Press picks: Songs of the summer 2019

“Doin’ Time” by Lana Del Rey

by Katherine Hoey

Originally on The Press.

In Lana Del Rey’s typically hypnotic fashion, like falling down a rabbit hole into her dreamy world, she sings the opening lines to one of Sublime’s most notable tracks, “Doin’ Time”:

            “Summertime, and the living’s easy.”

It’s the fifth track on her latest LP, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, which released Aug. 30.

The 1950s-style music video depicts a Godzilla-esque Del Rey, lounging in the concrete basin of the L.A. River. It goes back and forth between shots of her stepping over city buildings and escaping to the ocean, before cutting to a blonde bobcut-Lana, sipping a soda at a drive-in movie, looking up at herself on screen.

For those who have been following the indie pop singer’s career, this song feels like a nod to her own self-development as an artist, from dropping “Summertime Sadness” in 2013 to this.

Throughout the New York native’s career, California has been a focal point in Del Rey’s music and it oozes from this album. She teased and released the Sublime cover back in May, blessing us with an entire summer to enjoy that Southern California sound. 

Del Rey’s dizzying melodic vocals transform the original track, which dominated the Long Beach ska punk scene in the late ‘90s. She was asked to cover the song by director Bill Guttentag for the documentary Sublime, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival back in April. 

Her breathy voice cools the violence depicted in the song’s lyrics, which focuses on the fantasy of killing a promiscuous girlfriend. Del Rey’s version was reworked and slowed down to follow the often nostalgic way in which she sings, not feeling obligated to cut a note short for fear it’s too drawn out to maintain the listener’s attention.

Hers is a voice that cascades us into reverie, with a timeless beat that has transfixed my mind since stumbling upon Sublime in the late 2000s. Music is a form of escapism and this song fit perfectly in my playlist. It has kept me company when summer nights fade into mornings on back roads in Montauk, as I sunbathed by the pool and roasted marshmallows by the fire.

Summertime, romance and freedom have been constants in a majority of Del Rey’s work.

“Doin’ Time” was released Nov. 25, 1997, a year and a half after lead singer, Bradley Nowell, died of a heroin overdose while on tour in San Francisco. Yet the roots of the song are pulled from the ‘30s, when George Gershwin composed “Summertime,” with lyrics by DuBose Heyward, for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. 

With over 25,000 recorded covers and adaptations, “Summertime” has been at the forefront of the American collective consciousness for nearly a century. Summer is a symbol of American society, as mandated summer vacations for students only became a thing here during the late 1800s, due to the industrial revolution and urbanization. 

The ever-changing renditions have kept this song relevant today, with Del Rey being the latest to cover this song. It’s a feat that has catapulted her into a category with some of America’s most iconic stars: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Ricky Nelson, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin, the Doors and Sublime.