Five Songs for the Dog Days of Summer

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If you couldn't tell from the thermometer, last week marked the official start to what are known as the Dog Days of Summer. The common belief is that the season gets its name from the theory that rabid dogs were more common in these hot months than in other times of the year. This is false. Dogs don't get rabies in the hottest part of summer any more than any other time of the year.

The actual origin is much cooler. It harkens all the way back to Ancient Rome, where the days were known as diēs caniculārē, and revolved around the star Sirius. Back then the days started when Sirius and the sun would rise in the sky at the same time, which no longer happens because the Earth's rotation axis has changed. That's how old the saying is.

According to Brady's Clavis Calendaria, the Dog Days were a time when "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies."

It's a hot, mad time, and more than a few musicians have alluded to that in song. Here's your playlist for the burning days to come.

5. Florence + the Machine, "Dog Days Are Over" In general I don't talk about Florence + the Machine because I hold an irrational grudge over them getting famous and our own similarly-named Flowers and Machines not doing so. Well, I'm going to bury that hatchet now because "Dog Days Are Over" is pretty damned good, even if it's wrong.

Singer Florence Welch told Mojomagazine in April 2012 that the song was inspired by a text installation by Ugo Rondinone. "It was plastered over the South Bank in London for six months and I rode past it on my bike every day," she said. "It's a reference to the dog star, Sirius: when it was closest to the Earth, all the animals would get languid and sleepy; when it moved away, they'd wake up."

That idea about sleepy dogs is another modern misunderstanding of the phrase, but what the hell, it's still a really good track.

4. Josh Ritter, "Still Beating" Josh Ritter is one of those songwriters that you need to be listening to because one day everyone worth anything will be quoting him as the one true inspiration voice. "Still Beating" comes off of his 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and opens with the line "I know the dog days of the summer have you ten-to-one outnumbered."

It's a reference not to the actual season, but to our tendency to refer to our lifespans in terms of a year. The song calls to the sad hopelessness that can set in as middle age draws to a close, but offers plenty of encouragement because as long as there's life there's a reason to live. It's a message that can be necessary to living through the heat down here.

3. Devildriver, "Pray for Villains" Let's up the tempo a bit to try and really get a handle on that "everything goes to hell" aspect of the Dog Days that Brady mentioned. Here we have Devildriver bringing some of the best metal I have heard in a long time as well a as music video that stomps many a colon into colon-dust.

"Pray for Villains" was inspired by Clint Eastwood cowboy movies, which lends an appropriately hot and violent touch to the song. Dez Fafara sings to the chaos of it all, and promises that in another set of Dog Days the hero is the bad guy and the living is the stain. Great stuff that offers a auditory kick in the scrote.

2. Charles Bernstein, "Theme from Cujo" The first time I'd ever heard the phrase Dog Days or even of the concept of rabies was when I first read Cujo by Stephen King. It's still a really good read that holds up well. It's not just the story of a dog gone mad and murderous, it's the tale of a town with lots of little touches that completes it.

Of course, most of that was lost in the movie, but Bernstein's score was like Angelo Badalamenti's for Twin Peaks in that it gave Castle Rock a voice. You can feel the heat coming right off the notes, and a beauty that can only hide the blood for a little bit.

1. Arms, "Dog Days" I apologize for the crappy live YouTube quality on this one, but it's the best I could do. Todd Goldstein's Arms is a phenomenal indie band that can really set a good dark mood. "Dog Days" has always appealed to me because I honestly feel like sometimes The Sun here in Houston is a punishment from an angry god.

No really, I sincerely believe that the heat is like the Eleventh Plague, and I swear Goldenstein is singing directly to that little bit of complete lunacy that takes up space in my head as July gets going.

Jef With One F is a recovering rock star taking it one day at a time. You can read about his adventures in The Bible Spelled Backwards or connect with him on Facebook.

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