It’s the end of August, you’re still on holiday but counting the days until you have to go back to “real” life. Those days taste of blackberries, and smell of new books and pencil cases. They also make one feel conscious about the end of a certain airiness or innocence, like the final hour of a long expected party. Whether you are 7 or 47 years old, the feelings are the same. The nostalgia of the summer that is not quite gone yet, and the need to store as many memories as you can (“one last barbecue”, “one last starry night”, “one last swim”), so you can daydream back to them when at school or on your way to work, as things get cold and grey.
Except that in my mind’s eye, they don’t. The first chilly evenings also mean the joy of putting on a jumper or baking an apple cake. The warmth of the fireplace succeeds the last rays of sunshine; the leaves turn into gold and red, not brown. This is why the beginning of autumn is incredibly cinematic; visually stunning, and a delicate balance between melancholia and the comfort of the customary found anew, perfectly described by Ray Davies (as usual).
This collection of songs tries to bring you from the end of summer, filled with fun in Sparks’ Beach Boy parody “Over the Summer” to The Mamas and Papas’ winter’s day in “California Dreamin’” – which I will conveniently set on the first day of winter for this list’s purpose. In league with Sparks’ “plain Jane” hoping to have turned into a bombshell over the summer, is Rod Stewart’s toyboy who really should be back at school (“Maggie May”), as this peculiar time of the year is one of the most important for teenagers. It is the final call for a personal challenge (swimming naked in “Nightswimming”), and summer loves are soon to be remembered (“Beechwood Park”). The party is over, it is time for a new adventure, even if it means going away (“Moon River”). Transition, seasonal or hormonal, brings hope or despair or both, which is why Air’s “Highschool Lover” and the White Stripes’ “We’re Going To Be Friends” complement each other, just like Marie Laforêt’s euphoria in “Les Vendanges de l’Amour” balances Gainsbourg’s mise en abyme ode to heartbreak songs in “La Chanson de Prévert”. One cannot escape the passing of time or the change of seasons, like the “ever spinning reel” from the “Windmills Of Your Mind”.
As a teenager, who was more of a Lisbon Girl than a Sandy from Grease, movies provided the escapism I needed. I wasn’t walking through the Luxembourg gardens anymore, but through Central Park, dreaming of being a Sally to a Harry (“It had to be you”). La Sorbonne was my Berkeley (“The Graduate” / “Scarborough Fair”) and my Harvard (“Love Story” / “Search For Jenny”), in spite of the lack of Dustin Hoffmans and Ryan O’Neals in my life. Autumn in New York is truly a magical place, and it took me an Indian summer on a New England campus to realize that so was Paris, and that I was a self-pitying whiner.
However, when the routine gets overwhelming, these songs still take me back to those summer memories, real or imaginary, a familiar reminder that happiness can be found anytime, even when the sky is grey.