Seconds: Perfect Moments In Pop
Bryan Adams "Summer of 69"

t’s always been a little too easy to take shots at Bryan Adams, the mere mention of his name summons up visions of white t-shirt wearing weak radio rocking. The fact that he's also a ginger nut, a Canadian and the deep blue denim sporting clown who subjected the UK to "Everything I do (I do it for you)" for over 16 weeks doesn't help matters. But if only these gingophobes had taken the time to scratch below the surface of one of his 'all time classic' hits, the mighty "Summer of 69", they'd have revealed something a little more complex and emotive in Adams' work than just the greatest drunken sing-along soundtrack in shitty bars across the country. In these few short paragraphs I'd like to make a case for this song having both a universal emotive 'awesome moment ' and the right to be able to be placed amongst the work of socially-conscious singer-songwriters like Springsteen, Young ( by the way that’s Neil not Will) and Earle.

Out there in the wilds of buttfuck, Tennessee or Shrenley Brook End, Milton Keynes, England there will undoubtedly be a recording of "Summer of 69" somewhere which will validate my opinion of the song. Some lone urban cowboy will have crafted a desolate tundra-like widescreen-but-lonesome acoustic version of this song reinventing it, much like Springsteen's Tracks rendering of "Born in the USA". As far as I'm concerned the song is about the Vietnam War. Bear with me, honest it really is. Whilst many people still believe it to be just another slab of Institutional Rock and a slice of Siamese party vinyl with Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer", I see it as a song about the protagonist's youth pre-Vietnam draft.

Throughout the verses Adams reflects on the senseless humid jungle village slaughter with a stereotypical small town USA 'get on with it' attitude ("Ain’t no use in complainin’ / When you got a job to do"), refusing to be explicit he avoids facing the reality of his bloody past. Referencing Bob Dylan with "And now the times are changin’ / Look at everything that’s come and gone / Sometimes when I play that old six-string / I think about ya wonder what went wrong" he looks back to the innocent days of belting out some Rock and Roll on his battered "five and dime" guitar; the freedom, blamelessness and purity of those childhood musical days. It’s unclear whether when Adams sings the line "Oh when I look back now / That summer seemed to last forever" he is either talking about the jungle (“The horror, the horror”) or his hometown.

The most powerful evocation of shattered innocence in this song which is normally seen as shamelessly and cheesily OTT romantic, but when you weigh these few starry-eyed lines against the young man going off to almost inevitable psychological damage or death, it becomes a more powerfully tender moment.

"Standin’ on your mama’s porch /
You told me that you’d wait forever /
Oh and when you held my hand /
I knew that it was now or never /
Those were the best days of my life"

The chances are that this boy wasn't coming home and the reality of the situation may have been sinking into Middle America by 1969 so this might have been in the back of their minds as Adams’ couple exchanged saliva and promises. Telling someone that you're going to wait forever for them is pretty much the most melodramatic teenage dedication that anyone can ever make. A statement like this obviously carries with it an albatross of movie fantasy relationships proportions with it, but here despite (or perhaps because of) the rock-lite keys heavy production it manages to capture perfectly the fun, the longing and the innocence of immortality of one of those forever moments in everyone’s halcyon pasts.

By: Scott McKeating

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Posted 03/10/2005 - 01:59:24 AM by maxwellk:
 I only wish I could believe you. Thinking about it like this is perhaps a way to ease the pain every time this song comes on the radio and ruins whatever buzz I've been working with. A valiant effort on your part to imbue Bryan Adams with far more depth than the lyrical content of the rest of his work would imply, but I still hate this song. I think anyone who's ever seen the video will have a hard time believing it. I'd hardly say it even qualifies as "Springsteen-lite". More like "Seger-lite" or "Mellencamp-lite". Still, quite an interesting take on a song I love to hate.
Posted 03/10/2005 - 02:34:28 AM by clem_bastow:
 No, no, no! Scott, you're right! I went to see Bryan last night and it was awesome; he did 'Summer' as a real slow build acoustic number that suddenly exploded in the second chorus into full blown stadium glory. SO good.
Posted 03/10/2005 - 06:59:27 AM by Liarbythefire:
 Feh, everyone knows that "Summer of '69" is about masterbation and the 'ode to the left or right hand.'
Posted 03/10/2005 - 12:03:15 PM by sillyrabbit:
 Well, that was certainly a creative way of looking at the song, although with no mention of Vietnam, and no real history of social commentary in Bryan Adams' music, or career in general, I'd have to say that you're putting more into the song than was intended to be there. That being said, what's wrong with this song in the first place? How can folks with "great musical taste" praise a song like Big Star's "Don't Lie To Me" but label "Summer of '69" as shallow drivel. SO69 is well-paced and catchy and proudly flaunts several of the riffs and musical fills that have been the hallmarks of bare-bones, rootsy American garage rock for decades. Furthermore, SO69 actually tells a brief's a narrative work! How refreshing to hear a solid narrative song, with a set time of occurrence, people and places named, a plot line that moves, and a narrator looking back at the changes that have occurred in his life and in his way of perceiving the world since the events occurred. No incomprehensible stabs at obtuse post-punk literariness here. Bottom line: If Steve Earle wrote this song and performed it exactly as Bryan Adams did, it would be considered a classic slab of rootsy rock 'n roll. It's only because Bryan Adams, a mostly lame artist, happened to pen this nugget of brilliance that the song is dismissed by hipsters who are afraid to admit that something written and performed by Bryan Adams is damn good. Oh yeah, what's up with knockin' "Livin' On a Prayer"? Again, Steve Earle or Bruce does that song, it's a solid portrayal of the angst of blue-collar youth, Bon Jovi does it, it's hair metal fluff.
Posted 03/10/2005 - 03:36:13 PM by IanMathers:
 Well, the difference for me is I like Adams' performance of this song and I hate Bon Jovi's version of "Livin' On A Prayer". Maybe just because of the production, I dunno. I do know growing up with this song it always seemed strangely darker than Adams' other work (and easily the only good popular single he ever had), and this seems as compelling a reason for it as any.
Posted 03/10/2005 - 03:59:16 PM by knoop_dawg:
 when i was living in nairobi, the biggest club in town had “rock night” every wednesday. it was a superb experience that we treated every out-of-towner to. the place was full of kenyans and ex-pats, building bridges across the cultural divide by rocking out like they were in the flintstones. anyway, ‘living on a prayer’ and ‘summer of ‘69’ were two absolute high points for EVERY week. you waited for those songs. when those songs (along with the cranberries - “zombie”, and nickelback - “how you remind me”) came on, it basically turned into the ‘jump’ video crossed with the ‘pour some sugar on me’ video’ - everyone air guitaring, stage jumping and somehow swinging across the stage a la DLR.
Posted 03/10/2005 - 05:13:16 PM by Patches:
 I think it's fairly obvious that this review was one long piss-take.
Posted 03/11/2005 - 08:00:24 AM by bj_randolph:
 First off, I don't think this is a piss-take. Nor, for that matter, do I consider Lou Barlow's cover of "Run to You" a piss-take. I think it's an excellent piece about a damn fine song. However, I don't think McKeating's adequately addressed Adams' nationality.

If the song is about Vietnam, and I think it's an intriguing theory, one which I had never before considered, is Adams recounting his own memories or those of an invented American character? (Hint: Adams was 9 years old that summer.) Adams, after all, would never have had to fear the draft. If the character is invented, does this make Adams a logical successor to Neil Young, a fellow Canadian who has spent a career exploring the politics and traditions of the United States? And if the song were drawn from his own memories, would it describe his hometown's streets clogged with long-haired draft dodgers from down south?

I don't have answers, I'm afraid, only questions. Anyone?

Posted 03/11/2005 - 08:18:11 PM by mlesseraux:
 Excellent catch Scott! No Patches, he's not piss taking. Listen up all you thick-headed hipster posers - Sometimes uncool, mediocre artists DO write good songs. Y'all are so damned busy coming off "tasteful" that you ignore content unless its wrapped in a package that doesn't jeopardize your indie cred. That's cowardice ya know. By the way, 'Livin' on a Prayer' is shite. That's another discussion though.
Posted 03/11/2005 - 08:31:29 PM by Nick_S:
 This review doesn't at all seem like a pisstake... But I do agree with the idea about it being about an imagined American character. It's interesting how so much of Canada's music of that era and earlier has this sort of pseudo-Americana thing going for it. This Adams song, in my mind exemplifies it perfectly, going for a middle ground between people like Springsteen and Mellencamp and embarrassing power-ballad territory. But he totally appropriates the American rock sound. Neil Young and the Band were the same, borrowing from their Southern neighbours more than attempting to establish a Canadian voice. Sometimes this ridiculousness reaches great heights. I can think of a few Canadian bands (luckily not too many recently) that sound like those Christian-rock knock off bands. Just capitalizing on the current flavour of the day. Anyone who knows Kim Mitchell and Lee Aaron, I'm sure knows what I'm referring to. Fortunately, although we have our generic bands, there's definitely quite a few very recognizably and distinctively Canadian bands/ artists active today, that don't rely on borrow that tired "gritty singer-songwriter" mythology, or other things from the States. I think Bryan Adams is a joke... Plain and simple and "Summer of '69" is right up there with Mr. Big's "To Be With You", Extreme's "More Than Words" and Roxette's "Joyride".
Posted 03/11/2005 - 10:11:20 PM by mlesseraux:
 Come on people, let's cut the "authenticy" crap. Elvis Costello and Van Morrison (and there are a zillion others) are not criticized (nor should they be) for sonically emulating their American influences. If you don't like the tune fine, but playing the authenticity card is lame. Again, double standards get passed over when the artist is "unhip". Don't get me wrong It's fun and sometimes quite useful to ride the high-horse. But if we get sloppy folks, then we're just snobs, which makes us as bad as the people we're supposed to be rebeling against.
Posted 03/13/2005 - 08:08:41 PM by Nick_S:
 I'm not talking authenticity here, per se. Nor is it a case of emulating influences, in my opinion. Canadian pop culture, as a whole, particularly of that era, has a really strange relationship with that of the US. I think this song reflects that. Taking pot-shots was a stupid move on my part, agree... But I do think there is an issue of Canadian entertainers and artists taking a sort of colonized mentality when it comes to the pop cultural found in the US. Because Britain (and Ireland) has a rich enough cultural history independant of America, when certain artist choose to appropriate American ideas, then it's quite different. Again, perhaps my post came off like a simple dismissal, and admittedly I do dislike the song... but I think it's an indicator of a fascinating phenomenon, and also a interesting relic of a bygone Canadian era.
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