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stevie wonder’s “summer soft” for the winter blues

January 8, 2019
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I have never had a healthy relationship with the seasons. When it is winter, I long for the warmth of July. In the summer, when it feels like the sun has made a home out of my forehead, I yearn for January’s frost. This habit makes for quite the insatiable person throughout the rest of the year.

“You’ve been fooled by April, and he’s gone. Winter is gone,” sings Stevie Wonder atop spiraling instruments. If you could create a song that encompasses the calm excitement of watching nature at the park — or on Netflix — that song would be Stevie Wonder’s “Summer Soft.” It’s a cathartic epic about life and loss, using the changing seasons as a metaphorical backdrop, with Wonder’s voice sounding more pained with every passing verse, but the production refusing the melancholy and shrink while Stevie croons about loss. Instead, the production blooms.

Brilliantly Stevie Wonder soundtracked the true feeling of transition and ending — and the rebirth. During “Summer Soft”, he never sounds too trapped in any moment, switching tempos almost at will: a kind of sparkling lullaby quickly melts into an explosion of soulful vocals and piano keys. To some, Stevie Wonder is singing a song, but to me he is attempting to reckon with the nature of loss and life while preserving the beauty of both death and birth in one song. Through his music, the cycle of life is being honored for what it really is, a continuous diverse experiences threaded together by both melody and the individual’s perspective. It’s not all bad or all good, but a constant journey through layers, captured by Stevie Wonder with sound.

Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album Songs In The Key of Life was a blockbuster, full of massive hits. “Summer Soft” is a song not as broadly beloved as classics such “As” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” yet it’s a perfect example of the brilliance that made Key of Life such an essential, defining piece of work. The song’s transition through various musical movements feels like its own event, one that could stand alone in the world, independent from the bigger musical project. It put on display Wonder’s genius for approaching a group of soul musicians more like an orchestra’s conductor, one who cares as much about the work’s musical integrity as its theatrical quality. “Summer Soft” is big and cinematic, but without losing the intention or tender nature on display in its lyrics. 

“Is it sun or rain for you? But it breaks your heart in two when you find it’s October.” The pull and devastation of change through Wonder’s lyrical abilities and voice never gets melodramatic. The lyrics stay poetic, yet also matter-of-fact. The music never gives you a chance to mourn completely, before exploding into chorus, mimicking the relentlessness of life.

In adulthood, it’s Stevie Wonder’s “Summer Soft” that I listen to prevent myself from longing to escape winter — the cold, the gray, the flu. It reminds me that nothing is fixed and living in the present moment is the only way to truly create beauty out of the life we have been given. Desiring for seasons beyond the ones we’re in is futile at best, and detrimental to our evolution at worst.

Equipped with a musical vision and a piano, Stevie Wonder reminded us that life is not a waiting line for your most perfect moment, that such thinking will leave you insatiable. Life is filled with wonders to be experienced, appreciated, and let go.