Nano Note:
Endless Summer


Chieli Minucci’s “Endless Summer” comes from an album of the same name that I bought at HMV one day, when there was still an HMV store where Best Buy is now. I had been spending a lot of time in the jazz section, building up a basic collection of classics. On this particular day, “Endless Summer” was playing on the shop’s sound system, and, despite long experience with the disappointments of buying music that’s playing in record stores, I had to have it. I had to have it even after the clerk told me that the rest of the album was “not as good.” And even though that turned out to be true, I have loved “Endless Summer” ever since. Why?

The answer must lie in the mystery of the harmonies. “Endless Summer,” part riff, part tune, never actually comes to an end, but keeps modulating into repetitions: it ought to be quite tedious. But it triggers a composite sense memory that lies very close to my sense of well-being: having spent a summer afternoon at the pool, I’ve showered and dressed and am about to go out for the evening, probably to a party at somebody else’s house. I am anywhere between sixteen and thirty years old, and I am probably in Houston. It could be 1977, when the easiest summer of my life. The sorrow of my mother’s illness and death was behind me, and the travails of law school lay unimaginably ahead. I had moved back to my parents’ house in Tanglewood, to help to take care of the place while my mother failed, and then to keep my father company in my desultory fashion. I was through with Houston in the way that you are through with high school after graduation. I had a lot to learn about enjoying life, but, at 29, I thought that I knew what I needed to know about having a good time. I would be in my fifties when I woke up from this delusion.

I have no desire to go back. It’s like the summer during which Kathleen and I spent alternate weekends at Fossil’s house in the Pines — great fun, but once was enough. Everything that was scintillating about 1977 is there in “Endless Summer,” even though the song hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps that’s the secret of its appeal: it carries no associations with the period, in the way that favorite pop songs do. (At the time, I was discovering Manhattan Transfer and August Darnell, and my favorite song was Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” — music that stirs up more realistic and complicated memories of that summer.) It just reminds me of what it felt like to feel good.

If the parties never lived up to expectations — never nearly — “Endless Summer” does not remind me of that disappointment. It simply distills the pleasure of looking forward to something, such that now, when I hear the song, I feel the pleasure without actually looking forward to anything at all, except, perhaps, the possibility that, just this once, the song itself will be endless.

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