The girls in their summer clothes pass me by.”— Bruce Springsteen, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” from his Magic CD (2007)
I first heard this song nearly a decade ago, when I bought Bruce Springsteen’s Magic CD, but somehow it didn’t work its way into my consciousness, the way so much of his other work did, up through and including The Rising.
Then, this past Fourth of July, while out driving, I heard it over my car radio. It washed over me, making an impression it hadn’t previously. It caught me at the right time, still relatively early in the summer, and I’ve intended to write about it ever since then.
In a way, though, writing about it more than a month later makes me better sense. After all, August is closer to what The Boss pictured.
"I was interested in having a song where you get this classic image of late summer, light on, in a small American town," Springsteen told The (London) Sunday Times' Dan Cairns in a 2007 interview, "and it's perfect in a way that only occurs in pop songs – when the air is just right, where the sun's sitting a certain way."
The deejay I was listening to on the Fourth, from Fordham University’s WFUV-FM, suggested that this song might have achieved what Born to Run sought but couldn’t quite pull off: the “wall of sound” associated with 1960s record producer Phil Spector. The song has elements of it, but it’s also reminiscent of a group from that time influenced by Spector—The Beach Boys. One other element also figures into the atmosphere and setting: Springsteen’s own early records in the 1970s, when he wrote about what he knew best: the Jersey Shore.
Above all, I’d love to find out if Springsteen has ever read any Irwin Shaw, who, while most famous as a novelist (The Young Lions, Rich Man, Poor Man), also wrote some of the finest short stories produced by an American in the 20th century. One of his most famous, “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” summons a whole world of male desire in its title, so much so that it’s easy to forget that the story itself is set in November. (See my prior appreciation of this classic bit of short fiction.)
In reaching adulthood, Springsteen has considerably broadened his reading (including another writer of Shaw’s generation, John Steinbeck.) I would not be surprised if Shaw left an imprint on his memory in the same way that Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath did, as reflected in The Ghost of Tom Joad.
But for now, as the mercury climbs, I thought it was the least I could do to provide you, Faithful Reader, with some of the more pleasant images of summer in this song from my favorite rock ‘n’ roll artist.