“Why So Serious?” The 2012 Mixtape – The Hold Steady’s “Constructive Summer”


Length: 3:08
Originally released on: Stay Positive (July 15, 2008)
Samples: Queens of the Stone Age – “No One Knows,” Ella Fitzgerald – “Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince – “Summertime,” Kid Rock – “All Summer Long,” New Kids on the Block – “Summertime.”

We’ll put it back together, raise up a giant ladder / with love and trust and friends and hammers…

No one understands summer. Let alone pop musicians.

I’ve never quite appreciated why it is that we think of summertime as a time to be lazy, to “relax.” Down time? A break? Who needs it! Summer is the most ambitious of all the four seasons. The warm weather inspires us to think outside of the box – and outside of the office – to try and find new prospects for world domination.

Planning trips…organizing barbeques…camping extravaganzas…finding new friends… …drinking beers…stealing hearts…

This takes work. Lots of it. It’s just a different sort of work, and a different sort of satisfaction. All too often the other nine months  are devoted to reinforcing the pocketbook. Summertime is about reinforcing the soul, the spirit, the rock and roll’r inside each of us. A great summer isn’t spent on one’s rear end – a great summer should be constructive.

Craig Finn understands this. With “Constructive Summer,” he’s built a seasonal anthem that almost immediately wipes the floor with the lesser-rans trying to mooch off the middle months of the calendar (a theme I tried to get across with the radio dial edit I introduce the track with). He has no intention of spending his summer months waiting for something to happen to him – he’s going to MAKE summer happen. He’s going to raise up ladders. He’s going to drink on water towers. He’s going to BUILD something this summer.

But what takes “Constructive Summer” to another level is the sadness buried just under the adolescent joy at the surface. Its protagonist’s quest to be productive sits against the backdrop of a dying mill town, and the song’s juxtaposition between youthful enthusiasm and restless desperation drives every chord to its next change. Jesus, school…these don’t provide any escape from the hopeless future ahead.

But there’s Joe Strummer’s raspy rage. And there’s beer. Most of all, though there’s his friends – his “double whisky, coke, no ice,” his “drums on lust for life” banging out on four toms. Time and time again he repeats how he’s going to build something this summer, how the season is his “annual reminder that we can all be something bigger,” but his visions of grandeur amount to little more than a teenage boozefest with his buddies.

But it’s something.

With “Constructive Summer,” Finn manages to somehow convey the desperation and joy in equal measure, with neither seeming odd next to the other. Verse by verse they dance with one another, responding to each other’s extremes with extremes of their own. The friendship gets stronger as the sadness spreads. The ties bind tighter as the heartache grows deeper. And the band drives on.

Download: The Hold Steady – “Constructive Summer” (Radio Static)


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