Wichita, KS. I’m more than capable of putting on my localist and communitarian hat(s) during the fall, winter, and spring: I defend the public schools, speak out in favor of walking, urge everyone to buy local and eat right, and generally envision–and do my own little part to encourage–an environment where people can collectively take responsibility for their lives and those of their families and communities. Summer though…in the summer it gets harder. Doesn’t everyone just kind of want to run wild, be irresponsible, be an individual, during the lazy, hot months of June, July, and August (give or take a couple of weeks either way at both ends of the season)? I know I do, and probably you do to. More importantly, with the school year ending in just a few more days, I can see my daughters–especially the oldest one–feeling the same way. Sure, she’ll have church and friends and her job volunteering at the local library, but will it be enough? When the unstructured summer comes upon us, will anything ever be enough? I’m not sure; even when we outgrow those questions, the restlessness is often still with us. It’s weird, how we’ve all internalized this love-hate, always-at-loose-ends relationship with summer, somehow.

I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler
About a workin’ all summer just to try to earn a dollar
Every time I call my baby, and try to get a date
My boss says, “No dice son, you gotta work late”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

Maybe we can blame Eddie Cochran (see video).  Or actually, we can’t; we’d have to blame the world he was part of, and the world he helped make. Ray Edward Cochran was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota, in 1938, then (and still) a small agricultural and manufacturing city near the Minnesota-Iowa state line. He grew up in a nation that went to war, and which, in going to war, changed the way jobs and industry and farming were distrubuted about the country (or at least began changes that would procede apace for decades to come). Cochran’s family started out in Oklahoma before moving to Minnesota, and from Minnesota they went to California–the Los Angeles area to be exact, where Eddie (who had learned to play the guitar and drums while growing up, and had imitated the country and folk songs he heard on the radio) found himself, in the 1950s, a young man in possession of a fine talent: the ability to make songs that this new breed of consumer, the “teenager,” loved to listen to.

And teenagers wanted music. They were living in the cities and suburbs of a postwar nation, and that meant that while they went to schools which had been built around the agrarian schedules of mostly rural world, they didn’t have any fields to go out to work in and keep themselves busy during the summer months, and so they found themselves jobs in the new service economy. These jobs took them away from the authority figures of their parents, but gave them other authority figures, doing work that few of them felt any kind of connection to, work that had no meaning except for the wages they were paid. (Karl Marx had some things to say about this, but few American teenagers were reading him during their summer breaks in 1958.) Of course, being adolesents who were no longer children and not quite yet adults, they wanted to associate with one another, but no longer living in tightly ordered communities (though, to their credit, some areas did their best to recreate them as suburban and neighborhood enclaves throughout the country), they mostly had to find their own ways of doing so. That meant making the money to pay for the date that, too often, they had to plan for themselves. And if the boss’s work schedule interfered with those plans…well, there wasn’t much you could do about that, was there?

Well my mom and pop told me, “Son you gotta make some money,
If you want to use the car to go ridin’ next Sunday”
Well I didn’t go to work, told the boss I was sick
“Well you can’t use the car ’cause you didn’t work a lick”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

You’d think the parents would be sympathetic to this plight which their children, the children born during and immediately after the war, found themselves in, and many were. But many others had come back from the way having been taught, above all, the value of being a foot soldier in an organization, and as the new service economy and the other concurrent develops of the infrastructure of postwar urban life gave rise to ever more complex needs, profitable industries–in advertising, banking, insurance, law, education, and more–followed in their wake. Not that any of these jobs were new, any more than living in the city was something new (if anything, American had crossed over that particular socio-economic Rubicon by the end of the 19th century); it’s just that, living in the new-fangled suburbs, dealing with these socially needy and economically empowered (though never really empowered enough, if you know what I mean) teen-agers, figuring out rules–often arbitrary ones, because of course the family had, in pursuit of economic opportunity, moved away from the communities where their grandparents and ancestors had lived, perhaps married into families and traditions much different from their own, with the result that much of the authority of age and permanence was lost on the new generation–was the important responsibility of the parents. Clamp down on disobedience, teach them respect, take away privileges as necessary, and (silently) wait for school to begin again, so they have something to do with their time…unlike these long, difficult summer days.

I’m gonna take two weeks, gonna have a fine vacation
I’m gonna take my problem to the United Nations
Well I called my congressman and he said Quote:
“I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

Well, somehow the country survived that first onslaught of teen-agers, and they grew up to be our parents (or, depending on the age of the readers of this post, they grew up to be us–or maybe grew up to be our grandparents). In retrospect, they turned out fine; better, I would argue in fact, than most of the Baby Boomers who came after them (no offense meant to any Boomers out there). For one thing, the lessons of their parents and grandparents were still mostly acceptable to them: sure, their folks and their teachers were squares, out working for the man, not understanding the whole complex modern phenomenology of girls and cars and parties and summer jobs, but still, there wasn’t anything in principle wrong with the parents and pastors and cops and other authority figures that attempted–sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, but generally still attempted–to connect young people with their nation’s more settled pre-war past. Yes, of course, you had radical movements, you had Allen Ginsburg and the Beats and Jack Kerouac (though Kerouac was never himself radical, being a rather conservative Catholic instead), you had Norman Mailer and his “White Negro” paen to the hipsters, but really–none of that stuff translated into a counter-cultural agenda in the late 1950s and early 1960s. That came later. (The earliest anti-war protesters remembered to wear their ties when they went to burn their draft cards.) So our parents–or mine, anyway, born in 1941 and 1944, respectively–listened to Eddie and Elvis and Frankie Avalon (all just a few years older than them) at the parties they went to, and they drove their cars fast, but they also went off to work and to college and got married and had kids and worked within the system, eventually managing to convince the Nixon adminstration to give 18-year-olds the vote, among other things. Not a bad legacy, I think. And today I look at my oldest daughter, looking forward to her thirteenth birthday later this summer, and I see boys at church starting to flirt with her (thankfully unsuccessfully, so far), and watch her rush through books and then look out the window, feeling bored, perhaps wondering when she’ll be able to drive, and I kind of wish I had a family farm readily available, someplace I could send her off to for some work over the summer. Anything to keep her, as best as I can, away from the blues.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Russell,
    I had the great pleasure to attend the Bruce Springsteen concert in Washington DC last night, who was and is – for me, and I know many others – the consummate summertime rock musician (so many of his early songs were about the beach, after all, and his start was gotten in Asbury Park, NJ – “down the shore”).

    For me, many of Bruce’s songs are about a restive longing for what’s been lost or left behind – which, seems for him to deeply reflect the loss of belonging to a place and the memories that places hold dear and fast. One example, not whitewashed or “nostalgicized,” but which emphasizes what is at once common and in the process of being lost, is a song from his album “Born in the USA”:

    My Hometown

    I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand
    Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man
    I’d sit on his lap in that big old buick and steer as we drove through town
    He’d tousle my hair and say son take a good look around
    This is your hometown, this is your hometown
    This is your hometown, this is your hometown

    In `65 tension was running high at my high school
    There was a lot of fights between the black and white
    There was nothing you could do
    Two cars at a light on a saturday night in the back seat there was a gun
    Words were passed in a shotgun blast
    Troubled times had come to my hometown
    My hometown, my hometown, my hometown

    Now main streets whitewashed windows and vacant stores
    Seems like there aint nobody wants to come down here no more
    They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
    Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to
    Your hometown, your hometown, your hometown, your hometown

    Last night me and kate we laid in bed talking about getting out
    Packing up our bags maybe heading south
    Im thirty-five we got a boy of our own now
    Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good
    Look around
    This is your hometown


    Last night Bruce stopped playing at one point to call on the audience to support a local DC food pantry for the indigent – calling on the people in attendance to care for those in their midst. It was a great departure from the usual celebrity call for us to donate money for people distant and unseeable by us in some international plight, who surely deserve what help we can give them but distract us from things immediately present (Caleb’s recent post points this out with great acuity). That, to me, was the essence of the Boss’s sense of rootedness, a man who never seems to have forgotten that he’s basically just a working Jersey stiff. What a great night….

  2. I’m envious, Patrick! I’m not a great concert-goer, but I have seen some good musicians in my day, but one I’ve yet to see live is Mr. Springsteen. I wish he’d come to Wichita…

  3. Regarding us Preening Baby Boomers…I once posited to my fellow crank Jim Kunstler how odd it was that the baby boomer, incessantly talking about changing the world and banning war forever and peace and love and ladeeda became such a self-satisfied consumerist oaf or finagling mercenary once they grew up and got jobs . His reply was pretty interesting… and barbed as is Kunstler’s wont but he said something to the effect of “whaddya mean….? , we were narcissistic then and are narcissistic now”. Given the drug fixations from the 60’s through the 80’s and the kind of endless party spirit and our notorious immersion in Victory Culture…he’s likely right. Our parents and grandparents had the Depression on top of the last glimmering memory of pre-industrial , pre-mass market life to guide them and restrain narcissism and temper the manic enthusiasm for the constantly new we grew up with . We might have had the farrago of Viet Nam and the Race Riots and Watergate to chasten us but they only seemed to confirm our doubts about institutions while offering more consumer produce during the news to distract us . Not to mention: The Who’s manic cover of Eddie Cochrans “Summertime Blues ” at Woodstock 40 years ago this summer. Thanks for the Youtube reference Russell. the Brits went mad for our Blues and rockabilly…for good reason.

    The thing that really entrenched itself during the Baby boomers era is the Financialization of the Economy which Kevin Phillips ably describes in his books. Victory Culture and Finance conspired to cater an endless party that turned the Peace and Love Tokers into War and Consume Takers. Everything was a “lifestyle” as though life itself was a consumer product to be pitched and polled. Springsteen covers the joy and vigor as well as the dark underbelly of the times but lately, I’ve been wondering, despite how hard he works in concert and the fantastic enjoyment of them, if his albums have not become too overproduced and slick….quite unlike his concerts.

    The Blues, on the other hand remain entirely authentic and are informing a new generation of musicians that are producing all kinds of interesting music that mashes up every manner of roots with current life. I even hear the accordion coming back and if that aint a throwback to folk traditions , I don’t know what is. So, it weren’t a total loss, we produced Rock and Roll and that baby, aint bad.

    Something tells me the young lady will do just fine Russell. …farm, or no farm

  4. D.W., I can always count on you to find the finest poetry in even the most splenetic diatribe. In the midst of our economically-empowered, debt-driven, socially near-obligatory restlessness, the blues and other roots music still provide a solid foundation for reminders of what matters and what doesn’t. The Who? Bruce Springsteen? Rock and roll can still be “local,” sometimes, in the sense of calling to our minds local matters–main street and home life and lovers and changing times and all the rest–and for that, we owe it our gratitude.

    Thanks for the kind words about my daughter, too. I worry about her, but they’re good girls, and have a great mother; she’ll make it through the bluesy seasons of her life, I’m sure.

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