Summer Music Memories

If you have ever been a listener to popular music, you’ve probably had the experience of “summer” music – when a song or an album becomes identified with the summer season.

It might be even be a particular summer – the summer just after high school graduation, or the summer you got your first full-time job, or the summer just after you met that significant other.

For whatever reason, music has always been a trigger for memory, probably exceeded only by the memory of particular fragrances.  But “summer music” has certainly played a part in many folks’ lives.

One of the biggest groups to perhaps epitomize the whole concept is The Beach Boys. Formed in 1961 in California, and composed of three brothers, their cousin, and a friend, their tight harmonies and infectious melodies alone would have earned them a spot in pop music history.  But it was their subject matter and lyrics that put them in possibly the top spot for summertime music.  Scoring thirty-six Top 40 hits, more than any other American band, their music has lived on for over 50 years.  Especially “summer” memories are found in “Surfer Girl;” “Fun, fun, fun;” “I get around;” ”Help me Rhonda;” “Sloop John B.;” “Good Vibrations;” and “Kokomo.”  All of these songs and more can be found on the music CD “Greatest Hits – 20 Good Vibrations” at the Fontana Regional Library.

Another song that resonates with many is the song “Cruel Summer” by the British female pop group Bananarama.  This song was originally released in the UK in 1983, but hit it big internationally in 1984 when it was included in the movie The Karate Kid. Other songs by the group have a definite summer feel: “Venus” and “Na Na Hey Hey,” for example, although the latter two were not original to the group; all 3 songs can be found on their Greatest Hits collection.

Jumping back to the late 50’s, “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran captures the downside of being a teenager during the summer. Covered by many artists, from The Who to Alan Jackson to Jimi Hendrix, this song has been a perennial favorite; Eddie’s original version can be found on the album Absolutely the best of the 50s.

One with some personal memories for me is “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts. Found on the album of the same name, the song paints a word picture of an idyllic summertime domestic world. Also on this album is the song “Hummingbird,” which has another summer memory link.

A much less idyllic but still compelling song is “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful from the mid-60s.  Contrasting daytime and nighttime (“at night it’s a different world”), the song incorporates the sound of car horns (a VW beetle, no less) and jackhammers. The library has the album Entertainment Weekly 1966 which includes this hit.

The group Chicago tells a story of a typical but ideal summer day in the song “Saturday in the Park.” Including lyrics about a man selling ice cream and the Fourth of July, many people have experienced the laid-back memories related in the song, which can be found on the album Chicago: Greatest Hits v. 1.

While some of the summer time hits referenced so far come from groups with many big hits, like Chicago and the Beach Boys, one of the less well-known songs comes from the group Mungo Jerry.  The group came from the UK, and this was their only US hit.  But it became one of the best-selling singles of all time, and while it was a “one hit wonder” you can still hear it played during the summer: “In the Summertime.” (And you can find it on this CD: Best of the 70s)

Another song that calls back some personal memories of summer for me is the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince hit “Summertime.” Before Will Smith became a well-known actor, he and his friend Jeff Townes were a hip-hop duo.  This song was their biggest hit. It relates summer memories of the pair’s high school summers growing up in Philadelphia, and can be found on the New Millennium hip-hop party album.

Well, I think I probably just scratched the surface of summer music memories with these songs. I hope at least a few triggered some good thoughts for you – please let me know in the comments if you have your own favorites!

[P.S. The links will take you to a music video of the song or the library music CD so you can check them out!]

“What do y’all want to be called?”

[Excerpt: When All God’s Children Get Together, “Segregation Woes and New Life Today”]

by Ann Miller Woodford

ann-woodford-wnc-artistAnn Miller Woodford is our guest contributor to this Shelf Life in the Mountains. She is a native of Andrews, NC, and is an author, artist, speaker, and founder/Executive Director of One Dozen Who Care, Inc., a community development organization in western North Carolina.

“What do y’all want to be called?” That used to be a frequent question asked of Black people in the region. Even Blacks still do not agree on what term is offensive, so my advice has been to follow those who research the most inoffensive terms, such as major newscasters. The terms “Colored” and “Negro” went out in the 50s and 60s. However, it must be understood that some older African Americans held on to those terms far too long, since those were much preferred over being called “Nigger,” “Darkie,” “Spook,” “Coon,” “Jungle Bunny,” “Porch Monkey,” “Boy” or “Girl.” The term, “Afro-American” also is becoming antiquated, but “Person of Color,” “African American” and “Black” are still viable terms, if one must distinguish our race of people.

Just as White Appalachians often feel disrespected when typecast as “rednecks,” “hicks,” “country” or other derogatory labels, Affrilachians do not appreciate disparagement by other racial groups, as well. It should be understood that though any group may tease themselves in jest; they do not appreciate others ridiculing them with politically incorrect labels. We should, however, note that the use of “African American” can be applied to a White Native of Africa such as the South African-born actress and activist, Charlize Theron. On the other hand, Black people who are not naturalized citizens of the United States are not African Americans.

We all have the African, Scots Irish, and Cherokee blood that makes up Black Appalachians, because White masters had children by slave women. Some people do not use the term African American, because they know some others choose Black by skin color, or some would rather not be called any racial name; they say just call me human.

The late Rev. Frank Blount of Murphy mentioned that his mother was “left puzzled” by not knowing exactly what her ethnicity was. Mrs. Blount said that as a student at Virginia Union College, people often asked her what she was by race. They also did that to my sister, Mary Alice Miller Worthy, and the One Dozen Who Care, Inc. president, Patricia Hall, in the places where they have worked. All three considered themselves to be African American.

Not many families ever discussed their racial mixture, because it could cause embarrassment, concern, or upset. Folks like my father’s family, though they had the same mother and father, ranged in color from very white skin of his two youngest sisters to the dark brown color of my father’s skin.

“Out of wedlock” children, especially if bi-racial, in past days, were often put down inside and outside of families.

In a taped interview in the late 1960s for a college paper, I came home on holiday and asked the question of some Black people in the Happytop community of Andrews, “What would you rather be called — colored, Negro or Black?” My grandfather, Cleve Miller, an octogenarian at the time whose own mother was a slave until she was nine years old, answered the question in a self-determined way: “African is what I would rather be called!”

During that same time, two of his oldest grown children said that they would rather be called “Colored.” School-age youngsters I interviewed at that time, refused to be called any of those terms.

Since legitimate media reporters, such as, newspaper, radio and television reporters, commentators, and anchor persons must keep up with current terminology, it may be wise to pay attention to any politically correct wording that they use. Most Black people in our region seem to respectfully endure the word “Colored,” although most wonder why it is even a question anymore.

AW Ptg Grampa w sausage mill

Portrait by Ann of William Cleveland “Cleve” Miller, her grandfather

Watch it now: Embrace of the Serpent

Recently, a friend heartily recommended that I watch a film called Embrace of the Serpent after discussing one of my favorites, Aguirre the Wrath of God, written, directed, and produced by Werner Herzog. Both of the titles mentioned above present a strikingly similar plot in the same geographic location: the Amazonian jungle. Aguirre and Embrace follow the all-too-familiar conquest and exploitation trajectory of indigenous peoples and their pristine, resource-rich, and sacred environment. 

embrace-of-the-serpent-20159645

 

In Aguirre, the goal of the conquistadors is the city of El Dorado; in Embrace, the goal of the barons is rubber. In Embrace, directed by Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra, the only signs of the brutal rubber plantations are villages burned to the ground, only a few remaining indigenous groups (mostly the ones who do not resist the rubber barons), a strong distrustful and traumatic relationship between the natives and the whites, and scarred trees dripping out white, violent rubber. In one of the most gut-wrenching and gruesome scenes of the film shows the protagonist and hero of the story, Karamakate known by all tribes as “The World Mover,” along with another native named Manduca and the German botanist Theo Von Martius walk up on a rubber extraction area. The trees all have the telling marks of rubber extraction with buckets beneath them to catch the unrefined liquid. Manduca, full of rage and heartbreak from watching the bloody rampage in the Amazon over the past few years, runs screaming and cursing and thrashing through each bucket of unrefined rubber. Hearing the commotion, a native man runs up to the site. His is missing a foot and a leg from amputation and torture from the plantation owners. His eye has recently been gouged. He frantically hops about on his amputated limbs picking up buckets and desperately tries to scoop up the rubber that has been poured onto the leafy forest floor. The man then kneels in front of Manduca (the travel aide and companion of Theo Von Martius) and begs him to shoot him. He pulls the barrel of the gun right up to his forehead. Manduca, with resolve, says he will shoot the man to save him from more torture from the rubber barons. Manduca fires, only to see that the gun was not properly loaded or misfired. They leave the man still kneeling, pleading for his death.

 

The film switches back and forth from past to present. Karamakate is in both space-times.Karamakate is young when a gravely ill Theo Von Martius and Manduca land their canoe on his isolated patch of land. Karamakate lives in complete isolation–his tribe and village were wiped out because they fought the rubber barons. He is distrusting of all white men, for in his experience, they only bring guns, violence, and death. Karamakate is a healer. Known throughout the Amazonian villages as “The World Mover,” his powers are not a secret–even to botanist Theo Von Martius. The German scholar concerns himself with gathering and recording plants, recipes, stories, myths, art, and other dwindling cultural institutions unique to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

When Manduca first introduces Theo Von Martius to Karamakate, Karamakate staunchly denies any part in helping the sick white man. Then, Karamakate explodes in anger, lunging at the sick German’s neck, which is adorned with a necklace particular to Karamakate’s clan. Karamakate screams “Where did you get this?” Theo Von Martius answers that he got it from a tribe that is now existing up the river. Karamakate promises the man that he will help him find the sacred plant “yakruna” if he takes him to his villagers. The three men, Manduca, Karamakate, and Theo Von Martius set out on the river to find Karamakate’s people. Throughout their travel, they come upon a Spanish mission for children, villages full of people welcoming a familiar Von Martius, and villages smoldering, bloody, leveled. Von Martius, somewhere along the journey, becomes a subject that needs protecting by only Karamakate. Karamakate administers healing but temporary substances to the ailing Von Martius.
embraceoftheserpent_trailer1

The film then switches to an older Karamakate painting glyphs on the side of a rock. He is thigh deep in the river when a snake comes swimming past him. He senses something just like his younger self did in the beginning of the film as Manduca and Martius eddy out and approach him. This time, many years later, the white man is alone. He claims that he, too, is looking for the sacred yakruna plant. He explains to Karamakate that his illness is that he cannot, nor has ever, dreamed. The old Karamakate realizes that, in his interactions with this scientist from the United States, that in his old age and years of isolation, he has forgotten many of the recipes and traditions of his life. The American figure obviously has been taught how to make medicinal substances out of coca leaves and many other plants of the Amazon. Karamakate sees the American scientist, Evan, as a dream coming to fruition. The dream he refers to is his journey decades earlier with Von Martius. The old Karamakate has forgotten many things. He tells Evan that it is Evan who will lead the way to the yakruna plant, not the other way around. Evan is dumbfounded. They embark on their quest. They come across the same Spanish mission from Karamakate’s earlier journey. He and Evan get out of their boat and approach the mission to find an Apocalypse Now scene: a Brazilian man has assumed the figure of Jesus on the cross. His followers, now grown, were once the young children that young Karamakate, Von Martius, and Manduca encounter during the first journey of the film. The scene is delirious, unsettling, and full of Catholic imagery. There are signs throughout the mission that praises the priests who kidnapped the Amazonian children from their parents and villages. The signage claims that the priests brought God to savage cannibals. The scene escalates into a moment driven even further by a psychosis ailing the men who were taken as boys from their villages. Young Karamakate snuck away to teach the children the mythology of their culture–the tinctures and medicines and origins and uses for it all. But what he taught them was not enough. Their lack of mythology led them down a path of complete discord. Now, the children saved from savagery and cannibalism, are worshipping a figure whose flesh is consumed for communion. The effects of Catholic missions, money hungry rubber barons, conquistadors, etc., are felt strongly in this cathartic scene that see Karamakate and Evan escape the village while they mill around in complete hysteria after drinking a hallucinogenic substance mixed by Karamakate. Narrowly escaping the debauchery, Evan and Karamakate continue their journey down the river. To find out what happens, you must watch this gem!

serpent1-1

This description has no spoilers, for the meaning of this film is in every quiet moment, every pan-out, every crackle of a fire, bend in the river. The story is about cultural syncretism. It’s about protecting knowledge, but also not hindering anyone from it. It’s about remembering the actions of our ancestors–conquered or conquerors. It’s about defending what’s sacred, but destroying it when it’s threatened. It’s about the cycle of life and death–not fearing death and not taking each breath for granted.

Watch this beautiful film. The cast is just as diverse as the plants in the Amazon. The story as timeless as the Milky Way (part of the myth of the Great Serpent). The connection between humans as ancient as our first guttural grunts in communication.

I will leave you with director Ciro Guerra’s explanation of the origin of this title from an interview with Cineaste:

Cineaste: Does your film’s title refer to “the serpent” as a metaphor for time or of the Amazon? And why an “embrace”?

Ciro Guerra: In Amazonian mythology, extraterrestrial beings descended from the Milky Way, journeying to the earth on a gigantic anaconda snake. They landed in the ocean and traveled into the Amazon, stopping at communities where people existed, leaving these pilots behind who would explain to each community the rules of how to live on earth: how to harvest, fish, and hunt. Then they regrouped and went back to the Milky Way, leaving behind the anaconda, which became the river. The wrinkled skin of the serpent became the waterfalls.

They also left behind a few presents, including coca, the sacred plant; tobacco, which is also another kind of sacred plant; and yagé, the equivalent of ayahuasca, which is what you use to communicate with them in case you have a question or a doubt about how to exist in the world. When you use yagé, the serpent descends again from the Milky Way and embraces you. That embrace takes you to faraway places; to the beginning where life doesn’t even exist; to a place where you can see the world in a different way. I hope that’s what the film means to the audience.