The first music I ever bought with my own money was Endless Summer by The Beach Boys, and still my favorite collection of songs anywhere ever recorded – representing the Capitol Records Beach Boys catalog from 1962 to 1965.
13 and walking back from the record store, my purchase in a square yellow plastic sack, some kid from the neighborhood saw me on the old railroad tracks, taking the shortcut home so I could play that awesome double album on the beat up hi-fi my grandfather gave me.
“Hey,” he said, “what’d you buy?”
“Endless Summer,” I said.
“Oh yeah, cool. So, you gonna start liking girls and listening to music like the rest of us?”
Apparently this guy only knew me as the dude with the aquatic G.I. Joe.
“I’ve always liked girls and music,” I said.
“What’s your favorite song on there?”
“‘Girl Don’t Tell Me,’” I told him.
“Huh? What’s that? I don’t remember that one.”
“Maybe,” I said, “you should listen better next time.”
He looked confused. “You should buy the new Kiss album,” he said.
I laughed and told him he liked guys with long hair and makeup.
Following the dirt trail to the alley and back entrance to the complex, opening the bottom floor window that led directly to my room, jumping through and inside and ripping off the shrink-wrap, a poster of two small planes flying, carrying banners fell out of the album sleeve. One said: The Beach Boys, the other: Endless Summer.
On the old stereos you could stack the vinyl to drop one after each other, and I played them like that over and over.
“Hi little girl, it’s me
Don’t you know who I am?
I met you last summer
When I came up to stay with my grand
I’m the guy who left you
With tears in his eyes
You didn’t answer my letters
So I figured it was just a lie
Your hair’s gettin’ longer and
Your shorts, mmm, they sure fit you fine
I’ll bet you went out every night
During your ol’ school time”
Yeah, when you’re stuck in the city and there’s no ride to bikini waves, you have this, California harmony, and always an endless summer. I slipped on my giant headphones, laid back, and let the world spin …
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Bradley Mason Hamlin is an American writer, veteran of the United States Navy, and alumni of the University of California, where poet Gary Snyder dubbed Hamlin “The Road Warrior of Poetry!” Hamlin was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, kids, and wild cats. He is the editor of Zero Percent Magazine and his latest book of poems, The Surf Bum, is available from Black Shark Press.