When 21-year-old Summer Brannin lost her battle with kidney cancer two years ago, Adam Gimbel, her boyfriend of three years, was determined to create a memorial in her honor.
"At one point, I wanted to write a book [about Summer]," said Gimbel, who runs a small publishing company in his hometown of San Diego. The would-be book has become a compilation record, Songs for Summer, featuring 15 songs from some of Brannin's favorite pop and rock acts.
The lineup includes the Posies, Ben Folds Five, G Love, Jason Falkner, Soul Coughing, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Neutral Milk Hotel, the B-52's, Jonathan Richman, Babacar, the Frank & Walters, Beasley, Pansy Division, Sandycoates and the Jazz Butcher. More than half the songs have the word "Summer" in the title, including Ben Folds Five's "Where's Summer B.?" (RealAudio excerpt).
Songs for Summer will be released Tuesday (March 21) on Los Angeles' Oglio Records.
Gimbel, 28, worked with Oglio's Mike Byer on the project and contacted the artists himself. Proceeds will benefit the Los Angeles group Free Arts for Abused Children, a nonprofit arts organization that trains volunteers to work with children and families in crisis. The Free Arts philosophy "Art heals!" appealed to Gimbel.
"I initially considered a cancer-related charity, but then thought we could benefit a cause that Summer was interested in getting into herself," he said. "She always wanted to teach art and, in her last months, thought about specifically studying art therapy."
Brannin, who worked at a health-food store and was a student at Mesa College, a community college in San Diego, was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer in February 1998. Untreatable by chemotherapy, the cancer spread quickly, and Brannin died April 19 that year, seven weeks after being admitted to the hospital.
Former Jellyfish guitarist Falkner contributed the previously unreleased "Song for Her" to the compilation, and performed at Brannin's memorial service in 1998. There, he told a crowd of friends and family about the love he'd witnessed between Brannin and Gimbel, saying, "Every time I'd see them, I had that sort of feeling like I'd [just] got out of church. It was this amazing, pure, cleansing thing."
That feeling, Pansy Division lead guitarist Patrick Goodwin said, inspired musicians who hadn't known Brannin to become involved with Songs for Summer.
"I think it was because of the story and because of Adam's passion behind it," Goodwin said. "He was totally in love with her, and a lot of the bands involved picked up on that whole aspect of it."
The "See Summer Swing Dance" Web site (www.vintageparts.com/summer) documents Gimbel and Brannin's relationship, via Gimbel's remembrances and Brannin's illustrations.
"I love talking about my girlfriend, I love music and I love writing," said Gimbel, who formed a band, Suzanne and the Summerz, to play cover versions of some of Brannin's favorite songs.
The band will appear at record-release shows for the album in Los Angeles (at Spaceland, April 16, with Falkner) and San Diego (at Java Joe's, April 28). Singer/songwriter Wesley Willis, another of Brannin's favorites, is scheduled to play a release party May 6 in San Francisco.