I revisited Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer”, and the Ataris’ cover. Part of why I like this song is that I always liked resort towns in the fall. They are still beautiful from summer, but there is a bittersweet-ness to them. I spent enough time on the lake as a kid to appreciate the “summer half blonde” and other references. Especially as the summer ended. If you had enjoyed a good summer, one of those that sticks with you for the rest of your life, then the quiet beauty of fall truly was bittersweet. It was over, and beautiful, but gone for good.
At the time Henley’s version came out, I was not really old enough to understand the “dead head sticker on a Cadillac” reference. By the time the Ataris covered the song, “the black flag sticker on a Cadillac” was entirely too poignant.
There is a generational spin to this as well. The song came out in the early 80s and was sung to the boomers as the summers of their youth faded. Thus the dead head sticker.
Strauss and Howe open 13th Gen with a beach scene, at the end of summer. But instead of the bittersweet feeling of something beautiful ending, you get the feeling of those that came to the party too late, and are left to clean up the mess. They use this analogy for GenX (and the very late Boomers). The Boomers found this pristine beach. Huge party, bonfires, beautiful suntanned beach kids, lots of beer. By the time the Xers arrive, the beach is dirty, beer cans, burnt logs, and litter everywhere. Party’s over, and to see the beauty you have to squint through the junk.
What a funny coincidence, that the metaphor Strauss and Howe settle on, is the same one Don Henley sings about as the Boomers’ adulthood finally settles in for good. This is the one that Xers were listening to as young teens, and this is the one that the Ataris cover, capturing the existential angst of X perfectly, only by changing the song to include a Black Flag sticker. I guess that’s how culture works.