“Hot summer streets, and the pavements are burning. I sit around, trying to smile, but the air is so heavy and dry.”
The hot summer breeze drifts into the Valley, carrying along with it the promise of recreation and a respite from the daily grind. My own adventures begin when I lace up a fresh pair of black Converse sneakers and hear my favorite summer jam on the radio. Sometime near late May, radio stations mercilessly shuffle and repeat playlists until a single track – through sheer tyranny of will – conquers the national zeitgeist, becoming the unofficial ‘song of summer.’ For me, it happens to be Bananarama’s Cruel Summer.
It’s always been Cruel Summer.
The song always crashes into awareness, releasing a flood of nostalgia flavored endorphins swimming throughout my mind. Just as that kooky xylophone melody kicks in, I’m sent back to warm summer nights. Mini golf and water slides. Stolen glances and awkward hand holding. Excitement, mixed with regret. While these memories are mostly unorganized and complex, they’re not all awash with the abstract.
“It’s a cruel, cruel summer. Leaving me here on my own.”
For each generation, there’s various culture defining moments that weave together a shared experience of their childhoods. Today’s youth have the advent of social media and the rise of the mobile internet. For those of us that were rad enough to grow up in the eighties, we cut our teeth on the early days of music videos, blockbuster movies, and video gaming.
I have an insanely vidid memory of the song from the summer of 1986. While on vacation, I wandered into a strange Michigan video arcade. Down to my last quarter, I was absolutely crushing the high score on a particular game. Blaring at a murderous volume from the crackling speaker above me was Cruel Summer, which in that moment might as well have been divine mana beaming down from Asgard. For those few, seemingly endless minutes I was the Last Starfighter, moving to my favorite jam while vaporizing wave after wave of alien ass. Those fleeting three minutes were as pure in splendor as anything could ever hope to be. It’s funny because I can remember nearly everything from that night, but can’t say for certain exactly what game I was playing – that’s how much of a strange power this song has over me.
Much of the melancholy I experience stems from the growing pains of early youth, but I also recognize that part of it is deeply rooted in nearly 30 year obsession with The Karate Kid. In a strange way, Daniel Larusso’s troubles have either mirrored, or in some way become my own. I’m not a troubled person – at all. In fact, I lead a rather charmed life. But that song, and several other from that decade, will always sway me back to those strange days.
And the song isn’t what it seems either. While it speaks from a place of loneliness and boredom, the song, Cruel Summer isn’t completely tragic. Left alone to your own devices, the song’s story is only takes place at the beginning of summer. Anything is still possible. You just need lace up your sneakers, and get out there before another next summer fades away into memory.