Summer Brannin lived for 21 years with the innocence of a child and the artistry of a creative genius. She was always able to look at life with the fascination of someone half her age. In her “adult life”, she was a full-time college student and healthfood store employee before she was diagnosed with kidney cancer, but never lost her appreciation for being a kid. She loved watching groups of little girls just being little girls, sometimes drawing them and writing down things she overheard them saying. She was a huge music fan and one of her favorite bands was the LA group that dog. With their lowercase name and songs glorifying teenage romances and indierock crushes, they were Summer’s favorite band to sing along with. She wrote about them, put them on countless mixtapes and was lucky enough to see them perform, opening for Blur in San Diego in 1996. She also saw singer Anna Waronker sing at a Redd Kross/Sloan show that same year and talked to her briefly. Like she did at many shows, she took along a notepad and drew the pictures on this page.
In 1999, Anna was asked to be part of Songs For Summer, a memorial charity record featuring 15 of Summer’s favorite musicians, including Ben Folds Five, Neutral Milk Hotel, the B-52’s and Jonathan Richman. She responded by recording something especially for the record, something only one other artist did. The song was a favorite of both Waronker and Brannin’s: “Catch” by the Cure. Anna sang and played melotron flutes, her husband Steve McDonald (of Redd Kross, another Brannin favorite) played the stand-up bass, Jeff Watson played piano, and Kenny Woods played guitar and percussion.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the song was unable to be included on the record and I’ve never talked about why. The Cure coming in at number two on the big XXX Countdown seemed like reason enough to finally tell the rest of the tale and repost the song for all to hear. It hasn’t been available for six or seven years.
When I first talked to my friend Mike and Carl at Oglio Records about doing a record for Summer, I learned that for the record to make any money for charity, we would have to get all of the bands, their labels and their publishers to agree to let us use the songs for free. I’d never heard the term “most favored nations” but it made everyone more agreeable because it meant NO ONE was getting paid. We couldn’t secretly make a deal to give one act a little money, because then we’d have to pay everyone.
I made a list of Summer’s favorite bands and, with zero prior experience, just started calling and emailing people. It kept me busy during a difficult time but it wasn’t exactly helpful having to tell her story over and over, knowing it would sadden anyone hearing it. It felt gross at times but once I was committed to the cause, I knew no one else could make it happen. Slowly but surely, we started to get an impressive list of people to sign on. I don’t remember how I began emailing with Anna but she quickly agreed being a part of the album. She was playing the old Cafe Largo on Fairfax so I came up from San Diego to see her play and talk to her. During her set, she played “Catch” and I knew that had to be the song. Summer was a huge Cure fan. In fact, Boris Williams’ post-Cure band Babacar had already given us permission to use their song “Midsummer”. Anna agreed and recorded it not long after, just for us. Only one other act (the Jazz Butcher) did that.
Anna was just starting her solo career and eventually created her own label with her sister-in-law Charlotte Caffey to put out her first solo album. That meant that there was one less record label I had to beg. I did, however, have to get permission from the Cure’s publishers, if we were going to use the recording for free. I was surprised to learn that anyone can record someone else’s published song and release it without permission. But, if you make money off of it, you have to pay publishing royalties. Since there were several covers on the album, I had to track down the people who controlled the legal rights to songs by the Zombies and Tone Loc. Shockingly, I had Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson on the phone within a few seconds of calling K Records and he didn’t even want to bother with paperwork to clear a cover of one of his songs.
Other companies took MONTHS to return calls and cut through red tape. Because they weren’t going to be making any money, we weren’t a huge priority. I’d worked for a management company in LA and every day, they would get TONS of requests to use their clients’ songs. I sympathized with their workload and knew that they had to say no to almost all of them. Still, probably because of the cause, almost everyone I dealt with was nice and understanding, a rare thing in this business.
I got a handwritten fax from Phil Selway of Radiohead explaining that they’d already agreed to several charity albums recently but how moved they were by the story. Even though I was dealing with his record label, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel called me at my work to apologize for taking so long to get us a track. When I talked to Bob Pollard from Guided By Voices about being part of a possible sequel album, his eyes grew wide and he yelled, “You want a SONG?!” and started looking around like if he could find a cassette recorder, he’d give me an instant lo-fi classic on the spot. There was an unreal amount of kindness.
As the months turned into a year, we finally set a release date and the last few clearances came through until there was just one left: the Cure’s publishing company, Fiction Songs. Over the course of a year, I left them countless emails and messages. Because they were in England, I’d occasionally come into work early, just to call them. Since the band was also finishing an album (Bloodflowers came out just a month before ours), I was told repeatedly that it would be next to impossible to get them to ok our request. We had 47 artists, labels and publishers who’d all agreed to let us use their song gratis and just needed this last “yes”. Since Anna had recorded the song just for us, I was extra determined to get their permission.
As our deadline got closer and closer, we had to make a decision on whether or not to drop it from the tracklist that we had to finalize for artwork and release. Fiction told us that we should leave it off then because they still hadn’t received a decision from the band. Around that time, I was talking to someone from another publisher or label about the situation. Some of the nicer folks helped us with other acts’ contact information and even got us press. In asking how close we were to finishing, I mentioned us having to remove the song and they said that maybe they could help find someone who knew someone at Fiction. I appreciated the help but we’d already decided it was hopeless.
A day or two later, I got an early call from an irate woman with a British accent. Apparently, the person I talked to had forwarded my plea to a music business e-mail list and, as a result, Fiction had received a “stack” of faxes from do-gooders trying to help. I could barely get an apology in because I was being accused of “emotional blackmail”. That was it. The song was out but I couldn’t bear to have it shelved. With the help of Anna’s webmaster, Jon Krop, we put up this page and gave it away for free.
Summer was keen on spreading the word about the music that she loved. It wasn’t uncommon for her to convince people to hear her favorite bands by singing to them, letting them borrow cd’s or making mixtapes for strangers with cool stickers on their car. So it felt great to just give the song away for free. The website stayed up for years but then disappeared when my business’ website that hosted it was sold. You can still see the text and some of the pictures and drawings on Archive.org. The mp3 of “Catch” was even archived. It’s nice to have the song back up again. Don’t blame Robert Smith. He’s probably never heard it. His loss. Thanks, Anna.
BONUS COVERS APPROVED BY COVER ME BADD:
“You’re So Vain” by Anna