What does summer sound like? For those of you living in respectable locales, it may sound like the buzz of John Deer lawnmowers, or a nighttime orchestra of cicadas. Summer anywhere but New York might hum along to the tune of unfurling picnic blankets and jet skis zipping across lakes. But for New Yorkers, the hot season presents a whole new catalogue of sounds – and smells – to take in.
Summer in New York is unlike summer anywhere else. Where July in, say, Bethesda, Maryland brings the whizzing of Frisbees on crisp air, NYC’s July sounds like asthmatics wheezing from air pollution. As a nine-year New York resident, my personal midsummer song goes something like this:
-The pitter-patter of dripping AC units.
– The rhythmic panting of the Husky next door.
– The raucous block party down the street.
-The rotund man who whips down Classon Ave on his motorized wheelchair, blaring soul music from a boom box.
– The lowrider bouncing by the Biggie mural on Franklin, blasting “Hypnotize.”
-Gushing fire hydrants.
On percussion: hamster-sized cockroaches, skittering across my bare body as I try to sleep.
I know. It’s gonna be a hit.
All this beautiful music got me thinking: sure, there are songs about summer in the city – i.e. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” – but where were the songs about summer in New York City? Where was the refrain for this special circle of hell we survive each year?
Yes, I am aware that soft rock crooner Michael Franks recorded a track literally called “Summer In New York” a while back, but have you listened to the lyrics of that song? Please tell me if any single summer day of your New York life has EVER resembled this:
“We’ll both review Fifth Avenue/From uptown to St. Pat’s/Indulge our vice: Italian ice/Then walk through Central Park/It’s summer in New York.”
Bullshit. Since when is Italian ice a vice? More like, “We’ll stumble down Kosciuszko/From the bar we just closed out/Indulge our sin: three liters of gin/Then dry hump by a bin/Of steaming trash.”
It’s summer in New York!
The fact of the matter is, there just aren’t a lot of songs that effectively capture the glorious grime of a New York summer – so I’ve found a few that make a comprehensive playlist for the season.
- “Hot in the City” by Billy Idol
What’s the first thing you notice about summer in New York? (Certainly not “Shakespeare In The Park” as Michael Franks would have you believe). The heat! It’s hot as balls here – especially in the train cars sans AC. No one knew this better than Billy Idol, who immortalized the suffocating temperatures in his 1982 hit, “Hot in the City.” Idol also managed to pick up on the all-around friskiness that ensues when the temperatures (and hemlines) rise:
“‘Cause when a long-legged lovely walks by/Yeah you can see the look in her eye/Then you know that it’s/Hot in the city, hot in the city tonight, tonight.”
By no means a meteorologist, Idol certainly tapped into the hot-blooded heartbeat of a New York scorcher.
- “Rockaway Beach” by the Ramones
People often think that New Yorkers don’t go to the beach, as if we’re “too busy” – well we do go; and just because we don’t all own Priuses to transport us there doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Some dig Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis, but for me Far Rockaway is the only beach. Sure it may be a bit filthy and drab, but it’s also home to a thriving surfing community, and Rippers, the best beach bar in town. As it turns out, Rockaway Beach was the sandbar of choice for a little band called the Ramones, too:
“It’s not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach/Up on the roof, out on the street/Down in the playground, the hot concrete/Bus ride is too slow, they blast out the disco on the radio.”
- “Hot Dog” by Elvis Presley
In a feat of terrible planning, someone somewhere once decided that Hot Dog Season must occur at the same time as Bikini Season. This cruel verdict was clearly authorized by a man, whose bikini bod has never been scrutinized by decades of advertising culture.
It makes no sense that I crave hot dogs every summer, when the rest of my appetite has receded in the grueling heat. But alas, hot dogs I crave – immensely. And thank god I live in New York, where I can literally get a hot dog every corner, 24/7. There’s Sabrett, Grey’s Papaya, and my personal favorite, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in Coney Island. Nathan’s is also host to the prestigious Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest – an event so barbaric it belongs in the arenas of ancient Rome, but I’d recommend going at least once.
It’s true, there aren’t a lot of great songs about hot dogs, and even this Elvis song (which is not about a hot dog but ostensibly a woman named Hot Dog) isn’t that good either…but at least it’s Elvis!
- “Out There in the Night” by The Only Ones
Many people think this is a love song – and it is, but not about a human. In fact, The Only Ones’ Peter Perrett wrote it about his dear cat, Candy, who ran away from home one night never to return.
“But what does this have to do with summer in New York,” you ask? Well, I don’t know what borough you live in, but where I dwell the title “summer” and “season of the stray cat” are synonymous. They’re everywhere. On the street. In trashcans. Screaming in heat outside my window. Skittering in new litters on the parking lot concrete. Cats, cats, cats, everywhere. It almost makes sense why Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote that ghastly musical about them. Almost.
- “Trash” by The New York Dolls
Back in the 1970s, when New York was still dangerous and you could get a dime blowjob where M&M’s World now stands, The New York Dolls were rock n’ roll’s enfants terribles. Surely they had to deal with trash (or, in its summer form: “hot garbage”) far more than we do today. But we still deal with it.
It’s not that there is more or less trash season-to-season, it’s just that the hot sun tends to bake and boil the existing refuse, opening up the pores of all that is rotting so we might smell it more. A LOT more. And don’t even get me started on hot garbage juice, which is the aforementioned boiling refuse in liquid form. Unfortunately the only songs I could find entitled “Hot Garbage” are not too good.
Enter: The New York Dolls. Who could sing about “Trash” better than a cross-dressing miscreant like frontman David Johansen, who, might I add, is from the floating garbage formation itself: Staten Island. No one. I will also ask you: has ever a more New York lyric been penned than:
“Trash, won’t pick it up, don’t take my knife away.” ?
I’m sure I’m missing a few things, but the truth is there just aren’t any good songs about cockroaches or day drinking or swamp ass, which is a pity, because they are all very real things. Especially for summer in New York.