as Dionysus and Ganymede and carried aloft on a gilded litter by a group of singing followers. The gay influence was continued in the 1960s when male model John B. Whyte developed Fire Island Pines. The Pines currently has some of the most expensive property on the island and accounts for two-thirds of the island's swimming pools.

I did find this contemporary article talking about how that has changed, and efforts to revive that spirit.

There are two sections to this particular stretch of Long Island that are, more or less, separated by class: the wealthier Pines community and the younger, scrappier Cherry Grove (the literal dividing line is, in the words of one resident, “a sex forest” called the Meat Rack). It has been a lot of different things over the years. The Fire Island Lighthouse, a historical landmark, used to be the first thing ships would see as they sailed into New York harbor. Before the lighthouse was built in 1858, shipwrecks were so frequent that the Fire Islanders of the day would camp out on the beach and live off of the wares of some poor marooned ship (usually after killing the whole crew). Frank O’Hara died there in 1966 under fairly mysterious circumstances. It was a summer escape for gays even in the early 20th century, but in the early ’80s, when Reagan was ignoring the AIDS crisis, the place became an important haven for gay New Yorkers, partiers and creative types alike. It’s still one of the few beaches in the city where you can wander around completely nude. The founders of FIAR and the five residents who participated in the program want to prove that on top of all that, it’s still an important site in the history of art in New York.

So one wonders if the parents are going to be getting into more trouble than the kids in the song (or, rather, what it means that the song which is fairly restrained has a title which references a place with a reputation for being so over the top).

Holly A Hughes said...

Sorry, Nick. There are also family-friendly sections of Fire Island. I really doubt that the parents here are doing anything more than having a few cocktails and a sunset sail. I think Fire Island simply fit the rhyme scheme better than Jersey Shore. All your Googling for naught!

NickS said...

I'm just saying, this is the sort of impression that people on the other side of the country have of New York . . .