This week’s question comes from reader Jacob Debrock:
“Spring is in the air. What is your favorite piece of pop culture that you associate with spring?”
My somewhat literal answer is Mel Brooks’ 1967 satire The Producers. The film’s big musical number, when we finally see the offensive, Hitler-glorifying stage play that Zero Mostel’s and Gene Wilder’s characters have concocted, contains the memorable line “Springtime for Hitler in Germany.” The line, the song, and the rest of the film always comes to mind on the first warm day of the year, when a pleasant breeze and bright sun suggest springtime is around the corner. For obvious reasons, I never actually sing the song out loud, unless it is to my dog while we’re out enjoying the fine air, in which case I change the lyrics to something a little more innocuous. It is springtime for my pug, winter for the two asshole golden retrievers down the block.
As much as I love a good rainstorm, I’m not really a big fan of spring. Still, I can’t help but appreciate the season once May 10 rolls around, which Simpsons fans will recognize as the date of “Whacking Day.” The episode is an undeniable highlight from the show’s golden age, detailing the town’s violent obsession with an apparently long-held annual tradition of rounding up all of the snakes in the center of town and beating them to death (a tradition that is eventually revealed to have been an excuse to beat up the Irish). The holiday itself is delightfully absurd and hilariously mean, with its own songs and dedicated snake-beating sticks, and I love the idea of shoehorning such a ridiculous holiday into the middle of a season that I think is otherwise kind of nebulous and dull. I’m not sure if the episode itself makes me think of spring, but May 10 at least makes me think of “Whacking Day,” and I’ll always appreciate being reminded of The Simpsons.
When I was younger, the arrival of spring tended to be announced by school vacation, when my parents would load us up into the family van and drive us across the country to whatever beach house or hotel near the ocean constituted our home for the next four to five days. And each trip, we’d listen to the same music, a tradition I carried into adulthood, when I made it a given that even if it was just a three-day weekend, I’d continue the routine of the spring vacation, with its attendant soundtrack. As a result, certain CDs became the sole purview of Spring Vacation Alex, a sunnier and more upbeat person than the nerdy goody-two-shoes I was the other 51 weeks out of the year. And Spring Vacation Alex liked sing-along anthems, which is how Toys That Kill’s The Citizen Abortion became the annual signifier of springtime. Whether visiting my folks in Florida or just getting out of town for a couple days to visit friends sometime in March, as soon as I’m clear of the city limits I pop in the record and let its three-chords-and-a-refrain wash over me (actually, a lot of the hooks are even simpler—more like two-chords-and-a-holler). It’s a front-to-back classic of punk-rock singalongs, snarling and sassy with just the right amount of goofball charm. And once I’m back home, I lovingly tuck it away, ready to be pulled out again roughly 360-some days later.
It’s funny to me that the black-wearing, audience-sneering, mic-dropping, surly band members that make up Jesus And Mary Chain are responsible for my favorite song with a spring month in the title: “April Skies” of off second album Darklands. For all the song’s atypical J&MC cheery melodiousness, it’s a rather fierce story of a contentious relationship unraveling. But the song remains hopeful because of its title and theme: There are few things more optimistic after a long, bleak winter (“Sun grows cold / Sky gets black / And you broke me up / And now you won’t come back”) than an April sky, even with “a broken heart / And a screaming head.” I play this song a lot this time of year to remind me that warmer days are just around the corner, and there are few things that a hooky guitar riff can’t cure.
I had a habit of just not changing the CD in my car stereo for weeks at a time, so anyone who regularly rode in my shoddy old Cavalier became well-acquainted with a few choice CDs from my collection. Being the eyebrow-pierced, Midwestern boy I was, Blink-182’s Dude Ranch and Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity were in constant rotation, but I was also prone to the self-titled debut of Eve 6, who won over MTV’s 12-17 demographic by making us all want to put our tender hearts in a blender. It’s not the music that reminds me of spring so much as the memories I associate with it: bellowing lines like “SoCal is where my mind states / But it’s not my state of mind,” despite living in suburban Detroit; cranking “Leech” while pulling into varsity tennis practice; driving to the mall with the windows down, those perky guitars drowning in the rush of warm highway air. It’s the latter I remember most, probably, because, like a lot of teens, driving in and of itself was an activity for my friends and me, especially once the Michigan snow finally began to melt. Anyway, “Inside Out” still rips.
My pick may just be the effect of Pavlovian conditioning, because I was first exposed to it during the spring. At the time, I was living in a shitty East Side Milwaukee flat with my brother. It was one of the first days of the season warm enough to throw open the windows and doors and air out six months of our pestilential lifestyle. He was cleaning something or other while blaring The Way Of The Vaselines on the stereo and the mood that invoked has stuck with me ever since. Part of what made it so indelible is how fundamentally springtime The Vaselines are. Their music is childlike and kind of timid, but also goofy and enthusiastic; like a wobbly young lamb cavorting through grass that also happens to sing songs about emasculating would-be lovers originally performed by a famous cross dresser. It’s still the first album I put on the stereo when winter breaks and the smell of thawing dog shit and the promise of warmer tomorrows waft into the house.
Although it’s associated in most people’s minds with the Kick-Ass soundtrack—not the most automatically vernal of mood pieces, admittedly—there’s always been something extremely fresh and renewal-y to me about The Prodigy’s “Stand Up,” off 2009’s Invaders Must Die. It’s those horns, really—so brassy and optimistic, while the grungier electronic beats lurk underneath like still-melting snow. It’s the perfect song to kick along in your headphones at 10 a.m. on a brisk March morning—blue skies, 55 degrees, just a taste of frost on the wind, the platonically perfect day—in the enthusiastic knowledge that winter is over, and everything is finally going to be all right.