Song 291: Soul Asylum, “Summer of Drugs” (1993)

williamsrelief

As I may have demonstrated in a subtle and not-at-all-over-the-top fashion recently, I am not a fan of boomer nostalgia. The same goes for things that romanticize the sixties. Look, I wasn’t there—or, um, anywhere—but man, a lot of bad shit when down in the sixties. The way the media often make it look like one big love-in is a little disturbing.

So songs like “Summer of Drugs,” which proclaim a lack of generational romanticism and appreciation are very much up my alley. Like the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” (in which Paul Westerbeg yells, “We got no wars to name us”), “Summer of Drugs” is about a generation caught between cultural identities. The song was written by Victoria Williams, a singer-songwriter who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1993. That same year, a number of artists assembled a compilation to help pay for her medical bills. Sweet Relief, and the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, was born.

Sweet Relief had a hell of a lineup, and my favorite song from the record is Soul Asylum’s take on “Summer of Drugs.” Dave Pirner’s tired croak is an ideal complement to the song’s emotional exhaustion, and the way he starts the song (and the record) with Williams’s wake-up call of a first line, “Sister got bit by a copperhead snake in the woods behind the house” is just about perfect. (And you can’t beat the follow-up lyric, after the narrator sucks the venom out: “I started out my teenage years with a poison in my mouth.”)

Soul Asylum, only a year out of their triple-platinum record Grave Dancers Union, was at their commercial peak in 1993. Despite the song’s inherent awkwardness, you can hear the confidence in the band on “Summer of Drugs.” It’s the sound of artists who are thrilled to be on top of the world.

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