Songs of summer

It’s the summer solstice, so of course I’m thinking about the Drifters…and Sly and the Family Stone…Springsteen…and even Tom Waits…

Yep, I’m thinking about songs that make me think about summer.
There are others, of course, including “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran and just about anything by the early Beach Boys.

But I’ve been in Brooklyn a couple of times in the past two weeks, and as I rode the J train over the Williamsburg Bridge and along the elevated tracks I heard this great summertime song, a hit for The Drifters, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and performed here by the great Dusty Springfield:

Last weekend we were at the Jersey Shore, on the Raritan Bay side of Sandy Hook, with the little dog Roxy, a collection of short stories by Stephen King, and a cooler equipped with sandwiches, cherries and white wine.

Here’s what I looked out at when I wasn’t reading, eating, playing with the dog or sipping wine:
sandy hook

And here’s the song I heard, even though there wasn’t a boardwalk in sight:

And then I heard this song, drifting in upon the soft bayside breeze:

And as I looked out on the water, the sunlight dipped and danced on the rippling bay, and I heard a voice ask “What makes the water glimmer like that?” and I replied, “It’s a school of diamondfish.” Then the sun slipped behind a big white cloud, and the diamondfish all dove out of sight, and music drifted across the water from a beach club across the bay, and Tom Waits began to sing this song:

Finally, just because, here’s Sly with his Family Stone:


Summer arrives: Do druids drink gin-and-tonics?

Dark and mysterious Stonehenge…Where I won’t be as the summer solstice arrives. On the other hand, I bet the druids won’t be cooling off on this first sweltering night of official summer with a nice tall gin-and-tonic (with lime).

If I happened to be a druid, I suppose I’d be at Stonehenge, dancing and cavorting and chanting and just generally carrying on and making a happy ruckus as the sun set and rose over those magnificent and mysterious stones right at the moment when spring gives way to summer.

But I’m not a druid — and I’m not anywhere near Stonehenge — so I suppose today and tomorrow will be spent somewhere in the swamps of Jersey in hot pursuit of coolness and cold…as temperatures approach 100 degrees for the first time this year, just in time for the solstice and summer.

We’re talking gin-and-tonics (with lime) after dark on the porch. We’re talking not much more exertion than what’s required to turn on the air-conditioner and maybe turn the pages of whatever book we’re reading, which probably should be something like “The Iceman Cometh,”  or to turn on the DVD player to watch a movie, which probably should not be something like “In the Heat of the Night.”

Speaking of druids and mysterious stones, I made my way a few days ago to Ringing Rocks State Park in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There they were– not moved since that last time I was there, about fifteen years ago: an amazing field of large boulders covering at least a couple of acres. The boulders were deposited there, geologists say, by the leading edge of an ancient glacier.

Stone-cold truth: These boulders at Ringing Rocks in Upper Black Eddy, Pa., have been there ever since a glacier left them there millions of years ago,

I remember hearing through the years about strange nighttime gatherings at Ringing Rocks,  and I have vague memory of a big New Age gathering happening there a few years back when there was a lot of hoo-hah and ballyhoo over some cosmic event called the Harmonic Convergence.

More recently, the boulders were still an impressive sight and a great source of amusing, overheard comments from others who’d come to swing a hammer at the rocks to hear their unusual chime-like ring:

“I’ve never seen so many rocks!”

“Man, this would be a great place to come and get stoned!”

“Yeah. Or to have a ROCK concert!”

“This place ROCKS!”

You get the idea. I guess it’s Stone Age, Stonehenge, stoner humor.

One thing about heat. It’s made for some great music. Here are four of my favorite summertime songs by (in order) Sly Stone, Carole King, the Rascals and Bruce Springsteen:

A party for Pete

Yes, I’m talkin’ Pete Seeger. No, I’m not talkin’ about the Communist Party or the Wobblies or any of those sorts of parties and movements. I’m talking about how there will be a movement of about 19,000 people into Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 3, when dozens of great musicians will gather to celebrate the amazing Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday!

Some of the performers who will be on hand to honor Pete:
Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, John Mellencamp, Ani DiFranco, Bela Fleck, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack, Richie Havens, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal, Dar Williams, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Tom Paxton, Toshi Reagon, Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger…and, of course, Arlo Guthrie.

Limited ticket sales began today (March 23) and general ticket sales begin next Monday, March 30. Tickets are pricey — the good seats are hundreds of dollars and even the cheap seats are $90 each (for Pete’s 90th birthday). But proceeds from the show will benefit a great cause — the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which set sail more than three decades ago — stewarded by Pete Seeger — to protect and restore Pete’s beloved Hudson River and other waterways.

Here’s a video of Arlo singing Pete’s great song “Golden River:”

The Clearwater movement’s close to my heart since I grew up on the New York side of the Hudson River. As for Pete, one of the highlights of my life was meeting Pete years ago and having the honor of hosting him as he performed two benefit shows — about 10 years ago, when he was a young buck of about 80 years old — to raise money for a charity I’d started called the Delaware Valley Holiday Fund. Pete, grandson Tao and Pete’s beautiful wife Toshi drove all the down from Beacon, N.Y., to western New Jersey, put on a show in a packed high-school auditorium, then drove right back home to Beacon, and the only compensation they received was a basket full of sandwiches and fruit and cakes to sustain them for that long drive back to their home up on the Hudson. A year later, Pete and Toshi were back, doing another benefit show for our charity, this time outdoors, once again free-of-charge, at a park in Pennsylvania along the Delaware River.

This is what Pete Seeger’s been doing for 90 years. Helping people, fighting for justice, singing songs of peace, dispelling hate and spreading love. Happy birthday, Pete!

Huckleberry friends

Yes, I’m sentimental. For instance, I just heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Independence Day,” in which a son is telling his father that he’s leaving home, that it’s the only way to end their constant quarrels, that maybe the problem is that they’re too different from each other — and too much alike.

So I found myself getting a little teary as I listened, thinking that I hope my son and I never part ways like the father and son in that song. Well, that’s not too bad, right? I mean, we’re talking about a powerful, emotional song by Bruce Springsteen.

But what about getting a little choked up every I watch the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when everyone brings George all that money and his hero brother even flies home through a blizzard? What about getting a little choked up when Ralph sells his bowling ball to buy Alice a present and the finds out that Alice has been secretly working to earn money to buy Ralph a new bowling bag?

My problem may be genetic. I can remember sitting with my mother watching an old movie on TV, I think when I was in high school, and the two of us sat sniffling as we watched the old Greer Garson tearjerker, “Stella Dallas.” And the other day, as I scanned the channels on my Sirius/XM radio receiver, what did I encounter but “Moon River,” performed by Mantovani and his orchestra! My father loved that sappy but beautiful song, and he owned the “Moon River” record albums by Mantovani and by Andy Williams.

An aside: I have a bootleg recording of an early 1990s Dylan concert in which he announces that his next song’s dedicated to a friend who just died: the song Dylan sang was “Moon River” and the departed friend was the great bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan.

So I’m a sentimental fool, just like my father, and that song “Moon River” still resonates so much in my mind that my novel “Half Moon” ends with the narrator’s parents standing on a hilltop, and a half-moon rising, and a single moonbeam shining down like a spotlight as the young couple dances to the strains of “Moon River.”

Another aside: There are two famous songs with mysterious references I’ve never been able to figure out.

I’ve asked people, I’ve researched, I’ve Googled. but I’ve never found the meaning of the phrase “buckdancer’s choice,” which is from my favorite “Grateful Dead” song “Uncle John’s Band.” A buck dance may be synonymous with buck-and-wing, which is type of solo tap dancing associated with the South. But what’s a buckdancer’s choice?

And the other mystery is the meaning of the phrase from “Moon River,” in which the singer addresses “my huckleberry friend.” Is it a reference to actual berries? I think there’s really a berry called the huckleberry, right? Is it a reference to the novel “Huckleberry Finn?” Is it a reference to Huckleberry Hound?

I’ve read a few suggestions that the Moon River in the song may refer to the Mississippi River, that the song’s singer may actually be Huck’s friend loyal companion Jim, that the phrase “huckleberry friend” may actually refer to Huck Finn’s simple, dreamy view of life, while the whole song expresses the slave Jim’s dreams of escape and freedom.

I personally think this is incredible nonsense — amusing, but nonsense nevertheless. We’re talking about a song written by Johnny Mercer for the film version of Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and I’d say it’s a durned fer stretch to connect Jim and Huck via “Moon River” to a movie starring the elegant Audrey Hepburn. In fact, it’s enough to make a body ashamed of the whole human race.

But, my huckleberry friends, it doesn’t really matter what it’s supposed to mean. What matters is what it means to me, when I hear “Moon River,” and I can still see and hear my father singing along as his Mantovani album spins on the turntable of his beloved hi-fi record player.

The new Elvis

Thank God he didn’t become that, hanging out at his Jersey Shore mansion eating banana-with-peanut butter sandwiches and shooting out his television sets and making bad beach movies. But when I was 17 years old and saw unknown Bruce Springsteen in Niagara Falls playing on his first-ever tour of college campuses with his E Street Band, it rang true when his performance reached a fever pitch — I think maybe they were playing “Rosalita” — and this skinny, scraggly bearded, Jersey Shore hipster named Bruce ripped off his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with glittery script that read ELVIS.

Rising star Bruce Springsteen
Rising star Bruce Springsteen

The great Bruce Springsteen performed last night at Giants Stadium. Click on this link:

Then click on SPRINGSTEEN. You’ll find an article about the concert and three video clips from last night’s show, with Bruce and the Band performing “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” “Lonesome Day” and “Radio Nowhere.”