These Tattered Shirts Approaching Reverie
A few weeks ago I spent the duration of my train commute to work mesmerized by a woman sitting a few seats away from me. She looked like she had traveled through time – from the late 80′s to be exact – and had somehow found herself riding the 5:30 a.m. train on a cold November morning in the year 2010 heading from the southwestern suburbs into the heart of Denver. She was maybe in her late forties, rail thin and short. She was wearing a college football sweatshirt, slim-fitting jeans that were almost tucked into her Champion brand high-tops (which had achieved a static valley in their decay – yellowed faux-leather uppers fused with the petrified plastics that comprised the soles), and the haircut of a thousand cock-rock bands – the Jani Lane. She fidgeted where she sat, worrying the half-smoked cigarette she cradled between her fingers, clutching a lighter in her palm. She was inordinately tan for November, and gave off rarefied air of that sect of stoners who have self-mummified their personalities in a time in which they hit their personal peak. She looked like a well-read paperback: frayed and traveled, fumbled through and passed on.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. She appeared in my early-morning drowse like a ghost from a past life, and her visage conjured half-forgotten memories of my own hessian youth. I wondered what she carried inside of herself that was preserved from that time, the time that she exuded from the core of her very being (sitting on the train with her at that early hour, tethered still to sleep and the dream world, felt surreal and backwards). I wondered if she had figured out something elemental for herself in that age, if she had unearthed some kernel of wisdom, imparted from Great White lyrics, that allowed her to keep her own development crystallized in amber.
Had she found The Answer? Did she feel like she could stop asking The Question? For the duration of the train ride downtown I invented histories for her, I imagined futures for her to live out. I filled in the large gap, the gaping chasm of her that extended out beyond the precipice of what I could glean only from her appearance. The multitudes within her folded in on themselves right before my eyes, and this tired old stoner lady spun me out, worried me more than a little, because I know that the person I (perhaps wrongly) assumed her to be, a living, breathing, ephemeral statement taken out of context, lives inside of me as well.
If I were to ask her what her Top Ten Albums of 2010 were, how would she answer? Would she tell me that she thought that Crystal Castles’ record should have fared better in many Best-of Lists, that Ty Segall‘s Melted was the best album she’d heard in a long time. Might she have plied the press party lines and elected The National’s High Violet as the year’s finest musical offering. Or would she tell me that Once Bitten…, Great White’s 1987 masterstroke, was the last thing that moved her, that moves her still?
I know that for most of us, how we listen to music is so much messier than what can be conveyed in a Top Ten list. These lists are fun: a good way to talk about what’s new, what’s emerging, what’s trending, etc., but they generally get repetitive, and even though I seek them out religiously at the end of every year to see how my favorite writers are ranking the albums I like, the exercise is usually just to see how the nuance of an arbitrary ranking system might vindicate my listening and purchasing choices.
Top Ten lists don’t account for all of the musical discoveries we make outside of new releases, they don’t account for the conversations you have with people that might turn you on to music you’ve never heard of that was released in 2009 or 1993 or 1956, music that is new only to you but that ingrains itself into your life, becomes the soundtrack to your triumphs and your tribulations and all of the profound and mundane events that fill your days regardless of the calendar’s declarations. Top Ten lists are fun, but never as interesting as just asking people what they’re listening to at any given time and why. I know that for me, the best part about writing this column has been the email exchanges and the conversations that have come of it, the simple dialogue about music that works to remove the static, that helps to keep us from becoming the Top Ten List of 1987 in human form.
With all of this in mind, I offer up an end-of-the-year playlist for you that was made on Sunday, December 19, 2010. It contains a fair amount of music that was released this year, and some songs that were released earlier in the geologic record. There’s no point in me saying if anything on here was in my Top Ten List for the year (of course I have a list in my head), but instead this playlist shows only what my state of mind was on this particular afternoon as I sat at my computer thinking about how lucky I am to get to communicate with so many people who read this column who care as deeply about music as I do. It contains songs that I danced to this year, songs that soundtracked the preparation of meals, songs that I listened to while I ran or while I dozed on the couch with a cat on my lap, songs that I found through conversations with friends or readers or with other writers. It’s a long playlist, I know, but I invite you to just put it on and DO STUFF.
It’s an ode to that woman on the train, who, despite my assumptions based on her appearance, likely has a hidden history writ with the shifting shapes of pop music, a full life history that is punctuated by all of the songs that she’s heard since birth, the songs she used to shape and define her heartbreaks and more importantly, her victories. As I sat on the jostling train, I scribbled out a poem for her in the margins of a Westword. I’ll offer it up with the last Backlog playlist of the year, along with my sincere thanks for reading and, more importantly, for turning me on. If any of you feel like sharing the songs that are pushin’ yer tender buttons right now, please do so in the comments. See you next year.
it’s hard to keep track of you
pick up the parking lot fade
brothers tucked in and shuffled on
when they use their wars to remind you
tell them everything’s been out of tune
for so long
that you turned your radio off for good
but keep your dance for cigarettes
and static played to hold your bangs up
turn your collar to the train whistle
and cup your hands to the flames
take your faith to tape decks
the distant hum of memory
watch the loops for open mouths
these jeans will never look the same
these tattered shirts approaching reverie
1. Quasi – Now What
2. Ty Segall – Imaginary Person
3. Amon Duul 2 – Archangel Thunderbird
4. Bratmobile – Die
5. Jay Reatard – You Mean Nothing To Me
6. Translator – Necessary Spinning
7. The Clash – Red Angel Dragnet
8. The Feelies – Raised Eyebrows
9. The Walkmen – Victory
10. Zola Jesus – Trust me
11. Choir of Young Believers – Claustrophobia
12. The Zombies – This Will Be Our Year
13. Broken Social Scene – Meet Me In The Basement
14. Harry Nilsson – Jump Into The Fire
15. Howe Gelb and A Band of Gypsies – Cowboy Boots on Cobble Stone
16. Les Lutins – la junglomanie
17. Maserati – They’ll No More Suffer From Thirst
18. Janelle Monae with Saul Williams – Dance or Die
19. Ana Tijoux – Obstaculo
20. Los Corraleros de Majagual – Cumbia Campesina
21. Kashmere Stage Band – Super Bad
22. Baby Huey and The Babysitters – Mama Get Yourself Together
23. Major Lazer – Hold The Line
24. John Legend and The Roots – Humanity (Love The Way It Should Be)
25. Aloe Blacc – Find A Way
26. LCD Soundsystem – Home