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The Boys of Summer

Out on the road today
I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac
A little voice inside my head said
‘Don’t look back, you can never look back’
- Don Henley

When Don Henley released the song “The Boys of Summer” in 1984, I had just begun my senior year in high school and life was exciting. With a long-term girlfriend I was exploring what it was like to be in a relationship. My unrestricted driver’s license was brand new and I could now make plans without having to rely on my mother for transportation. My band was taking the first steps towards turning noise into music and my school notebooks were peppered with lyrics for songs that were waiting to be written. While I planned to move on to college, I dreamed of becoming a rock star.

The complex rhythms of the drum machine on Henley’s song made for the perfect soundtrack for the time. I was in the spring of my life and looking forward to the summer. “Don’t look back, you can never look back” was taken as a cautionary statement to make sure to live life to its fullest. As the Butthole Surfers would later write: “It’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something that you haven’t done.” This was a song of optimism.

I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

My youngest children are now older than I was when I first heard this song. Summer has passed and I am now in the fall of my life. I put on this song yesterday and found that it has lost its optimism. Instead, I find it to be intensely sad. It is still a cautionary tale, but one about avoiding the trap of regret. “Don’t look back, you can never look back” speaks more about the inability to change the past than molding the future.

Like most high-school relationships, my girlfriend and I found out long ago that our love was fleeting. Then my first wife and I learned the same lesson. It has been a few years since I last sat behind my drum kit and even longer since I wrote anything resembling a song lyric. Dreams of rock stardom faded away a long time ago.

Out on the road today
I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac
A little voice inside my head said
‘Don’t look back. You can never look back.
’”

I rediscovered the optimism of the summer in The Ataris 2003 cover of the song. The protagonist in their version has the summer in front of him. He is looking forward as I was when I first heard the song.

The truth is I followed the advice that I heard back in 1984 and pursued my dreams. While I may not be where I envisioned back in my youth, I like where I am at now. Old dreams have been replaced with new goals. My final destination is yet to be written.

You can look back, just don’t get stuck there.

Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Opinions are his own.