If there’s one song for me that evokes a New England summer in all its glory–its heartbreak, humidity, brevity, longing and hope, its clamcakes, Levi’s, docks and lakes and rivers, its yellow cellophaned packages of Swedish Fish, it’s Listen To What the Man Said, by Paul McCartney.
It was the summer of 1974. The camp was the Episcopal Conference Center in Pascoag, RI. The cabin was “Carlson”. It was the last night of camp and all of us eleven year old girls were sobbing, bereft at the thought of leaving, when just a week ago many of us were bereft at the thought of being shipped off to camp–but there you have it–exactly what it means to be eleven. In between. Neither this nor that. No longer girl. Not yet teenager. But one of us was crying more than the others, our counselor, Leslie, because unlike the rest of us who merely dreamed of being loved, she was loved by a guitar playing boy named Billy and that night Billy was leaving to join the army. All of us, sheltered, innocent, Rhode Island girls from the suburbs could not imagine anything more romantic or dangerous or unthinkable and we wanted to be a part of it.
And then in that way that sometimes the perfect soundtrack shows up to illuminate and intensify a moment, marking it so you’ll never forget it for the rest of your life, Listen to What the Man Said came streaming out of the radio. It was a call. We climbed out of our beds and gathered around Leslie’s bed to console her, standing in our short nightgowns in our bare feet on the dusty floor.
Any time, any day
You can hear the people say
That love is blind
Well, I don’t know but I say love is kind
Soldier boy kisses girl
Leaves behind a tragic world
But he won’t mind
He’s in love and he says love is fine
It’s summer. Thirty-four years later. I’m back in New England and Listen To What the Man Says is playing on the radio.