I made my first birthday mix CD by accident.
Since that night, I’ve made one every year since, and I used to write about the selections. Last year, I had no outlet, so I wrote no article about it. I still made the CD, which felt a little weird, because this CD is usually a good marker of what the year’s been like, how my tastes have been changed, and frequently serves as tangible touchstones of things I’m happy to remember. For example, Pete Yorn’s “Velcro Shoes” shows up on my 30th Birthday Mix because it was the song he played live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon at the taping Kristin and I saw live during the trip to New York for our 1st wedding anniversary.
I didn’t set out to do this, it just sort of happened. And it was a good night. Let’s take you back…
In mid-August of 2007, I’m 25 years old, I live by myself in a two bedroom apartment in West Wash Park, I have a new job at a PR firm that I’ve held for about three months, and I’ve dated Kristin for almost three years.
Kristin, god bless her soul, told me I needed the experience of living by myself despite being ready herself to move in with me. And she was right. Living by yourself is a jarring experience. It’s oddly quiet, desperately lonely at times, and totally liberating. You are you in a way you’ve never fully appreciated until that point. You learn a lot about yourself when you live alone.
Up until some random weeknight a week or two before my 26th birthday, I hadn’t really felt like my own man. When I moved out of my parents’ house after living there for four months after grad school, the whole thing was such a fucking blur, I have difficulty remembering anything about it now. It was just such a mess of euphoria and crushing responsibility, I didn’t know what to do with myself. ALL the bills were now on me. EVERYTHING in that apartment I had to provide for myself – microwave oven, toilet brush, bookcase, shower curtain liner, garbage can – these are all things I bought shortly after I moved in and realized I had none of these basics of living.
Once that phase ended, I spent the next several months at a job I basically hated, which consumed the vast majority of my thinking. Adulthood pretty much licked butt at that point, and I just sort of smoked a lot of cigarettes and ate like shit around hating the vast majority of my day in a shitty office building in Lakewood.
It wasn’t until I got the job at the PR firm that life started to open up for me. Don’t get me wrong, things were good with Kristin, but we frequently worked different schedules, and I was weird about adjusting to life outside our college town. Once I landed at a place where I liked where I worked and my weekends weren’t filled with dread counting down the hours until Monday cruelly rolled around again, man, the world just opened up.
The weather was gorgeous. I walked to and from the bars on South Broadway. I had a massive network of new friends. I paid for my own health insurance, which I felt oddly proud of. I had money in my pocket. I was a productive and contributing independent member of society. And I lived in my own castle.
So one night I’m sitting at my computer just going through my iTunes not doing anything in particular. It’s a weeknight, Kristin’s working a late shift, I’m a couple beers deep after dinner. Something happens after I click on the song “Panama” by Van Halen. I turn into a possessed joy monster. I stand up, and just start wailing on the air guitar in my 2nd bedroom (which I turned into an office). My fondness for this song is directly attributable to its prominent use in the Superbad trailer, a movie which a couple weeks earlier Jason and I saw shitfaced.
“Panama” begets “We Want Fun” by Andrew WK begets “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC begets “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” by Elton John. It’s full on party time.
Quick aside: I make a lot of mixes. I used to have a rule that punk mixes were the exclusive dominion of punk songs. I’d make non-punk mixes that contained basically no punk songs. No intermingling. This was the night that rule came crashing down in a wave of whacked out, drunken exuberance.
The beers are flowing like the mighty Mississippi. I pause from my rocking because I’m jonezing for a cigarette. I get up to go outside and pause before I even get out of the room. “What the fuck am I doing?” I ask myself audibly. “This is MY house. I live here. ALONE. I can do whatever the fuck I want,” I think to myself.
So I fished out an ashtray I stole from Dave & Buster’s (people in their 20s are douche bags), lit one up, and kept on rocking right there in my office. Smoke wafted gently out the window, as the oddest playlist thundered along with it.
Queen gave way to Kenny Rogers. Kenny Rogers led to Good Charlotte. Ludacris transitioned beautifully to Goldfinger. 80s pop, ska-core, queer dance music, Irish folk music getting hit by a freight train… It all had a place that night as I leaned way back in my desk chair with my feet on my desk sucking down Parliaments, slamming beers, bobbing my head and having the fucking night of my life.
Several days later it was my actual birthday and I invited Jason and Kristin over to listen to my new monster before we met all of our friends at SoBo 151 to get shitfaced and have fun. I had finally totally appreciated living by myself. And now that I had, two months later I moved in with Kristin.
This mix is the touchstone of that night, and it spawned a tradition that’s now more just for fun than it is anything else. It’s something I look forward to, and it gives me a nice way of cataloguing the year, when otherwise I might not have. So you’ll see this year’s on Thursday. Until then… here’s the final playlist that inspired this whole tradition. Enjoy!
1. Ben Folds – “Rock This Bitch”
2. Andrew WK – “We Want Fun”
3. Van Halen – “Panama”
4. Elton John – “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”
5. Flogging Molly – “Seven Deadly Sins”
6. Zebrahead – “Anthem”
7. Papa Roach – “…To Be Loved”
8. Queen – “Fat Bottomed Girls”
9. Kenny Rogers – “The Gambler”
10. Good Charlotte – “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”
11. Reel Big Fish – “Another F.U. Song”
12. AC/DC – “Highway to Hell”
13. Ludacris – “Area Codes”
14. Goldfinger – “Counting the Days”
15. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love with a Girl”
16. Hot Hot Heat – “Middle of Nowhere”
17. Real Life – “Send Me an Angel”
18. Johnny Cash – “Folsom Prison Blues” (Live)
19. Strung Out – “Too Close to See”
20. Less Than Jake – “Plastic Cup Politics”
21. Ben Folds – “The Song for the Dumped”
22. Bouncing Souls – “The Gold Song”
23. Scissor Sisters – “Filthy Gorgeous”
24. Less Than Jake – “Sugar in your Gas Tank”