ONLY NOISE: Summer In The City

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.

-Wailing sirens.

-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.

-Wailing sirens

-Brawling rats

-Brawling cats

-Steaming trash

-Wailing sirens

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.” ?

Probably not.

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.



Dream-pop, garage-rock, black-punk. In an era where the blogosphere battles to name genres, sometimes it’s nice to simply return to rock ‘n’ roll, which is just what we have for you in the first Artist of the Month profile of the new year. “As cliche as that is, I think that’s what we’re going for. A fun rock and roll band,” said Penny, a newly-minted member of the Oklahoma rock group, who recently joined with her partner Mandy, adding a much appreciated feminine flavor. They do after all, have a sky-rocketing new album titled Just Enough Hip to be Woman. 

BRONCHO performs at Beacon Theatre tonight supporting the one and only Billy Idol. Shortly before they hit the road, Sophie Saint Thomas caught up with Penny as she was getting ready to embark on a six-week tour.

ST: What is your experience with touring?

P: Honestly, I’ve loved it since I started doing it. I went on my first tour as a solo artist with another friend of mine who was also a solo artist at that time. I just love it, I love traveling. I love kind of having everything I need with me girl scout style. I see it as not much different than outdoor survival camping. I just kind of see it as the urban woods.

ST: Is this the first tour you guys as a group have done together?

P: No, Mandy and I just joined the band this last summer. We did our first tour with the guys I believe in August. It was like a five week run. We were basically touring from August to December with a few breaks and then we had December off, and now we’re at it again.

ST: How did you end up joining the band?

P: I’ve known Ryan for a few years now. I grew up in Norman, which is the town that they’re based in. Where they were hanging out and went to school. So I had hosted house shows at my house with them, and I’ve been to a lot of shows, just between musical mutual friends I guess. When I met Mandy we started playing music together. I heard that their old bass player was leaving the band. So I kind of pursued it a little bit, and six to eight months later I talked to Ryan, and he invited both of us to be in the band which is awesome because we live together and we’re partners. She’s kind of the only thing that keeps me from being on the road. So it’s really awesome to be able to bring her with me.

ST: How is it being with all those guys?

P: It’s good. The bands I previously was working with and touring with was much different. Musically, and also socially I played with two girls. And so I was mainly traveling with three girls which was a totally different experience. All three of us were around the 21-24 age so needless to say we were kind of crazy all over the place. I think the energy of this current group is like… I just feel like they’re my brothers. I have always been a tomboy so we just feel really comfortable.

ST: “Class Historian” is really blowing up and getting a lot of attention. How has that experience been?

P: I definitely feel lucky to be with them at this time. I’ve been watching these guys tour kind of parallel to my former musical life, and to be able to be in this band at this moment in time is pretty amazing. I do my best to not take too much credit for any of the actual success that’s going on right now. But it is super exciting. And I’m just  constantly being flattered by people always hearing it on the XM Radio or wherever they’ve heard it. It’s kind of far out; We had a spot in the local paper recently, which was definitely the first time I’ve been called out like: “You’re that girl in that band!” It’s very weird, it’s very new, I’m trying not to get too used to it.

ST: I hope you’re enjoying it!

P: Definitely. I’m just trying to let it in and let it be real.

ST: I’m sure you and Mandy joining has changed the dynamic, can you speak to what you’ve brought to the band?

P: One obvious change is certainly the vocal presence. I think we’re moving to a really awesome place vocally where Mandy and I get to be sort of this more angelic presence over kind of the rougher vocals of the guys. It rounds it out really well. I was definitely worried at first about the former fans…I don’t know, it’s probably just girl insecurity. I never wanted people to be like, “Oh you’re good for a girl.” I think especially as the bass player like their former bass player, I respect him a lot. So the first show I was definitely watching a lot of people like, “You approve right?” I’m less about seeking approval now, and I’m just having a really good time with the guys. I’m no longer feeling like I don’t fit in anymore.

ST: I enjoy the female aspect; I love how it’s all come together. The album title Just Enough Hip to be Woman – were you part of the creation?

P: I honestly was not there but I totally can imagine how it came up, and it was probably the guys and some friends totally joking around and one of them probably said it in one way and another one said it in another way and then it went around in circles because it’s worded so strangely. I thought it was funny when I found out what it was because I didn’t even hear the new record or know the title until he had already asked me to be in the band. So part of me was like “Maybe he knew…” but I don’t think that he did. I think it’s just that perfect.

ST: How would you label your sound? I’ve read the term “garage punk” thrown around a lot on the internet.

P: Anytime we’re asked that at a border crossing, because they always ask “What band are you in?” and then “What kind of music do you play?” We all collectively answer with “rock and roll.” As cliche as that is, I think that’s what we’re going for. A fun rock and roll band. We’re all just having fun and ideally we just want everyone in the audience to be loose and crazy. I think “punk” is a bit of a stretch I think “garage rock and roll” is kind of where it’s at.

ST: Well, rock and roll is a cliche for a reason, it’s great. Are you excited to play with Billy Idol?  

P: Yeah, I’m so stoked.

ST: Well congrats on everything that’s happening, and thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

P: Thank you!