by Roxanne Tellier
I’ve been overwhelmed, recently, with the events swirling around us. It’s too much. And today, although I had planned a look into trump and Ford’s plans to re-open schools this fall, I’m gonna take a pass, and a day off. Instead of current affairs, let’s enjoy the summer sun, and take a stroll down Memory Lane, to this slightly edited column that I first wrote in August of 2015.
How very different things look now, from the perspective of 2020, and this time of plague! Seems almost naughty to see people gathered together, without masks or social distancing! And I’m not sure if any of the places I mentioned then, are open now. Never mind… Take my hand, come along with me on the wayback machine, and forget about life for a while ….
This is not likely to ever make the cut as a ‘best summer.’ I’m well past cavorting on beaches, fending off amorous, slight intoxicated hotties while sprinting across hot sand in an improbable bikini, and then gathering around a romantic campfire eating s’mores, while some talented and ‘mature’ looking fellow strums a guitar for a singalong.
Nope, them days are long gone, if they ever existed. And they probably only ever belonged to Annette Funicello – she may have even held the copyright on Beach Blanket Bingos … and maybe Bob, in his Stockton youth, could lay claim to the times. The Beach Boys definitely had a lock on the sound of summer itself.
Canadian summers were always a little more sedate. Maybe it’s because Canadian winters, being endlessly cold and dark, except in beer commercials, ramp up the anticipation for a few days of sun and relaxation until nothing – and certainly not the few weeks of uncertain rain or shine we generally ‘enjoy’ – can quite compete with the hype.
Canadian beach sand can be very hot, but the water, primarily lake-derived, rarely gets over the temperature of a cold bath. An intrepid Canuck would-be swimmer learns early that the proper beach protocol is to dip in a toe, shiver, and then gird your loins for a plunge into the freezing liquid, where you immediately duck under until all but your head is submerged. You must then yell to your fellow revelers, a phrase as Canadian as, “take off, eh” ….
“It’s not so bad once you’re in!”
For the timid and the dreamy, a trip to the beach is more likely to involve stumbling over the jagged stones on the shore in your flip flops, hoping to catch just enough of a breeze and spray to cool down.
There are many incredibly lovely lakes in Ontario… Sand Dunes comes to mind, where we once spent a few hours, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other families determined to have just one fun day in the sun, and trying to keep the flies and the sand off the sandwiches.
Torontonians can ferry out to the Toronto Islands, with families heading straight for Centreville, where apparently the sun is always shining on Far Enough Farm and the kiddie rides. You can bring a picnic, and rent a bike, a canoe, or a kayak, while humming the Cowsill’s “Indian Lake.” The daring head for the clothing-optional beach on the western shore of Hanlan’s Point.
It was all so different when I was a kid. Even beyond the fantasies induced by Beach Party flicks, Elvis romps, and Beach Boys songs. In the sixties, come summer, a kid was usually on his or her own, barring maybe a couple of week stint in a community day camp, and most of the time, my sister and I would have to fend for ourselves in the heat.
Montreal summers were glaringly bright, the sun reflecting harshly off the concrete, and the crowded, standing room only, buses reeked of sweat, garlic, and dime store perfume. It was a time to check out Jarry Park to catch the Expos, or to take an insanely long bus ride out to Belmont Park, which was falling apart in a wonderfully creepy fashion. The arcade reeked of burnt popcorn and worse, and the rides – especially the Wild Mouse – were suspect. But a kid could spend a whole day there for under a buck, including bus fare.
As a teen, my summers were mainly city bound. My girlfriends and I would start tanning in the spring, lying bonelessly in our back yards, slathered from head to toe in baby oil. The truly fashionable used sun reflectors to capture every ray. This ritual was necessary before heading toe the local outdoor community pool, where it would have been beyond devastating to appear with any part of your body revealed to be ‘fish belly white.’
The cool kids would always gather near the pool’s deep end, clustered by age group or appearance. Few would actually swim; pool water, with its high chlorine content, could do a real number on our Summer Blonde or lemon streaked hair. And bathing suits, pre-spandex, tended to stretch out with or without much exertion. No, we were there to see and be seen, our transistor radios blaring, and fingers crossed that the boys would see beyond our gawky physique to the teen angel concealed within. Those were the Peggy March, ‘I Will Follow Him’ days, when even the most casual encounter with the opposite sex meant that we were going to be together forever … or at least until school was back in session.
It was either summer school or a summer job in the sixties. Kids would try to get hired at the hot gathering spots, like the Dairy Queen, the Orange Julep, or the A&W. One of the benefits of working at any place where other kids hung out was that the owners were usually savvy enough to keep their radios set to a happening station, like CFOX, where Dean Hagopian, Charles P. Rodney (Chuckie) Chandler, or Roger Scott played the hits.
By 1969, CKGM-FM has morphed into CHOM-FM, and the music got really groovy. Doug Pringle was the city’s top DJ, and he was THE voice of Montreal for years, entertaining us with new music, while letting us listen in on his interviews with everyone from Marc Bolan to Jesse Winchester, with multiple stops in between.
The summer of ’72 brought the Watergate Scandal, the horror of 11 Israeli athletes being murdered at the Munich Olympics, and the first talk of the IRA planting car bombs in Ireland.
But we were far more interested in listening to Seals and Croft.
By ’76, single again, and with the Olympics in full swing in Montreal, my footsteps kept time to the music. When I wasn’t hanging out at the Olympic Village, I was cruising Crescent Street, dancing to disco in my platform sandals. Soon I’d leave for Toronto, but in the summer of ’76, the city was mine, and I was taking my joy to the streets.
The summer of 1983. New wave was now firmly established in the charts and in the street. We’d gone from girl Groups like The Go Gos and The Bangles owning the summer charts in 1980, ’81, and ’82, to a more mature sound emerging as the artists of the 70s, like Martha Davis of The Motels, lost their youths and innocence, just like the rest of us. The boomers, once again, were growing older as a group, with the music guiding our journey.
The Tragically Hip, who appeared on the scene in 1987, burst out of the gate sounding like the voice of Canada. ‘Blow at High Dough’, ’38 Years Old,’ and ‘Fifty Mission Cap’ pulled a Maple Leaf flag over the band, but in 1998, they nailed Ontario summers forever with ‘Bobcaygeon.’
These days there aren’t as many songs that, for me, capture that ‘summery’ feeling. Hitting it in the summer is not the same as having a classic summer song. Sure, you had Nelly’s ‘Hot in Here’ in 2002, but that was mainly about getting jiggy, in any season. 2010s ‘California Gurls’ by Katy Perry was fun, but couldn’t hold a candle to either the Beach Boys, or even the Van Halen rendition of ‘California Girls.’
I’m the first to admit that I’m well out of the new music loop. Still, I’d gladly stack any of my summer songs against any that have come along in the last decade and a half. From the innocence of the Loving Spoonful’s ‘Rain on the Roof’ to the Who’s raucous, ‘Summertime Blues,’ Martha and the Vandella’s ‘Heatwave,’ and The Kinks louche ‘Sunny Afternoon,’ to the brassy horns of Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park.’ I’ve got a full house AND a royal flush of bona fide summer time music.
And that’s even before I pull out Billy Stewart’s 1966 hybrid of ‘Summertime’ that insists you feel the heat of the ‘hot’ summertime.
It’s summer. Find that Walkman you packed away a decade ago, fire up your favorite collection of greatest golden oldie summertime tunes on CD, and head on down to the nearest boardwalk. As the Doors once told us, ‘Summer’s almost gone,’ and before you know it, you’ll be saying, ‘See you in September.’