Album: Sweet Relief
. . .
One of the weirder things that happened during the exact moment Soul Asylum were blowing up on the back of “Runaway Train” was that the Victoria Williams tribute album Sweet Relief was released.
Obviously, it wasn’t planned that way — Sweet Relief was conceived after Williams was diagnosed with MS in 1992. American healthcare being the corrupt shitshow it’s been for decades, Victoria’s friends organized this 20th century version of a GoFundMe to help pay her bills.
Usually tribute albums — even ones for a single artist — are such hit-and-miss affairs that critic Greil Marcus routinely starts his Real Life Rock posts about tribute albums with “aren’t tribute albums terrible” even if that particular one is pretty good. But with key contributions from Pearl Jam , The Waterboys, Lou Reed, Maria McKee, Lucinda Williams and Matthew Sweet’s immortal take on “This Moment,” Sweet Relief has a reasonable claim on being the greatest of them all.
And it opens with an absolutely fantastic Soul Asylum take on her great Generation X song, “Summer of Drugs,” where over an acoustic guitar, Pirner quietly sings.
Sister got bit by a copperhead snake in the woods behind the house
Nobody was home so I grabbed her foot and sucked that poison out
Sister got better in a month or so when the swelling it went down
And I’d started off my teenage years with poison in my mouth
And them, with the full band behind him: Dan Murphy on electric guitar — if the liner notes on my CD copy of Sweet Relief is to be believed — drummer Grant Young and bassist Karl Mueller playing each other’s instrument like it was a hootenanny, and the Jayhawks’ Karen Grotenberg on piano, “Summer of Drugs” explodes into an all-time classic chorus.
Oh, we were too young to be hippies
Missed out on the love
Turned to a teen in the late-70s in the summer of the drugs
OH. FUCK. YES!!!!!
This was exactly how I felt in 1993. Also 1983. Also 2023.
Mamas and daddies could never understand that life was never dull
Their idea of a rollicking time was a kitchen taffy pull
Acid, grass, downs and speed, junk those days were made of
How could they suspect those kids were monsters beneath their makeup
Preach it! And eventually, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman from the Jayhawks join in, making the final choruses joyous calls-and-responses.
And they were too young to be hippies
(Too young to be hippies!!)
Missed out on the love
(Missed out on the love!!)
Learned from the tens of the late 70s in the summer of the drugs
They were too young (Too young!!)
They were too fast (Too fast!!)
And as Pirner trades off “yeah-yeahs” and “oh-whoas” while Dan Murphy solos at the fade, it becomes a fantastic celebration of generational identity.
After “Runaway Train” had run its course and after “Without a Trace” kinda confirmed that “Runaway Train” was a massive fluke, they did release “Summer of Drugs” as a single and a video — featuring Victoria Williams and some of the other folks on the record — but it only made it to #20 on the Billboard alt rock charts.
“Summer of Drugs”
“Summer of Drugs” Official Music Video
David Pirner & Victoria Williams “Summer of Drugs” on Late Show With David Letterman, 1994
“Summer Of Drugs” live in Minneapolis, 2005
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