As we’ve discussed last time we sat down together here, the true meaning of summer is sweating out your bodyholes until you’re delirious. For some people, though, there is a certain tropical party vibe to the season. I can’t fault them for this: on a nice summer day, there’s little better than hanging out outside with a grill on, beers out, and friends around, unless you know someone with a pool, in which case I’ve just thought of something better. Summer is simply when the gatherings are. Maybe this is because people are more apt to have birthdays nine months from a less humid season, or maybe it is a holdover from when summer really was a vacation, as it was in high school, but whatever the case, summer is about the party-est season there is.
When I think of summer music, then, there is a laid back, breezy feel to most of it, due to this cultural conditioning. This unspoken law of the summer song brings us to another relic of our high school days: ska. The genre, of course, has a long history, but for Americans, ska is a phenomenon set pretty firmly between 1998 and 2001. At that point, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting someone in a ska band. It was a big enough phenomenon that our high school dean once had to announce an S.K.A. band, reading each letter because let’s be honest, why should she have known what ska was? Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize it as a word. Years later, ska is once again back in obscurity, with an added dose of mockery attached to it due to the proliferation of bands back then. As for my dean, her son married my cousin. Life is weird, kids.
At its best, though, ska doesn’t deserve the bad rap that hundreds of examples of its worst left on us, and part of that spawns from how upbeat it is. Hepcat’s “No Worries” is a study in this. There was a period in which I saw this video with regularity on MTV, which is testament both to how big ska was once upon a time, and how different MTV is now. It’s an unabashedly sunny song. Honestly, it’s about one step away from being infuriating, like your one coworker who is perkier than a nest of birds and chipmunks every morning. The difference, and it’s an important one, is that your coworker is not fun. This song is, and immensely so. It is danceable, it lends itself to singing along, it’s a little goofy, it’s definitely positive, but it always feels more playful than anything. It’s able to distill the image we see of a summer beach bash into about 4 minutes of music, and yet it feels organic, comfortable, and somehow not trite for all the clichés it holds. It feels like a summer breeze and comfortable clothes, like grilled meats and sweet fruits, fire pits at night and crisp beers all day. It makes summer sound refreshing, like any good summer song does. Little comfort, perhaps, on the hundred degree days of madness, but perfect to make you remember that summer does have another side.
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