Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Soundtrack of Summer: Alive or Dead

LOYAL TWR READER AND former journalist Mike Spencer, now of Spencer Investigations (TWR was cleared of all charges), wrote in with one of the better questions of late:
We no longer have a summer soundtrack. The movie Summer of Sam brought me back to childhood in the late 70s. Songs in that movie were anthems of the time. We have no anthems. We are so splintered and divided musically. I think Weezer might be the only band still crafting pop. Perhaps pop, or music for the masses, ended with Nirvana.
TWR surmises the plurality of music and the end of public listening are the main causes of the end of the summer soundtrack. In the 70s for sure and even into the 80s there were only a few genres of music, and most of it could be heard, potentially, on most stations. Granted you might not hear The Ramones or R.E.M or Talking Heads on every station, but between MTV and Rolling Stone, it was pretty likely you would at least come across these bands. Additionally, there were fewer bands out there, fewer labels and no CD burners. Radio dictated the soundtrack of summer.

Now that we have iPods and iTunes and satellite radio, there are no musical commons, no clearing houses for the convergence of catchy hooks, free time, and making out. Even MTV and VH1 seem passé.

To Spencer's point, then, where goeth the summer song?

Apparently, the new vetting mechanism for our summer/fall/winter/spring soundtracks are TV commercials. Yael Naim's "New Soul" is about as close as we're coming right now, or, perhaps Coldplay's "Viva la Vida," and both of those songs found their springboard on Apple commercials. So, maybe part of the problem is that we no longer have soundtracks but entire media tracks--our lives are encased in images, sounds, and digitization, all of it fractals and fragments produced by others but consumed by us.

But, perhaps the best explanation for the slow sleep of the summer soundtrack is not technological but sociological. With more diversity comes more diversity. With culture on demand, musical homogeneity feels so 1988. Maybe the lack of a common summer song that seems to embody a time, place, and moment is proof that at least some measure of heterogeneity has finally arrived.


  1. Maybe the people in your circle are simply too old for a "summer soundtrack." Who past the age of 22 even needs a summer soundtrack? Ask someone younger, and I guarantee they'll be able to identify the cultural milestones for their cohort. On a related note, sort of, did you catch this review in Slate for The Wackness? http://www.slate.com/id/2194822/
    I suppose I shouldn't find it surprising that someone might be nostalgic for 1994, but from the way this sounds, that wasn't the 1994 that I lived through, and I'm guessing that there are a bunch of people living through 2008 much, much differently than I am.

  2. This is why g-d invented Led Zeppelin.

  3. The Weekly RaderJuly 8, 2008 at 1:19 PM

    Who is the better band, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones?