I had an obsession last summer. I call my obsessions “manias” in homage of Kenneth Grahame’s aristocratic amphibian, Mr. Toad. I sometimes feel like the dapper toad, but I have to admit my manias pale in comparison, as I gravitate to armchair pursuits that risk neither life nor fortune.
My summer mania started this way: it was 8:40 on a weekday morning and I was standing in the grocery checkout line with a jug of milk and a six-pack of beer. To make matters worse, the milk is not for me and I am sure the cashier thinks I am a reprobate.What the cashier does not know is that this out-of-character purchase is in reality the result of a retrophilic impulse. Seven minutes earlier I was standing in front of a wall of mix-and-match craft beers, each trying to tempt me with its “artisanal” come-on, when I spotted a lonely nondescript six-pack with a familiar name that seemed out of place.
The beer was Narragansett and it needs little introduction for those of you from New England (an advertorial, yet honest, history of its rise, fall and rise again can be found here.)
Narragansett beer is also tied to the movie “Jaws.” This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Spielberg movie, and Shark Week commenced yesterday (the top image, by the way, is a key fob from Smathers & Branson). The shark tale is based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name. Benchley was the grandson of Algonquin Round Table member Robert Benchley. His background and education — Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard, where he graduated cum laude with a degree in English in 1961 — does not suggest the pedigree of a master of pop culture horror. I bring that up now because I did not know it then.
In the summer of 1975 there were only a few things I knew, the first was that the movie equaled Alfred Hitchcock in making perfectly rational people, especially women, aquaphobic. Which meant that one could not dip one’s toe in the water without hearing the John Williams score. The second, as sexist as it sounds today, is that all the young budding two-legged land-sharks found it a profound cosmic injustice to see the nubile skinny-dipper meet her bloody fate.
After 40 years you probably know by now whether you like the movie or not. But because you’re reading Ivy Style, you probably want me to offer you some completely superficial reasons for revisiting it. So here you go.
Some of “Jaws” was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard. Vaughn wears a grotesque Chipp-like anchor-motif sportcoat:
And Quint wears a great-looking sweater, and drinks the local beer, crushing the can with masculine élan:
Which brings me back to my mania: the can he crushes is Narragansett. I do not know if it was intentional product placement at the time, but it is too good of an opportunity now not to exploit. The good folks at Narragansett Brewing reissued the 1975 can featured in the movie. The inner 1975 kid in me just had to have it. Perhaps under the influence of a few cans, I convinced myself this could be a good Ivy Style story, hence why you’re reading this silliness.
I assiduously worked the phones, starting with the Narragansett corporate office, and worked my way through the hedge maze of the distribution system. Along the way I talked to interesting and committed people who told me how Narragansett was making a comeback. It seems it is enjoyed by both Brooklyn hipsters and mature New Englanders living in Florida. What I did not come away with was the actual retro can: the last resource said it was a limited release and I couldn’t get it.
You might think I would be disappointed that my manic search lead to naught. But I am not. I enjoyed the quest, and to be honest, it gave legitimacy to a nostalgic field trip. It’s not so much about one can or one summer, but the accumulation of remembered summers, Indian summers, and even autumns.
This discovered Narragansett commercial from 1973 may best capture that first impulse last summer to buy a six-pack and go on a quest for a product that was unattainable. Seeing it takes me back to the covered bridge in New Milford, the stone walls on Sharon Mountain that were being swallowed by the encroaching forest, and the myriad of colorful local characters that no longer cast a shadow except in my memory.
I know there is nothing pictured in this commercial that I have actually seen, yet it is filled with iconic imagery and emotional touchstones reminiscent of Robert Frost and Norman Rockwell. In a nutshell, it is the New England I remember and I bet others do, too. I sense it also represents the New England that some long for and others go in search of.
I found out last summer that I do not have to search any farther than my own memory, a memory often stirred by an ice-cold can of beer. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP