There is no song in the entire musical universe that better encapsulates the decadent torpor of a season spent with no responsibilities. Wet bathing suits pulling at groins, Bomb Pops smeared across faces, the hush of city roads, unused, while drivers fill downtown skyscrapers.
The summertime world is languid. It is the snick-snick-snick of sprinklers. It is Perry Ferrell crooning “Tag. You are the one.”
I was an awkward child. Bookish. Isolated. My discovery of Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking is the event which separates my childhood and (early) adolescence.
In the late ‘80s—even in North Florida—air conditioning wasn’t a guarantee. Especially not in the garage apartments grubby kids like myself occupied while parents worked. We weren’t old enough to work. We were too old for Vacation Bible School. We were left to our own devices.
I couldn’t have been more than 13. An older boy—homely, stinking of cigarette smoke—handed me a Mickey’s and dropped the needle on a record that was completely unlike the Phil Collins and Kenny Loggins that had been occupying me that year.
The malt liquor made my stomach draw in. Sour. The other kids flopped on ripped corduroy sofas, seemingly confident in their place in the universe. That morning I had—somewhat nostalgically—acted out a pretend game in my playhouse. These boys would never pretend. I couldn’t picture them acting silly, or frivolous. They were sweaty, and intense. Chain smoking and issuing guttural exclamations at random.
As Dave Navaro’s opening riffs on “Up the Beach” filled the room, the kids tipped their heads back. They affected a sense of experience. They were transported by these musicians, teleported to the other side of the continent. We were in a California flophouse sharing air with the protopunks of the west coast scene.
Later I would participate in the shoplifting of the small green bottles we used to feign inebriation until someone came across a reliable ditch weed dealer. But today I was drunk on the exhilaration of three reluctant sips.
I didn’t have a word for it, but Jane’s Addiction was sex made tangible. Ferrell’s screams, echoing against Navaro’s guitar moved my teen loins. I was uncomfortable. Sweaty. When “Had a Dad” played, I pulled in. I had lost my father the previous summer. He left only a note, then a series of postcards from across the American West.
“Dear Daughter. I saw the Grand Canyon today. I think I may drive into it.”
The odor of the boys in that garage apartment was what I deserved for not being daughter enough to keep my father close.
I heard “Ted, Just Admit It” and I wanted to live inside the bass line. I didn’t have a context for the political imagery. I lived in suburbia; we didn’t talk about the nightly news. Ferrell shouted “Sex is violent” and I tried to act like I’d heard that hundreds of times. Who’s a virgin? Certainly not me. Violent sex, yep. All day, every day. Nevermind that I still wasn’t sure what a blow job was.
“Standing in the Shower, Thinking” is such a relief after “Ted.” It’s nearly a throwaway. It’s perky. It’s guileless. It’s direct. But as a setup for “Summertime Rolls,” it’s ideal. After a Faith no More-esque crescendo, the quiet bass at the beginning of “Summertime” feels like water picking its way through an ephemeral stream, leftover after a thunderstorm.
Ferrell and his girlfriend wore no shoes. Her nose was painted with pepper sunlight. Whatever that meant, I wanted to embody it. I wanted to be as serious as serious could be with anyone, truly anyone.
(As an adult it’s easy to recognize Ferrell’s dependence on heroin as a theme throughout his music. As a 13-year-old girl I just knew I wanted someone to feel that way about me. I later looked to “Three Days” as the epitome of sexual and romantic love.)
“Summertime Rolls” builds slowly, built on the foundation of a ponderous baseline. But when the melody hits, it’s staggering. If the teen boys in that room felt it, I couldn’t tell. They were making plans to build a plywood skate ramp. I was lost in the heady psychedelia of the orange buttercat chasing after a crazy bee.
Since that day I’ve chased the feeling of being timeless, lost in a July afternoon. The closest I came was dropping acid during the day and lying in a field with a lover discussing the shapes of the clouds. But that was 20 years ago.
Listening to “Summertime Rolls” through headphones is like a courtroom sketch of the lackadaisical feeling of being trapped between childhood and responsibility—I can see the shapes, even make out a few details.
But now I have a lawn to mow, children to drive to the pool. Summertime is no longer a lazy river, carrying me prone from one experience to the next. Summertime smells of spray-on sunscreen, not clove cigarettes. It tastes like small-batch gin; malt liquor left behind as a child’s game.
Summertime might still roll, but not for me. Thank you all the same.