Week 271: “Promise” by Ben Howard

ben howard

Even though Hollywood likes to make it seem like high school is the defining experience of most people’s lives, I think summer camp has a more profound effect on people.

Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. I just happen to have four good reasons why summer camp is more life-changing than high school:

  • Camp has its own culture. Its own language, its own nicknames, its own music. There are songs sung in the dining halls of summer camps whose lyrics have never been written down. They just exist, passed down from generation to generation between servings of sloppy joes.
  • Camp has its own sense of time. Two weeks at camp equals approximately two months in the real world. As a result, acquaintances become best friends instantly, relationships become more intense, and after a few days you can barely remember what it was like to not be surrounded by forest.
  • Camp has its own social capital. Being good at sports, so important in city life, suddenly isn’t the key to popularity. Instead, the cool people are the people who can make bracelets, or who have the weirdest hair, or who know more than three chords on the guitar.
  • Camp is a blank slate. If you’re tired of who you were at school, camp gives you the opportunity to try out a completely different version of yourself for a few weeks. It’s like making a pilot for a TV series. If it tests well, you can run a full season when school starts again in September.

I don’t know if Ben Howard ever went to summer camp, but he makes the kind of music that people discover while inhabiting that magical parallel universe of lakes, trees, and canoes. Odds are good that someone is at camp right now, listening to a Ben Howard album on repeat, dreaming of the person they will become when they get back to the city.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The way it starts with the crackling of a campfire before the guitar fades in.

2. The way the vocal line sings triplets against the 16th notes of the guitar on lines like “bundles of flowers we’ll wait through the hours of cold”.

3. The chords don’t change much through the song, but the song swells halfway through thanks to the subtle additions of strings, organ, and some fancy finger-picking on the guitar.

Recommended listening activity:

Tossing a stick on the fire, and watching it slowly disappear.

Buy it here.