As I write this, the rain is streaming down on an August bank holiday in the UK — but I think I’ve just had the best summer of my adult life. One of those childhood summers that seem to go on forever. As if these months of 2014 had opened a gateway from adult mundanity into the eternal Dream Summer.
For me, that summer’s epicentre lay somewhere around 1989 or 1990. I was about ten years old. It’s not precise because events, details, things I imagined and things I later learned, have all since run together. They slip beneath the calendar’s boundaries in both directions.
1. Naughty, Naughty…Very Naughty
The dream summer called me long in advance of its arrival. No older than five, I woke up to pale light one July morning and dashed into to my mum’s bedroom.
“It’s still night time,” said my mum, woken on a Sunday at the cusp of dawn. “Go back to bed.”
“But it’s light outside!”
“Yes,” said my mum, her voice muffled by the duvet from which she refused to raise her head. “In the summer, the sun comes out at night.”
That early rise was like the trailer for the main event – the summers of 1989 and 1990, endless heat, running around the garden in just your trunks. Mum serving garlic bread and spaghetti bolognese outside in the sun, you in your swimmers, hot droplets of sauce stinging your belly and legs when you spilled. Betty Boo Just Doin’ The Do on the radio: “You are through, and there ain’t nothing you can do.” Scary reports about illegal raves on the news. Years later, Mum will drive us to school every morning, dropping us off super early so she can then make it back to work on time. The Today Programme will be on the radio. I will be captivated by earnest, scaremongering features on the Shamen’s “Ebeneezer Goode”, forerunners of the moral panic around Leah Betts and “Sorted for E’s and Whiz”.
1990 was a summer of video games, too. The technology wasn’t all that, but imagination softened blocky sprites into something more compelling and photorealistic. I turned Amstrad button-mashers into my own little stories. The meagre backstories to Starglider, Captain Blood, and Target: Renegade inspired tiny scribbled tales. 1989’s Batman became my own vigilante superhero “the Phoenix” (sorry, Jean Grey); TV’s MacGyver became “MacFarlane” who had to fight mammoths reawoken from Arctic ice. Then I cooked up a gritty PI character by blending James Garner in Marlowe with an advert for a video game I never played called Mean Streets, plus the input of my friend Ben who thought he was already in puberty or something and wanted my written-by-a-junior noir to have “like, sexy bunny girls in it”.
My grown-up cousin who lived next door decided I was old enough to watch horror movies around this time. There were restrictions. I could watch Robocop in full, but only with the sound off, because gore was fine but swearing unacceptable. Our viewings were usually secret. George Romero’s name was so powerful that I did timidly ask my mum if it would be okay to watch one of his films. She told me no. I did anyway, and of course it was on a day when Mum popped home from work, right in the middle of Night of the Living Dead.
“What is this?”
“Oh, just some old black and white movie that was on BBC2.”
By 1991 I’d graduated to Romero’s Day of the Dead. That movie meant so much to me. It was the first film I’d ever seen which began with all hope of a return to normal life extinguished. The heroes land their helicopter in a city inhabited only by alligators and the walking dead. Minutes in to the movie, it is already too late to make things better. For a prepubescent child, it was wondrous and terrifying: the realisation that comfort and security are fragile and contingent in this world. The summer before I started high school was live with apocalyptic nightmares.
2. Friends say that I am crazy, just for spending time with you
A few years later that same cousin, working as a builder, rescued a haul of vinyl from a skip and the Second Summer of Love came to life again. Telstar Records’ house compilations, in particular Deep Heat 90 and Deep Heat – Feed the Fever, soundtracked my mid-teens with A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, Technotronic… It seems I’ve always lived the present by looking backwards. At 18, I was driving a couple of girls from the school next to ours around town and playing Beats International, trying to impress pointy-faced* little Rachel with my knowledge of Fatboy Slim avant la lettre, an archaeologist of pop culture even then.
*I don’t mean any offence. I loved dark and pointy girls. It might have been inspired by an Andrew Davies story in his bizarre collection Dirty Faxes, which I found in a remainder bookshop. In it, a farmgirl commits murder to win the affections of her nervous, whiskery young female social worker. Living the teenage dream!
A girlfriend of mine would later anatomise these crushes in a way that made me feel utterly predictable in even my most wordless and whimsical desires. Kyla, you were right all along…they are all dark and pointy.
3. Won’t Someone Give Me A Gun? Oh Well, It’s For My Brother
“I saw my personal life as a bizarre experiment; as long as interesting songs came out of it, I didn’t care about my health or happiness.” – Brett Anderson
The Deep Heat discs cover that entire glorious summer, but the season of dreams is tethered and ended by Suede’s self-titled 1993 debut.
Suede were never really my band – I wanted less foppery from my guitars, preferred the Ramones, Fugazi, Bad Brains – but that album was one of my little brother’s first records.
We grew up in a run-down farmhouse bought from the Ministry of Agriculture, split between my family and that of my aunt and uncle. I remember looking up one sunny afternoon from the courtyard between two sections. The sky was blinding bright; the chimney, barely held together by the nesting materials of birds that had occupied it, was like a dark pillar against the sky. My brother Oliver’s window was flung open, and from it we heard Brett Anderson ask over and over, —WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO TURN YOU OH OH OHNNNN — NOW HE HAS GONE — WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO TURN YOU OH OH OHNNNN —
Finally Oli let Brett catch his breath and we skipped on to “The Next Life”. The singer’s cosmic falsetto reached out to an interstellar frequency, passing through the sound of sunlight, your fillings ringing as it found its way towards the hydrogen line, where it would tell distant extraterrestrials of Worthing and ice-cream.
I think of “The Next Life”‘s final notes as the curtain closing on the Dream Summer. My brother became a banker; my aunt and uncle died, and the house got refurbished. Summers, like lives, gain their meaning by drawing to a close.
4. Life After Death
I walked nine hundred miles across Spain for a dead friend this year. No zombie, Jules killed himself and never came back – yet those freewheeling days in the Spanish heat reopened the gates of summer. I came back to London and a dream job and good friends who reacquainted me with the urban night. (They must be good friends to make me fall back in love with pricy, pissy old London).
Romero’s zombies never came to erase the grown-up world. Instead, we have Ukraine, Ferguson, Gaza, and did they ever find that other jet, the Malaysian one, or have we forgotten about that? A different kind of apocalypse, global suffering that refuses us the form and sense of closure. Not every day is a good day, not every place is a happy one, but it turns out the sun comes out at night. Summer’s never too hard to find after all.
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