To my ears, anyway, he never sounded so much like the Boss as he does in this essential distillation of an entire career’s worth of anthems of the everyday struggles, pains, joys, and passions of the ordinary guy, a simultaneously stirring, plainspoken, and nostalgic remembrance of a certain summer evening that’s part Phil Spector, part Roy Orbison, and all Bruce. Written in the present tense, the song nevertheless feels retrospective, Springsteen pulling the listener back to those perfect golden hour moments in the Julys and Augusts of youth, those times we all experienced, when the shadows were growing long, all the colours faded to pastels, the streetlights were just starting to shine, and the whole night was ahead, with all the old, favourite haunts beckoning. You remember. It was like this:
Well the street lights shine
Down on Blessing Avenue
Lovers they walk by
Holdin’ hands two by two
A breeze crosses the porch
Bicycle spokes spin ’round
Jacket’s on, I’m out the door
Tonight I’m gonna burn this town down
And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by
Maybe I’m particularly in love with this one because it’s a song my Mom would have liked a lot. She was an unlikely Springsteen fan, finding something irresistible in the melodrama and outright Wagnerian grandeur of his biggest, most crowd-pleasing numbers. I can see her now, grooving to Born to Run, Thunder Road, and Dancing in the Dark. One Christmas my brother bought her a big, multi-CD Springsteen retrospective, and I remember it playing when I returned to Halifax on visits. Girls in Their Summer Clothes would have been just the thing, right up Mom’s alley.
A song can be quite like a Rorschach test, and maybe it says more about me than anything Springsteen intended, but every time, I’m Just a couple of bars in, and it all floods back. The old gang, the joint where you all used to meet, that girl who broke your heart, the album you listened to over and over, that first deluxe widescreen 70mm Dolby Stereo movie that blew your mind, impossible that it could all have been so long ago, now, but what can you do. Maybe you never paused in the moment back then, to take it all in and realize what it would all mean to you one day; or maybe you did, and what you remember now is how even then, those special times felt precious, ephemeral, and bittersweet.