1 ‘Intro by Graham’ (Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven)
2 The Channel Surfers – CTC
3 The Ataris – The Boys Of Summer
4 Sean Paul – Get Busy
5 Doves – There Goes The Fear
6 Justin Timberlake – Rock Your Body
7 The All-American Rejects – Swing Swing
8 Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun
9 Good Charlotte – Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous
10 Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love?
11 Train – Calling All Angels
12 Weezer – Island In The Sun
13 The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army
14 Spin Doctors – Two Princes
15 Third Eye Blind – Semi-Charmed Life
16 Jason Mraz – Remedy
17 Counting Crows – American Girls
18 Phish – Farmhouse
19 Uncle Kracker – Drift Away
20 Foo Fighters – Times Like These (acoustic)
1 The Supermen Lovers – Starlight
2 Oakenfold – Starry Eyed Surprise
3 Cody Chesnutt – Look Good In Leather
4 The Transplants – Diamonds And Guns
5 Mis-teeq – Scandalous
6 Joe Budden feat Busta Rhymes – Fire
7 Maroon 5 – Harder To Breathe
8 Pearl Jam – Better Man
9 Phantom Planet – California
10 Matchbox Twenty – Unwell
11 The Velvelettes – Needle In A Haystack
12 OPM – El Capitan
13 The Bloodhound Gang – A Lapdance Is So Much Better When The Stripper Is Crying
14 The Streets – The Irony Of It All
15 Liam Lynch – United States Of Whatever
16 Aphex Twin – Girl/Boy Song
17 O.A.R. – About An Hour Ago
18 Mr Big – To Be With You
19 Blur – Out Of Time
20 Semisonic – Closing Time
[Hidden track] Alan Silvestri – Forrest Gump Theme (excerpt)
‘It’s times like these you learn to live again’
Interstate 80, exit 12 westbound.
I remember taking this exit the first time, following my instructions on a scrawled piece of paper having driven down from Massachusetts. Take a right, pass the state troopers’ building and then carry on up Rte 521, cross the one-lane bridge (which is no longer there), left at the T-junction into Blairstown, snake through to Millbrook Road, drive for three miles, take a right on to Birch Ridge Road, take the first left. When I arrived, I just saw a scrawled note on the office door telling me to go to the dining hall. It was pitch black, and after walking forlornly around Algonquin village, tripping over an enormous boulder in the process, I finally got to what I thought was the dining hall. Except I hadn’t. I’d just walked in on Bernie and his maintenance crew unwinding in his apartment with a few beers.
Camp Mason, meet Graham. Given how things would turn out over the next three summers, it seemed an entirely appropriate way to sign in. I was reminded of this when a current Camp Mason counselor posted the above Instagram picture a couple of weeks back. Exit 12 represents Camp, almost as an idea as much as much as the place – the anticipation of the previous few months made real, just 15 minutes away.
And for our summers, many of us also called it home. Nine or so weeks of living with 80 or so complete strangers from all over the US and around the world. For the returnees, some would be familiar faces, reliving the magic. For others, it was a trip into the unknown – and I haven’t thrown in the 250-odd kids to look after for two weeks at a time. We laughed, we cried, we passed out at 10pm most nights through sheer exhaustion. We partied too, quite a lot (but not on camp grounds, no, sir).
Life is a succession of events that can only happen once. I’ve been to a couple of reunions at Camp Mason since finishing there and as much as it was good to pay a visit to the old place and see a few familiar faces, the truth is that we’re all older and mentally we’re all somewhere else now. While many of us will always remain friends, you cannot recreate being ten years younger and the succession of events that brought us all together in that place for a summer (and given that my events involved being fired from an internship just previously, I’d rather not, thanks).
And ten years older means being ten years wiser. Looking through my photos of the summer of 2003, I find people who now hold down respectable jobs dressed in pink helmets, life jackets and the shortest shorts in the western hemisphere, diving head first into buckets. You know, just because at camp, you could do that shit if you wanted. At least until they were banned. Rest in peace, X-Treme Team.
But while you can’t recreate the past, you can at least bottle a little bit of it. I’d been doing my Soundtrack compilations for a few years by the time my summer at Camp Mason came around and I’d realised they’d turned into a pretty decent time capsule – hence me starting this blog this year. Seeing as I was quite decent at putting this stuff together, and that no-one else had done it, I thought I’d do something for the staff – a compilation of the music that people had enjoyed at camp as well as a few songs of its time. No restriction on when a song came out – just as long as it represented camp in some way to someone, somewhere. I canvassed the staff for suggestions – a particular thanks to Scott Connor here – and made a ton of the CDs to send out to anyone who wanted them. Most of it isn’t really the sort of stuff I listen to, so ten years on, it seems to be a good time to go back and have a listen. And it was next on my list to cover on this blog anyway, so it would be rude not to.
Kicking us off on disc 1 is a mood piece that I put together myself. I was influenced a bit by a compilation of Noel Coward covers here (no, really), which kicks off with its own purpose-written intro by the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant. The compilation itself is a so-so collection of songs by the great and the good, but the short intro seeked to take you to a world of 1920s smoke-filled jazz clubs – the perfect mood-setter for what was to come. Aiming for a similar effect, I re-arranged a collection of recordings from camp made from videos taken from staff members’ cameras, backed by the brooding introduction to the phenomenal ‘Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven‘ by Canadian post-rock deities Godspeed You! Black Emperor (which I really recommend you listen to in full). As well as a crafty way of shoehorning ‘my type of music’ on to the compilation, you can hear a growing swell of ghostly voices from the summer. And not just highlights from the familiar day-to-day events like the dedication to the American flag and songs from campfires, but some of the other things that kind of mark out very particular aspects of summer that it’s easy to forget about, like Kevin holding a meeting by the ‘firing tree’ ordering us to tidy up the extra bunks in each cabin, or Scott Connor having a rant about how he’s the only person capable of arranging the hotel parties while we all wait in the parking lot to escape for a well-deserved weekend. Hopefully, by the time the track finishes, in your mind you’re standing in that parking lot with him.
Then the orchestra fades out, Barret Guirguis declares he’s heading off to the Pit for a snout, and we’re straight into the main music, selected by YOU, the listener. First up is a band called the Channel Surfers, for whom I can find little information apart from the fact they appear to be one of that peculiar American phenomena, a Christian band. Thankfully none of this is audible on ‘CTC’ which is a straightforward summer song, with mentions of every Mason staff’s favourite time of day, siesta. It appears here at the start because it was the semi-official ‘staff week song’ as picked by Dave King, played every morning as we were going for breakfast before a day of health and safety training (or a fire tower hike).
Many of the songs you hear here were particular favourites from the radio at the time. 2003 was a time when the jock-tastic dirge of nu-metal was fading away and making way for the more sensitive emo, as represented here by the Ataris and All-American Rejects. But top 40 radio was still dominated by ‘adult oriented rock’ such as Train – whose ‘Calling All Angels‘ must be one of their most forgettable songs in a competitive field – and Counting Crows‘ ‘American Girls‘.
I neglected the chance to put on a different Counting Crows song, ‘Colorblind‘, which for some reason seemed to be the weepie of choice at every senior dance. But plenty on disc 1 does come from the senior dances, that one time in the fortnight for everyone to make a bit of an effort and dress a bit nicer and pull some shapes – staff and kids alike. I could have picked any number of Sean Paul songs to stick here (I went with ‘Get Busy‘), while the Black Eyed Peas were beginning their terrifying ascent to world domination with ‘Where Is The Love?‘. That song featured Justin Timberlake, who was the bona fide global superstar of the time – his ‘N Sync days behind him, he was in the stage of his career that the aforementioned Neil Tennant memorably described as a pop star’s imperial phase, where literally nothing he released could possibly fail. ‘Rock Your Body‘ was perhaps his finest single of a very fine bunch and a guaranteed floor-filler at Club Mason.
Disc 1 is filled up with more choices from the radio at the time – Weezer‘s ‘Island In The Sun‘, the White Stripes‘ ‘Seven Nation Army‘ and (cringing just a little bit here) Good Charlotte‘s ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous‘ – and a few old favourites such as the Violent Femmes‘ ‘Blister In The Sun‘ and two songs that will blast from FM stereos in America until the very end of time, Spin Doctors‘ ‘Two Princes‘ and Third Eye Blind‘s ‘Semi-Charmed Life‘, possibly the cheeriest song ever recorded about a descent into crystal meth addiction.
Which leads quite nicely into writing about another song that’s actually about drug addiction. Doves‘ ‘There Goes The Fear‘ was by far and away my favourite song ever at the time. I wrote a bit of a love letter to it in a recent blog so I’m not going to retread why here, but it appears on this compilation because I used it as the backing track to a talent show skit where my cabin, Algonquin 5, acted out a day at camp behind a sheet, where the audience could only see their shadows – an idea I’d blatantly stolen from working at another camp a few years earlier. Still, I needed a seven-minute-plus song to soundtrack the skit, so what better than my favourite song ever? I almost went with ‘Space Walk‘ by Lemon Jelly for the skit instead, but I didn’t because I thought the space chatter on the song would distract from the skit. I only mention that here so you can click on this link and discover what a brilliant song it is.
Disc 1 ends with a bit of a tribute to our glorious leader, camp director Kevin Barger, with a song from his favourite band, Phish. The final session of 2003 was a wash-out, with much of our time spent hanging out in the dining hall rather than getting out into the sun and enjoying the array of activities (such as… er, Hooray For Hippies). Phish’s song ‘Farmhouse‘ was played to death in the final week, along with Kid Rock acolyte Uncle Kracker‘s wafer-thin cover of ‘Drift Away‘, a classic rock staple made most famous by Dobie Gray. I fucking hate classic rock, and although I accept that millions of people love it, I’ll just say here that I can’t really see what this version offers over the original. At least the Ataris made an effort to make Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer‘ sound like their own song.
With the popular choices dealt with on disc 1, the first half of the other disc wraps up a few of the obscurer and more personal songs to people, as well as some picks from that point in the senior dance where the kids were just arriving and paying more attention to chucking blue juice through the fans for a (dangerous) laugh rather than dancing along to the music. The Supermen Lovers‘ ‘Starlight‘ and Paul Oakenfold‘s ‘Starry Eyed Surprise‘ were two such songs. I certainly didn’t expect to have poignant feelings listening to ‘Starry Eyed Surprise’ in particular, but as Dude From Crazy Town opens with the line ‘Once again I found myself with my friends’, it brought back that unique senior dance feeling – you may be feeling tired halfway through the second week of the session, but fuck that, let’s get our party on. Those parties were more often that not DJ’d by Dave King, and his picks (as self-appointed Master Of Music on camp) are all over disc 2, with Phantom Planet‘s ‘California‘ – which would become the title music to teen drama The OC later that summer – and ‘Harder To Breathe‘ by the then barely-known Maroon 5. Dave will probably claim responsibility for both bands becoming huge. Hip-hop and R&B are under-represented here (I’d correct that with the 2004 CDs) but you do get Mis-Teeq and Joe Budden providing two more senior dance favourites.
I can’t remember why ‘Better Man‘ by Pearl Jam made it on, but any song will remind me of walking Pearl Jam encyclopedia Daniel Stumbles. The inclusion of Motown classic ‘Needle In A Haystack‘ is for an even more obscure reason – Dave Ralston requested it after I was singing along to it in my car as we took a 4th/5th period excursion to the A&P. I guess it’s a reminder that our camp days weren’t all about the time we spent on camp itself, but also those times at Blairstown’s limited selection of delights such as the Doghouse, Ho Ho’s and Pappa Wheelie’s*.
The second half of disc two starts with a load of songs that I’d purposely buried there just in case this compilation ended up being played in the dining hall the next summer – hopefully there’d be enough time to for someone to get to the stereo and save the day before Mike Skinner starts weighing up the pros of smoking weed versus drinking alcohol, or the Bloodhound Gang start talking about ‘parking the beef bus in tuna town’. Oh yeah, and ‘El Capitan‘, Scott Connor’s theme tune. Many calls were made to Captain Morgan during our hotel parties.
And then we’re into the home stretch. Aphex Twin‘s glitch masterpiece ‘Girl/Boy Song‘ soundtracked a skit I’d done with Algonquin 5 involving blacklights and strobes (I will never forget the general sound of bewilderment from the kids at the front of the chapel when the freeform beats kicked in), and OAR soundtracked… well, camp in general. OAR were just one of those bands, like Dispatch, that seemed like it was designed to be played on the porch of Apache 3 during staff week. I wish I’d picked the nine-minute ‘That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker‘ – although ‘About An Hour Ago‘ isn’t a bad substitute.
And rounding off is a group of songs which tie in directly to the set-piece occasion to top them all, the final closing campfire of summer. Mr Big‘s ‘To Be With You‘ and Blur‘s ‘Out Of Time‘ were sung there, but we’ll finish with ‘Closing Time‘ by Semisonic – although its line of ‘one last call for alcohol’ perhaps not lending itself to the occasion. Not that it stopped anyone caring.
Besides, Camp Mason is a place where sentimentality counts for all, and the rest is just details. And in that spirit, tucked away after ‘Closing Time’ as an unlisted track, is an excerpt from the theme tune to Forrest Gump, picked by Dave King as the music to lower the American flag to at the flagpole after the end of the final closing campfire, just to set off any tear ducts that hadn’t been touched by the previous two hours. The bastard.
And that was the summer of 2003, distilled into two-and-a-half hours. Some of us would be back to do it all again and make that pilgrimage to camp, and get the tingles when seeing the Exit 12 sign again. I’ll blog about the summer of 2004, and the compilation that summer spawned, in a couple of weeks.
*Footnote: When we went back for the 2009 reunion, Scott and I made a point of driving out to JD’s to pick up some beers and we hoped to grab some pizza from Pappa Wheelie’s. It was only on getting there that we found out from Jay that Pappa Wheelie’s had been closed down because the police had found that the whole time they’d been running a crystal meth den from the basement…