Dar Williams’ End of the Summer – a review

I was going to write a long winded intro about nada yoga and the importance of music and creation myths and blah blah blah, but I’ve decided to skip it and cut right to the chase. Life is short (and I am tired).

It feels weird writing a review of an album that’s over ten years old, but it’s still one of my favourites – one I reach for when I need a boost or some sense that someone else understands. My understanding is that she wrote most of these songs to work her way out of a bout of depression, and unlike my own experiences with trying to write my way out of a hole, Dar’s work is actually quite beautiful.

  • “Are You Out There” – I know this song is about WBAI, but it makes me think of WFMU. Does that make me a radio snob? “You always play the madmen poets, vinyl visions, grungy bands; you never know who’s still awake; you never know who understands.” Feeling like every song on corporate radio, every show on TV, every story in the paper is designed to make you feel like less than you are; the sheer terror on the part of the previous generation that its offspring will do a much better job of living up to its ideals; the amazing solace in late night radio – this song hits on a lot of themes that are near and dear to me.
  • “Party Generation” – My favourite part of this song is Nerissa and Katrina Nields singing backup. I had such a crush on Katrina the first time I saw The Nields play (with Moxy Früvous opening!), but then she went and got married before I could figure out a way to sweep her off her feet and for neither the first nor the last time I learned something about disappointment. Anyway, “Party Generation” – not my favourite song on the album, but I do love those Nields harmonies.
  • “If I Wrote You” – It took me a long time to hear the open spaces that Dar describes when she talks about this song, but it finally clicked, and it was worth the wait. It’s not the sort of thing that one is accustomed to listening for; the sprawling open landscape in the background, the sounds that are not there. “We drew our arms around the bastard sons; we never would drink to the chosen ones. Well, you know the way I went was not the way I’d planned, but I thought the world needed love and steady hand; so I’m steady now.”
  • “What Do You Hear In These Sounds” – A song about therapy. Brilliant, in places familiar, in places obscure, ultimately gorgeous.
  • “The End Of The Summer” – When I was growing up, my parents owned a cottage in Ontario, and my mother, sister, brother, and I would spend all summer there. I lived the rest of the year in anticipation of July and August. The place represented escape, freedom, release – “dream, comfort, memory to spare,” as Neil Young put it. Inevitably, though, there came a point at the end of every summer when it was time to pack up and return to the more mundane scholastic concerns of loose leaf binders, yellow school buses, and perceived social hierarchies. This song encapsulates that feeling exactly.
  • “Teenagers, Kick Our Butts” – I wonder if Dar will roll her eyes and wonder what she was thinking when she wrote this song ten years from now when her son is a hell raising teenager?
  • “My Friends” – I have a sticker on my refrigerator that says “My friends kick ass” – I bought it in a tie-dye shop in Eugene, Oregon, with my friend D. This song expresses much the same sentiment in rather more subdued tones; sort of the Buddhist version of the bumper sticker. “I like the whole truth, but there are nights I only need forgiveness.”
  • “Bought and Sold” – “I look up to the people who are less bought than I; you can show them what you’re selling, and they’ll only ask you why.”
  • “Road Buddy” – Also on the soundtrack to the film Smoke Signals. I like the image of kids sipping juice boxes and smiling at each other at rest stops; that’s a really nice detail to include. Descriptive. Evocative. Painterly, even.
  • “It’s A War In There” – I don’t even know where to begin. Irreducible complexity. This song is perfect; anything I could write would detract from it.
  • “Better Things” – My friend L was so dismayed when I told her that this is actually a Kinks song (though I like the Dar version better). I should try to learn to keep my mouth shut. I’m thankful that Dar ended this album on such an up-note; there are enough more sullen tracks on this album that she could easily have ended with. I think it says something about her outlook that she chose otherwise.
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