Saturday, August 20, 2011

That (Statutory) Summer

While it is generally well known that I am not a country music fan per say, I once possessed a fairly impressive collection of Garth Brooks albums. I used to devour songs like “Thunder Rolls,” “Rodeo,” and “Callin’ Baton Rouge” with the fervor of someone who had actually attended a rodeo or placed a call to Baton Rouge. He was and is a rather impressive showman and deserves the many accolades that have been showered upon him throughout his storied career. That being said, there was always one song of his that made me slightly uneasy when I sang along….

I am, of course, referring to his 1993 hit “That Summer” which chronicles the adventures of an unidentified male protagonist who supplements his income by working as a handyman for a widow on a rural farm. The tale begins thusly:

I went to work for her that summer
A teenage kid so far from home
She was a lonely widow woman
Hell-bent to make it on her own
We were a thousand miles from nowhere
Wheat fields as far as I could see
Both needing something from each other
Not knowing yet what that might be.

So we have established that the young man is teenager and has moved cross country to work (assumedly between high school semesters) on an isolated farm. He and his strong-willed employer apparently require something from each other’s company, but what could it be? Financial advice? Emotional reinforcement? Let’s continue:

'Til she came to me one evening
Hot cup of coffee and a smile
In a dress that I was certain
She hadn't worn in quite a while
There was a difference in her laughter
There was a softness in her eyes
And on the air there was a hunger
Even a boy could recognize.

It appears that the young man’s employer has taken more than a professional interest in him. Let us hope that her “hunger” was strictly culinary in nature. Perhaps the chorus will clear things up:

She had a need to feel the thunder
To chase the lightning from the sky
To watch a storm with all its wonder
Raging in her lover's eyes
She had to ride the heat of passion
Like a comet burning bright
Rushing headlong in the wind
Out where only dreams have been
Burning both ends of the night.

Apparently, the widow has an overwhelming desire to “feel the thunder” and “ride the heat of passion” while “burning both ends of the night.” While many listeners would have already assumed that these were references to copulation, I held out hope that the farmer’s widow was just a meteorology enthusiast. The second verse:

That summer wind was all around me
Nothing between us but the night
When I told her that I'd never
She softly whispered that's alright
And then I watched her hands of leather
Turn to velvet in a touch
There's never been another summer
When I have ever learned so much.

Having taken several sexual harassment courses, I am fairly certain that it is inappropriate to stand so close to a coworker of the opposite sex that there is nothing between you “but the night” and the distance requires you to whisper. Also, exactly how old is this broad that she has “hands of leather?” Up until now she could have been any age but that line practically guarantees she could tell you where she was when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After another chorus (and queasy reminder that granny likes to “feel the thunder”) we are given an epilogue of sorts:

I often think about that summer
The sweat, the moonlight, and the lace
And I have rarely held another
When I haven't seen her face
And every time I pass a wheat field
And watch it dancing with the wind
Although I know it isn't real
I just can't help but feel
Her hungry arms again

Apparently the defiled young man was so traumatized by the experience that he is unable to experience physical intimacy or even pass through an agricultural area without being haunted by his attacker’s face. The poor guy probably wets himself every time he sees an orthopedic back pillow or smells Icy/Hot.

While some have defended the song as a beautiful coming of age story, I personally think that the lyrics read like a transcript of Law & Oder SVU. I would also like to know what parents hear the request “Can I go work for a complete stranger on an isolated farm for three months?” from their impressionable teenage son and say to each other, “That sounds reasonable.” You mean to tell me that the kid can’t find a yard to mow within 100 miles? How did he find out about this job anyway? Did the young man have the same name as the widow’s deceased husband and accidentally receive his AARP magazine?

I don’t consider myself a prude and far be it from me to look down on a little good old-fashioned geriatric seduction, but at least make it clear that the teenager is legally of consenting age. This could have been easily done in the first two lines of the song:

I went to work for her that summer
Right after I registered for the draft

I went to work for her that summer
Once I concluded my jury service

I went to work for her that summer
And deposited the proceeds into my brokerage account

I went to work for her that summer
Two days after casting my vote for governor

I went to work for her that summer
A notary public so far from home


  1. Garth Brooks & country music is a combination of a soap opera & NASCAR !

    All staged drama.

  2. You forget that in certain states, 16 is the age of consent. He could have simply had his driver's license.

  3. Exceptional MediocritySeptember 9, 2011 at 12:18 PM


    A valid point, but in many of those states if one of the participating parties is over 20 it is still considered a class D felony. And judging by the "hands of leather" line, I can only assume the widow has seen 20 several times....


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