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John Prine’s ‘Summer’s End’ Is the Song of the Summer

Prine’s bittersweet folk song captures the classic summer feeling of time passing before our eyes

John Prine's 'Summer's End' Is the Song of the Summer

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What makes a summer jam? Is it the sunniest chorus, the hottest beat, the most weeks on the charts? Do the lyrics have to be about beaches and barbecues, or is it a question of vibe? What if it’s a song on your summer playlist and no one else’s?

We believe the answer is “all of the above.” This summer, Rolling Stone’s writers will celebrate the songs that are ruling each of their worlds – from huge hits to weirder, more personal choices. Check back soon for more summer songs, and hear all our picks in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post.

Summer is nothing if not self-memorializing. It’s the most wonderfully self-aware time of the year, three months when bored children, fast friends, yearning teens and old lovers get together to mourn and celebrate an enchanting impermanence, the feeling that the hot weather has started to fade away before it’s even begun. As Chance the Rapper sings, “Summer friends don’t stay.”

Perhaps no single song captures this better than “Summer’s End,” written by Chance’s fellow Chicagoan John Prine. It’s a bittersweet snapshot that captures that quintessential summer ritual: sitting around and taking stock of the fact that our most precious moments are passing in front of our very eyes. “Summer’s End” isn’t so much about getting older as it is about the stark, sudden acknowledgement of just how relentlessly time accelerates with age.

By the time the song begins, it’s already mid-August. Children’s bathing suits are still drying on the clothesline, yet the narrator can already smell a trace of winter in the late-summer wind. “Summer’s end’s around the bend, just flying,” Prine sings in the song’s opening line. He approaches the entire song as if he’s witnessing a small blessing that he’s trying to immortalize, drawing out the last word of each line – “flyyyyyyyying“– as if he’s lingering in the moment for as long as possible.

But summer never stays put. Near the end of the song, Prine, 71, takes a step back, mystified as to how he, too, could have fallen victim to the sad, shimmering passing of time. “Summer’s end,” he sings, choking up just a bit, “came faster than we wanted.”

In This Article: Songs of the Summer 2018

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