Song of the Year Edition

Give me some music. Now, good morrow, friends.
Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song,
That old and antique song we heard last night:
Methought it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs and recollected terms
Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times:
Come, but one verse.

—Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, II, iv

How much of a year can a single song encompass? If we judge by saturation, 2013 gave us plenty of candidates: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” the catchy bundle of terrible ideas and musical plagiarism that was Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the ubiquity of first Macklemore and then Lorde…but I’m not really interested in picking a 2013 song of 2013. This is a personal project rather than a stab at music criticism.

2012’s song of the year was (for me), the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger.” Here’s a version sung by a Rick Rubin-era Johnny Cash:

I also really dig this version by Bill Monroe. There are lots of versions, actually, because it’s a powerful, melancholy song. I sang it a lot more than I listened to it, though. Back in Minneapolis we had a piano. I liked to bang “Wayfaring Stranger” out over open fifths, sometimes with a little syncopation in the accompaniment. I also sang it an awful lot in the car as I drove to and from the suburbs.

The song perfectly captured what it was like for me to be finishing my dissertation, punctuating it with intermittent adjunct jobs, and hoping that there would be something on the other side. The late stages of dissertations are about as close to “a world of woe” as you can get without actual material hardship. It is an intensely lonely song. Much of my 2012 was intensely lonely.

2013 wasn’t as bad for that, even though I’ve spent the whole year unemployed and the last third of it in a new town where I have mostly my in-laws for company. There was not as much struggle this year, though there were some abysmal lows for me in February and again in December. I spent a lot of time in the gym over the spring and summer. The exercise helped balance my life. So did getting an hour or two without the kids several days each week. I played a good bit of ultimate over the summer, too. The FSM was also kind enough to grant Minneapolis a week of perfect September weather in July before we made the move to Texas in August.

Despite all that, 2013 has been a rough year. World and domestic political news has been awful. Higher ed keeps finding new ways to cannibalize its best resources. I’ve flailed through (and continue to flail at) a job hunt in a town where I’ve got painfully few connections. My successes with writing can’t always buoy me amidst the sucking sea of other failures…no matter how reasonable those failures are or the steps they mark toward success.

So here’s my song of 2013:

“Unsatisfied” from the Replacements’ classic album Let it Be. You can hear what it sounds like to be a directionless 20-something in the mid-80s U.S. It holds up pretty damn well for a 30-something trying to find some direction in three decades later. Paul Westerberg’s vocals are powerfully raw and thick with yearning. That is how this year has felt. Even though it hasn’t been an especially hopeful year, I’m hopeful as I write this. I want better for myself, but more importantly from myself.

I have a novel to finish, a job out there (somewhere), kids to keep raising as best I can with my awesome partner…there will be plenty to do in 2014. If enough of it comes through, maybe the next song of the year will be in a major key. How’s that for a resolution?

Thanks for your reading in 2013, and best wishes for the new year!


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