Saturday Single No. 197

Summer has laid its heaviest weight on us this week, the kind of hot, sticky weather that makes one long for the frozen joy of January. All week long, it’s been fog and mist at daybreak followed by hot air so humid that making one’s way through it feels like walking in glue. There have been no quiet evenings on the little patio this week; if we haven’t needed to be outside, we’ve stayed in.

We are hoping that the cool front that came through yesterday – heralded by a line of wild storms that advanced across the Upper Midwest like an avenging army – will bring some relief from the humidity, if not the heat. Hey, it’s August. It’s going to be hot. We know that. But it would be nice to be able to sit outside for half an hour in the evening without feeling as if we’re wearing four layers of clothes just pulled out of a washing machine.

There are some advantages to the warm and wet weather: We have been overloaded already this summer with wax beans, green beans and zucchini, and any current spare room in the fridge is now taken up by tomatoes and cucumbers. We also have extra eggplant, and the watermelon vines that we thought were a lost cause at the end of June have taken over the northwestern corner of our gardening space and are beginning to battle with the second crop of pole beans for possession of the fence. The vines are also home to four or five good-sized melons to go with the one already in the house that we plan to open on Sunday.

So there are many things can thrive in the warm and wet days we’ve been having; that includes bugs as well as fruit and vegetables. As the evening light fades, the gnats and mosquitoes make the yard their own. We wandered out the other evening shortly after dark to see some celestial phenomenon that we’d read was visible shortly after sunset in the northwestern sky, and we stayed outside no longer than ten minutes before fleeing inside, both agreeing that whatever it was we’d thought to see in the night sky was in no way worth a thousand bites.

This is a much warmer summer than was last year’s, and despite the discomforts I chronicle here, I’m nevertheless pleased, as it feels like a real summer in ways that last year’s cool and dry season did not. A year ago, we waited and waited for summer to truly arrive, and it never did. So this year’s damp heat is welcome, maybe more in the abstract than the concrete and no doubt partly because we can avoid the worst of its attendant discomfort.

And our ability to avoid that discomfort makes me think: This is the first home I’ve ever lived in with central cooling, and I wonder if that’s somehow insulating me more this year than ever from the true nature of summer, both good and bad. And I wonder if I’ve lost something, some visceral connection to the season. (Do I ever think about a similar relation between central heat and the chill of winter? Only vaguely, and with little regret for any connection I might have lost with Arctic cold.)

Having pondered the question for a few days, I do not think the connection between me and summer is entirely sundered; it may be minimized by my ability to avoid the worst of the heat and the damp. But I do not live my entire life indoors, nor would I want to, in summer or in any season. I can, through technology, choose when to immerse myself in summer heat and when to shelter in the artificial coolness inside. And, spoiled child of technology that I am, I would not have it any other way.

Summer is, of course, a more-than-frequent topic of song. I have something like three hundred mp3s with “summer” in the title. (It’s hard to know for sure at a glance because the search function also draws in those recordings found on albums with “summer” in their titles, as well as the odd outliers like the performances by a Seventies group named Summer Wine.) And as I was rummaging through them this morning, I came across an instrumental performance of “Some Summer Day,” a song written and recorded by Delta musician Charley Patton sometime in 1930.

It’s difficult to know exactly what Patton was singing, given the poor quality of the surviving audio (a glance at the comments in a long-ago thread devoted to the lyrics of the song will demonstrate the difficulty). But it’s clear that the melody is essentially the same as the tune “Sitting On Top Of The World,” a familiar song written by two members of the Mississippi Sheiks (a folk/country blues string band). The song was first recorded by the Sheiks, also in 1930, and has been covered by many musicians – including Cream, Bob Dylan and Howlin’ Wolf, to name just three – over the ensuing eighty years.

It’s a lovely melody, no matter where Patton got it, and one of the best performances of it I’ve ever heard is the one fronted by Kid Bangham, a one-time member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. That version, recorded as “Some Summer Day,” was included on a 2001 collection titled Down The Dirt Road: Songs Of Charley Patton. And that performance is today’s Saturday Single:

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