Favorite Tracks: The Boys of Summer

It’s that time of year again. The time when I get all nostalgic about the end of a season, when I talk about how the days are getting shorter, the weather’s getting cooler, and all the kids are back in school.  When I start binge-listening to Cocteau Twins and other early 4AD bands.  When I get another one of those itches to write moody poetry and song lyrics.  And of course, when I start reminiscing about all the great albums that came out in the fourth quarter during my record store years.

Well, I could go on about those things, but I think I’ve already done them enough times for the time being, so I’ll spare you those entries for now.  Heh.

On the other hand, I will say that “The Boys of Summer” is quite possibly the best end-of-summer song ever written.

It started out as an instrumental demo written by Mike Campbell (guitarist for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), initially for inclusion somewhere on their Southern Accents album but unused.  After hearing Don Henley needed some music, he let him listen to the demo, and almost immediately, Henley had words for it.

It’s not just a song about the passage of time, however.  It’s not a song about wondering where childhood went, although on the surface there is that theme.  It’s more about, as Henley said in a Rolling Stone interview, the idea of aging and questioning the past.

In a way, it might have a passing similarity in theme to The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer”, but in all honesty, it’s more similar to The The’s “Jealous of Youth” in terms of theme.  It’s not a happy song, but neither is it a sad one.  It’s about coming to terms with the age you’re presently at, and all the conflicts that come along with it.  Feeling too old to embrace the wonder of summer, but too young to let it go.  Feeling frustrated when the signs of age sneak up on you unexpectedly — even if it’s in the form of a sticker of a nonconformist band’s logo on the bumper of a high-end car.

It’s a gorgeous melody, all told.  It’s high and hopeful, yet sad and lonesome at the same time.  It’s fast and tense, yet so delicately produced that it feels fragile.  Even the punk cover done by The Ataris in 2003 retains that mood, changing only the bumper sticker to Black Flag’s, making the song all the more poignant for us Gen-Xers.