The older I get the more obsessed with the idea of documenting my life I become. Especially when it comes to music. When I was writing up my 2017 Spotify breakdown and the 101 most played songs of the year, I found myself grouping the songs together and remembering the time and the place that I smashed repeat enough times to get that song to beat the others and make it onto the list.
So I thought that in an effort to look back on my year in a way similar to journalling or writing daily “self indulgent bullshit” as someone so aptly declared the act of blogging recently, I would attempt to write mini breakdowns of the most important parts of my life – obviously, this was going to be precise miniature playlists because what is my life without precise miniature playlists – that will show future me EXACTLY how I was feeling this time next year when I look back on them.
It is the most apt and least boring way I can think of detailing my life in a way that I have always wanted to do but never really found a compelling enough medium to do so in – afterall, we’re all pretty boring, right? Who the fuck wants to read what they had for breakfast or the zit they popped in their yearly recap? So music it is – without a doubt the most exciting part of my life and very reflective of my moods. If you don’t believe me then have a look back at the 101 most played songs of 2017 and I’ll give you two guesses how I was feeling for much of that year…but I bet you’ll only need one.
So I’ve been feeling a little bit…anarchic this month. After kicking off 2018 in possibly the worst financial state of my independent life, with a lot of tinned beans and rice, a hefty resilience for discomfort and the love and support of a pretty fucking incredible friendship/psychiatric care group – I made it through to February! One month into this year and I’m already feeling a little dislocated from the person I was, like I literally left parts of me behind as the clock struck midnight on the first of the month and drew in the new year and my music reflects that dislocation.
It’s been a month for old friends, the reassuring comfort of songs that have always made me walk a little taller and shout a little louder. January has been about rebuilding the spine I lost a few years ago and reinforcing that impenetrable force-field of Orwellian optimism that used to be enough to ricochet the worst of the bullets away from me.
A phrase to describe January?
If there was ever a musician that felt like home to me – it’s Brian Fallon. I first discovered him when his band, The Gaslight Anthem, opened for Bruce Springsteen in 2009 at Hard Rock Calling, in Hyde Park. It was an amazing gig and definitely ranks in my top five gigs of all time for so many reasons, but, mainly for the introduction to this man and his husky voice, ethereal yet conversational lyrics and of course – that bass line, man.
This song is off of his second solo album Sleepwalkers that comes out next week. I’ve been caning the singles released off of this album since before Christmas and have my own copy (vinyl and CD, obviously) safely on pre-order. This song is however, without a doubt, one of the best songs I’ve ever heard come from him, solo or otherwise and it’s clap along melody paired with the scream ’til your lungs bleed, I’ll-love-you-forever lyrics accurately represent my exact sentiments going into this year.
I’m terrified of being forgotten, especially by people that I love. I have very limited interactions with my family, my heart still aches for someone I can’t have, my best friend finally got a girlfriend and is busy living the life I always did and took for granted – it’s all very bittersweet and strange, so it’s nice to hear that someone else, always Brian, feels the same way. It’s about wanting people to be happy but to never forget the happiness you shared together, even if the happiness they have now is better. Fuck. Yes. It’s like it was written for me and all the great songs make you feel that way, right?
“Could you promise me something if you find someone,
That you’ll forget me not,
Never feel too much,
Even if they do all the things that I couldn’t do for you?”
This album came out when I was nineteen (if I remember correctly) and I have vivid memories of sterilizing my then newborn daughters bottles and listening to this song at stupid o’clock in the morning, coffee in hand, in a vain attempt to wake up. Since then, AM Taxi and the album We Don’t Stand a Chance fell by the wayside and became a frustrated memory. A few days into 2018 I got the beat of this song stuck in my head and walked around for days trying to remember what song it was that was attached to that memory of all those years ago.
Then whilst letting the radio function on Spotify do it’s thing, The Mistake, a song off of the same album, began to play and it all came flooding back to me. I was cutting an avocado in the kitchen and I launched myself across the room towards my phone that was playing out of my speaker and opened the album to find this – the song of my memory – sitting right there like an old friend staring me down wondering where I’d been. I hit play and sat on the edge of my desk, smiling like a goddamn idiot with half an avocado in one hand and a knife in the other.
Even though they were the most complicated times of my life, I find myself longing for the simplicity of my mind back then. I was married with a new baby, a new job and my own place – I was living the dream. I mean, I was fucking miserable, but it’s all so much easier to fake when you’ve got the trappings of happiness, isn’t it? And this song is all about missing someone, even if they don’t miss you, reminding me that some aches are as eternal as the memories that hold them in your heart.
“Charissa I don’t wanna hurt you,
I don’t wanna let you down,
Charissa I could not desert you,
Even if you hate me now.”
This album came out a few days after I turned five, but in my head this song and the other singles Roots Radicals and Time Bomb are modern and new and to be honest, by my standards they are! Anything that I listened to growing up that came out in my lifetime always seemed modern in comparison to the majority of music I listened so I maintain that even though this song is two decades old – it’s not.
Along with Green Day, The Bouncing Souls, The Casualties, The Distillers, The Offspring, and other fantastic beasts, punk became accessible and allowed me, and many of my friends, to not only understand and appreciate the Mothers and Fathers of punk – but to fucking LOVE them for all they did and all they didn’t do. Fun fact! Rancid was the first band hoody I ever owned. It was black with their logo in red on the front and I lived and died in it from the age of thirteen to seventeen. They were a gateway drug to a beautiful world of groove that I know now is 100% Strummer and though they’ll never quite hit all the notes in comparison – they’re one of the best bands of my generation.
This song is funky and fast and never fails to put a smile on my face and I needed that this month more than anything else. I love listening to Rancid, and all the aforementioned bands, when I’m walking to work (and when I used to walk to college) and it never fails to make me smirk like a cocky little bastard as I silently puff my chest out and announce my superior mood to everyone with my mysterious eyes and fuck you swagger. It’s also – you guessed it – got themes of loss and loneliness in it, but when those drums kick and that guitar solo drops – who has time to be sad? The definition of medicinal music, man.
“Echoes of reggae comin’ through my bedroom wall,
havin’ a party up next door but i’m sittin here all alone,
two lovers in the bedroom and the other starts to shout,
all i got is this blank stare and that don’t carry no clout at all.”
Why they never made it as big as the other bands I mentioned in the run down before this one, I will never know. This song came out when I was nine or ten and I remember playing it on my pink Sony Walkman whilst I flew up and down the street on my roller blades, the sun baking off of the tarmac of the cul-de-sac I called home. That summer I lived and died in a blue and white flannel shirt my dad gave me that was covered in roofing tar. I loved that shirt and I loved this band, both of which got abused during that year to the best of my ability.
I read a quote recently that said that nothing anyone treasures ever lasts. It made sense to me then in that moment somewhere between dusk and dawn with sandy eyes and a heavy heart, but in retrospect I have found that quote wanting. Yes, I have no idea where that shirt is, my Walkman is long gone, as is the tape that held so many of my childhood heroes happily captive – but the music remains and it’s the music that matters.
Letting go of things is what I do, it’s my coping mechanism. I’ve lost more physical things than any human being, especially as a child, should ever have to lose. Hell, I couldn’t show you a baby picture of me let alone dig out an old tar stained flannel. I have lost and gained and lost and gained so many times that the losing has become the easy part now. Now when I’m placed under emotional strain – I throw stuff away because I’ve learned the things that we choose to remember determine the value of the weight we carry and by choosing to let go of the physical things that remind me us times and places, it frees up more room for the memories of just that. A time when you were bulletproof and a place where you felt whole. And still – the music remains.
“I don’t know what other people say,
Or what they think is love,
But I know what it means to me,
I fall in love so easily.”
Well, if you lived with me you’d know how much I’ve played this song this month. I wake up to it, brush my teeth to it, walk to work listening to it, sing it all day when I’m at work, listen to it on my way home, put it on in the kitchen whilst I cook dinner, brush my teeth to it at night and fall asleep to it. It’s not that I’d never heard it before, but that I’d never so fully appreciated it’s sentiment before. And if I ever met Laura Jane Grace I feel as though I would just collapse into her arms and sob uncontrollable, overwhelmed with awe and paralyzed by the vulnerability she so powerfully sings of.
Again, we’re dealing with loss in the lyrics but we’re also dealing with the aftermath of loss and the honesty of self sabotage. So few people speak out loud to the tune of this song and today after talking to a customer at work that I hold in tremendously high esteem, I found myself wanting to communicate the lyrics to him in a fragile hope that they would somehow make as much sense to him as they made to me.
We were talking about codependency and how placing your worth in someone else’s hands is an incredibly self destructive thing to do and that 90% of the time – we don’t even notice we’re doing it until it implodes and we’re left on our knees holding tiny pieces of our own beating hearts in our shaking hands, shell shocked and dumbfounded at the realization that yep, fuck, it happened again. The common factor in all these fuck ups? Us. As individuals. Our inability to be vulnerable to ourselves and others, our immense fear of intimacy masked by sensuality and charisma that distracts and pleads the antithesis. And the lies we tell ourselves that are so much more persuasive than the lies we tell others – and so much more poisonous.
“Because of the shame I associate with vulnerability,
I am numbing myself completely.”
Another song that’s been on repeat and steadily fueling that fuck-you attitude I’ve adopted for the new year, anyone that’s ever been sold a dream that wasn’t worth what they paid for it will hear this song and find themselves double taking the incredibly smart, and entirely true, lyrics. With a slow build up this song is the definition of “play it fucking loud” and, trust me, I’m a professional at singing too loud – no song will kick your attitude into gear than this one, especially in the last minute of the song.
I never planned on being a nine to fiver, never planned on worrying about my council tax more than my sanity, never planned on living by the alarm clock, never planned on growing up to have a job that I simultaneously hated and ironically, was really fucking food at. But, hey ho, here we are. I’m twenty seven and entirely dedicated to living out my worst nightmare. I have watched careers grind people into dust and the fear of myself becoming a literal brick in the wall keeps me awake at night, and though I’m prone to hyperbole, that is in no way an exaggeration.
So what did I do this month? I quit my job. Why? Because fuck them, that’s why. I’m exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally extinct of drive, passion, enthusiasm and I’ve been sold a dream that certainly wasn’t worth what it cost me. In short – modern life has let me down. But I refuse to allow it to keep me down and whenever I second guess my decision to plunge head first into the unknown – I play this song and feel my balls swell to the size of basket balls and suddenly I feel ready to take on the world.
“The worlds closing in,
I’m kicking out,
They can’t hear me when I shout,
That modern life,
Modern life has let me down,
It’s soul destroying don’t you love it?
You can take this job and shove it.”
And if there was ever a song to tell you to live exactly the life you choose – it’s this beautiful bastard. Aside from the fact that you’ll find your entire body meandering around the room seemingly at it’s own will to the delicious groove that seeps out of this song and infects everything with fuck you funk – it’s all about attempting to live your own life despite the fact that you may inevitably become the stereotype you’re so dead set against being labelled as.
I’ve struggled with this a lot lately. A friend of mine told me recently that in my desperate need to subvert the status quo and throw off the labels that would be associated with the truer sides of my personality, I have specifically tailored my life to mirror that of the people I idolize – the downtrodden “peasant professors” whose innate intelligence is surprising based purely on the fact that they don’t appear to be who they are. So I dye my hair blue and put a ring through my nose and work a menial retail job and run away from my potential, sometimes even setting fire to the better opportunities in my life, determined to never reach my potential because if I do I become just another person and cease to be the literal smart arse I have always been. It’s the shock of it that gets me off. The look on peoples faces when I come out with something so seemingly out of character that is in actual fact at the truest heart of me.
Identity is a big thing to me, it always has been. It’s what set me apart from my five brothers and sisters and has always allowed the better parts of my personality to grow. All of my confidence comes from the fact that I wear my individuality “like a badge” as someone said to me recently. So the idea of my hair or my clothes not announcing who I am genuinely terrifies me but does it terrify me more than becoming a stereotypical burn out that wasted the talents they had been given when others would kill for the same abilities? Maybe not. After all, even Rudie failed eventually…
“I know that my life make you nervous,
But I tell you that I can’t live in service,
Like the doctor who was born for a purpose,
Rudie can’t fail.”
Want to know what the voice in my head sounds like at the end of a long and particularly shit day? Chuck Ragan. That’s what it sounds like. And with no shortage of such days this month, this song has been water in the desert. It’s rough and ragged and unrelenting and everything I need to get me home at night. To me, this song is about compromise and communication, two things that I feel like were they to have been injected into my life sooner, may have saved me an awful lot of pain.
The idea of telling someone what you need from them draws back to the idea of vulnerability and the idea of telling the truth and all the hell that breaks loose when you do. Lies are lovely little things that keep everything running smoothly and hastens deep, dreamless sleep each and every night. But the truth is like a toddler with a nail gun. It’s unpredictable at best and life threatening at worst, however, unlike giving a toddler a nail gun – the truth is always the best option, however dangerous or intimidating it may be sometimes.
Meeting someone in the middle is a new construct to me. I’m a dedicated “right fighter” convinced that even when I’m wrong – I’m still more right than you. It’s something I’m consciously trying to distance myself from and I find myself checking myself when I find myself fabricating my feelings and pretending that things are okay when they’re not because if you’re talking to the right person – the person I imagine Chuck is singing about in this song – they’re always going to meet you in the middle and try and understand even the most unintelligible ideas in that fabulous, fucked up head of yours. A love like that? Worth taking your chances with the toddler and the nail gun, all day long.
“Well tell me what you want, I’m all ears,
I’ll give you all I got, blood, sweat and tears,
Yea tell me what you need and I’ll do my job,
And meet you in the middle like it’s going out of style.”
Imagine letting a fifteen year old boy write a spiky little pop punk song about meeting the girl of his dreams – and you’ve got this song. The lyrics are funny, mildly offensive and original in the most organic of senses. It’s a happy song about falling in love that lowers the tone below the belt and coaxes a smile out of me on the not so great days.
Music is a serious business. So many judgments about people are based on the music they listen to and in most cases mean more about the integrity or interest of a friendship or relationship than politics or even religion. That’s because in all my twenty seven years on this earth I’ve met loads of people that “don’t do politics” and “don’t do religion” but I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t “do music”. We’ve all got an opinion on what makes music great and what makes our favourite music just that.
So this song consistently reminds me that I shouldn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about my music and that listening to cerebral folk or transcendental jazz doesn’t make me immune to the pearls of pre-pubescent pop punk that remind me not to take life too seriously and that dissecting and defaming other peoples taste in music isn’t going to make them like my music, or me for that matter, any more. After all, as I reassured a colleague having a bad day today – no one gets out alive…
“I, I found the one,
Yeah she always treats me right,
I wanna do her every night,
I found the girl, I found the one.”
I convinced myself in the latter half of last year of two universal truths. One – I am difficult to love. Two – I am an enemy of my own progress. The second is easy enough to change and I feel like with each passing day I’m getting a little better at getting a little better. The first one is slightly more difficult. And what does this revelation have to do with the above song? It’s all about having the balls to protect yourself because, unlike some of the songs previously mentioned on this list – vulnerability is not a state of permanent existence and when you make it so – you annihilate your self esteem.
This song reminds me very much of one particular person in my life whom I shared a rather hedonistic summer with back in 2012. We stayed friends after our midnight dalliances and I moved on to find and fall in love with the most wonderful person whom I shared two very life affirming years with. The person that this song reminds me of didn’t have such a great two years and came back to me in June of 2017 with a proposition – that we rekindle our hedonism. But I wasn’t the same person, changed by the love and the loss of my life, I valued my time and my heart a little more than I had five years before.
So I asked him if he wanted to try and do things properly – you know, like date, and stuff – to which he seemed apprehensive. I should have deleted his phone number then and there, cut my losses and gone back to reading my book and sipping my tea like nothing had happened, because nothing really had happened. I’m not ready for another relationship, if I ever will be, and when it comes to soul-less sexual encounters I’ve got better boys in my little black book. So why do I still answer the phone to this person at four in the morning and talk him down from the ledge? Why do I still care about his well being? Well…I’m trying not to. I’m a work in progress, okay?
“It reassures me just to know that you’re okay,
But I don’t want you to go on needing me this way,
And I don’t want to know if you are lonely,
Don’t want to know if you are less than lonely.”
So there you go Future Ronnie – that’s how January 2018 shaped up for you, kid. You did alright. You’re sleeping more than you used to, eating better and you’re still writing every day a little bit at a time. You laugh more than you cry but you still spend a fair whack of your time staring at the ceiling, mumbling to yourself.
You’ve learned how to make a kick arse ramen this month, finished watching True Blood and booked tickets to see the man himself – Brian Fallon – in a couple of weeks, of which you are incredibly excited. You bleached your hair because you like it blonde but you haven’t cut it because you still want it long. You nap a lot and you work a lot less than you used to, and for some inexplicable reason – you’ve started wearing lipstick. But you like it and the way it makes you feel so you’re probably going to carry on doing it.
Things are still pretty shit, but you’re going to get there. So stay Rudie, or Ronnie – and you won’t fail. You’ve come too far to fail now. Keep your chin, and the volume, all the way and play it fucking loud.
This is what you looked like this month. Clearly the music has gone to your head.