Pod-Canon #2 Punch Up The Jam: "Summer Girls"
Here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place we like to give readers occasional peeks behind the curtain at the glamorous, not at all soul-crushing or sad world of pop culture journalism. So I was figuring I would educate y’all, and also burn up a lot of space, by discussing my process when it comes to writing my Pod-Canon column.
The column ran on Monday afternoon every other week so around noon on the Friday immediately before it debuted I would be overcome with low-level panic and anxiety. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I’d think. What the fuck am I going to write for my motherfucking Pod-Canon column? I swear a lot here at the website, except for The Weird Accordion to Al, which is G-rated and uncorrupted by even a single profanity. But I curse like a sailor in my interior monologue.
I’ll start to feel all anxious about what I’ll write about next for the column on the greatest individual podcasts of all time so to I head over to the neighborhood opium den for a little smokey smoke to calm my nerves. At that point I enter a surrealistic dream world, and when I wake up I take a cold shower and call my bookie and bet seventy five dollars on that week’s New Jersey Generals game.
At this point my bookie tells me that there’s no New Jersey Generals game that week, or any other, because the Generals were part of the USFL, which ceased to exist in 1985, and also that he’s not my bookie, he’s my Narcotic’s Anonymous sponsor and that it sounds like I’ve fallen off the wagon and gone back to smoking opium in a counter-productive and ragingly ineffective way of coping with professional stress.
This brings us up to Monday morning, when I line up a fat-ass line of cocaine to kick-start the thinking process. I now ask myself questions like, “How long has it been since I wrote about The Flop House, Hollywood Handbook, Mental Illness Happy Hour, Comedy Bang Bang or The Best Show?”
The answer is generally, “long enough” so I go ahead and revisit those beloved favorites because, let’s be honest, I’m just one man in the throes of a horrible opium and gambling addiction and there are only so many podcasts even a hardcore podcast junkie like myself can possibly listen to.
Or I frantically scramble to find a podcast I’ve never listened to that sounds like it might be up my alley. Sometime that’s a new podcast with a subject guaranteed to resonate with me, like John Moe’s The Hilarious World of Depression or Gaby Dunn’s Bad With Money. If I’m really lucky someone beloved (like Anthony Bourdain) will have died recently so I can get my professional grave robbery on and pay tribute to them with rapturous odes to their appearances on WTF.
Up until about a week ago I felt vaguely guilty about never having written about The Nerdist for the column, since that was such a huge podcast. Now I’m giving myself points for uncanny prescience.
I worry for hours about what podcast episode I should write about. But when I settle on a podcast and an episode the work comes easily. By the end of the writing I’m confident in what I have and ready to share it with the world. I love to proselytize on behalf of what I love, and Pod-Canon gives me a pure vessel to do just that. After sending in a column I would invariably assure myself, “You really earned that hundred dollars. There’s no way Splitsider will kill your column just because it’s so conceptually flawed and you write about the same damn things over and over again and replace it with something written by a roster of people with different tastes and favorites.”
Then there are podcasts that I stumble upon and fall instantly in love with. That’s what happened with the “Summer Girls” episode of Punch Up the Jams, a podcast that was not on my radar until Stitcher’s robot podcast concierge suggested I might enjoy the episode.
An entire eighty-three minute long podcast dissecting LFO’s “Summer Girls”, a song I literally can listen to over and over again for days at a time until madness sets in? Yes, please!
Punch Up the Jam is a podcast co-hosted by comedians, writers and pop fanatics Demi Adejuyigbe and Miel Breouw where they, and sometimes a guest, revisit, review and rewrite or “fix” some of the corniest, cheesiest, and consequently greatest pop songs of the past few decades.
Needless to say, “Summer Girls” is, as my professors liked to say back in college, “textually rich.” It’s a five scoop hot fudge Sundae of cornball ridiculousness that gives hosts Demi, Miel and guest Hannah Pilkes a whole lot to work with comedically.
The hosts and guests treat LFO’s moment of dadaistic glory to a close reading, meticulously savoring each bone-headed couplet and preschool rhyme. They note that it’s not rapped or sung so much as it’s spoken in a vaguely rhythmic fashion that gave amateurs with dreams of hitting the pop charts false hope that you didn’t need to sing or rap in order to make a hit song: you just needed high cheekbones, facial symmetry and a Whitman’s Sampler of random facts about the pop culture of the 1960s, 1980s and early 1990s.
To make sense of this surreal idiocy, which legend has it was written as a goof and never meant for public consumption, the amused and amusing hosts and guest posit a backstory for the song, a CW-ready romance between a stoned, Abercrombie & Fitch-obsessed galoot from Boston and a chain store-shopping Southern belle from Georgia, where the peaches grow, where they drink lemonade and speak real slow, that keeps getting sidelined by bizarre non-sequiturs involving indigestion, the sonnets of one “Billy Shakespeare” and obscure children’s entertainer Willy Whistle.
Half of the joy and delight of this delightful episode comes from the palpable, infectious pleasure the hosts get out of riffing on this most sublimely idiotic of bubblegum pop anthems.
The climax of the episode comes with Demi unveiling his revised, “fixed” version of “Summer Girls”, with the wall-to-wall pop culture references updated to reflect the nineteen years that have passed since “Summer Girls” dominated the charts. Incidentally, if you want to feel old, think about this: the 19 years separating today from "Summer Girls" release is two years longer than the gap between when Dazed & Confused was released and when it was set.
So instead of New Kids on the Block and Michael P. Keaton, we have nods to Will.I.Am, Avatar and, well, there are a lot of odes to Avatar and they’re all hilarious.
I literally wrote the book on the greatest and most successful American parody artist of all time and am working on a second so I think I speak with some conviction when I write that Demi’s parody is gut-bustingly, laugh-out loud hilarious. The whole episode is a hoot but I kind of want an MP3 of the “Summer Girls” parody that I can re-listen to compulsively the way I did, and do, its inspiration.
Podcasts about LFO Summer jams are the kind I like. I plan to listen to Punch Up The Jam’s whole archive (starting with “It Wasn’t Me”) when I finally get around to buying a bike.
Y’all know my “steez”: I make my money through Patreon, so if you would consider kicking in as little as a dollar over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace that would be great.