I’ll admit to not understanding the Taylor Swift thing in the least until very recently.
Until that “Shake It Off” song stormed everyone’s consciousness earlier this year, I couldn’t even name you a single Taylor Swift song. In fact, outside of the aforementioned “Shake It Off,” and the song this essay is about, I still can’t. She’s only the biggest fucking music star in the entire universe, and I had no knowledge of any of her work whatsoever. That’s weird, right? It would be weirder not taking into account my history of musical myopia whereby I didn’t hear Outkast’s “Hey Ya” until approximately two years after it came out.
I don’t share this with you in an effort to assert some sort of dumb contrarian hipster credibility, but rather only as explanation. I never sought out Taylor Swift’s music, and only knew what I’d heard about her anecdotally from secondhand conversations others were having about her, which was also of no interest to me. She dated John Mayer. She dated Taylor Lautner from Twilight. Heartbreak, platinum records, sold out concerts, blah blah blah who cares?
This, it turned out, was the perfect setup for me to hear “Blank Space” when I wasn’t expecting it.
I can’t remember where I was or what I was doing, but “Blank Space” came on, and I immediately took notice. What is this song? It’s either sad or self-aware or fatalistic or winking at its audience or possibly all of the above. And whose voice is this? It’s sweet, but edgy. What is happening here? Is my brain collapsing in on itself? It hit me with such force, I was totally unguarded when I said the next sentence: “This song is fucking amazing. Who is this?”
Kristin looked at me, laughed a bit, and then said with an almost you-cannot-be-serious-you-weird-freak-it’s-only-the-biggest-star-in-the-world-playing-one-of-her-most-popular-songs inflection, “Dude, this is Taylor Swift.”
I sat agog. This was Taylor Swift? This song that’s clearly a clever play on her public perception and turns the narrative on its head, but has just a hint of exhausted sadness at its core – this was Taylor Swift? This song that’s got a driving, head-nodding beat, but likely functions as a smokescreen obfuscating deep bruises and real pain – this was Taylor Swift? This gorgeous, delicate, powerful voice that contains equal parts innocence and world-weary cynicism – this was Taylor Swift?
Shit, I’ve been missing out.
It’s basically personal cliché at this point to once again describe my evolution from close-minded, judgmental malcontent into my present (hopefully) better self, so I won’t dwell on that yet again. What I will do is mention that my escape from the corporate gulag (from a purely technical standpoint, I was pushed) has enhanced this evolution even more profoundly.
When suddenly you’re extricated from the relentless grind of your unhappy daily routine and thrust into a new and unknown world, everything looks, smells, tastes and sounds different – even Taylor Swift. I’m sure I’d heard her at some point before this, but almost assuredly dismissed it the very second it had entered.
This is the year it really all came together, and I feel like I’m living my best life. My job is an adventure every day. I’m filled with creative energy. Projects long dormant in our house are getting accomplished and checked off the list. My wife and I are able to roll with life’s punches in a way that was previously impossible, and we get to enjoy each other’s company more than ever.
And oh yeah, I have only the most adorable, charming, amazing, wonderful baby anyone could ever hope to have.
This is an amazing year, and while I always listen to previous year’s mixes with fond feelings, this one will likely live with me forever. Once again, for whatever part you played in my life this year (or any other), thank you for being there. Whether we hung out frequently, or I happened to read one of your Facebook posts and smiled, I am grateful for each and every one of you. Here’s to another great year ahead.
Now, a few superfluous notes before the track listing:
- Four of these songs appeared on the SiriusXM Alt 18 Summer Countdown – My Type, Tear In My Heart, Run and Ex’s & Oh’s. I love AltNation, and if you’re interested in what’s going to be crossing into the mainstream in three months, you’d love it, too.
- Every year there’s a core around which the mix is built. This year, songs 4-7 are that core. As I was grinding out at-bats in the last days of corporate, I listened to “New Day” by The Bouncing Souls almost every single day to stay motivated.
- Another personal cliché: I fell in love with that “New Day” song after I heard it open the CM Punk documentary on the WWE Network. I know nerd culture has taken over, but I don’t think the stigma of being a hardcore professional wrestling fan will ever fully go away.
- I made Kristin listen to “Feel It All Around” as we flew into Portland because I’m a complete dweeb. “Feel It All Around” is the theme song to the show Portlandia. Kristin doesn’t even like this show.
- I didn’t realize “No Apologies” was about Jason Cruz’s daughter when I included it here. I sat in my parked car last week sending a text when the lyrics caught me and I started paying attention. I broke down and cried when I realized he was singing about himself and his daughter. I love when your brain is working on a deeper level than you think.
- Every once in a while, a perfect pop song emerges. When this happens, and you hear it the first time it feels like you’ve been listening to this song your entire life. “Learn To Fly” is like that. “Rolling in the Deep” is also like that. “Uptown Funk” joined that rarefied group this year. Amazing song that I don’t seem to get tired of.
- Rise Against closes out the mix for two reasons. 1) Rise Against fucking rocks. 2) This year wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and it’s a reminder that I always have darkness lurking the back of my head that creeps in if I’m not paying attention. Darkness that manifests as inertia, self-loathing, aggressive apathy and a touch of hopelessness. I can never dismiss it entirely, which is why by acknowledging it, I hope to keep it in the corner where it belongs and can’t do any damage. And I’ll keep on surviving.
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson (feat. Bruno Mars)
- My Type – Saint Motel
- I Drew You Once in Art Class – Antarctigo Vespucci
- New Day – The Bouncing Souls
- Tear In My Heart – twenty one pilots
- Run – COIN
- Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King
- Trainwreck 1979 – Death from Above
- FNT – Semisonic
- Weekend – PRIORY
- Flashed Junk Mind – Milky Chance
- Feel It All Around – Washed Out
- Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Blank Space – Taylor Swift
- I Know – Save Ferris
- Do It Anyway – Ben Folds Five
- No Apologies – Strung Out
- Survive – Rise Against