I feel like everytime I write something, I start with this caveat about “coming out of blog retirement” and an apology for not having written & I’m not sure why that is, because when it all comes down to it, I’m not really writing this for any reason other than I am here and there are things I love and I want to remember just how much I love them. 2012 was a year of big changes — some of them happy, some of them weird, all of them keeping me from blogging. I didn’t buy as many records as I did in years past and I didn’t listen to as much new music, but 2012 was a year of some truly wonderful music-related memories and experiences. I realize that sounds a lot like “Camp this year was the absolute best! Never forget me! XOXO,” but it’s how I feel, ok? So with that in mind, here are five of the songs (new and old) that defined 2012 for me.
01. Allo Darlin’, “Capricornia” (YouTube)
“Could you ever understand how you ended up here/Any friend you ever had has disappeared/And the tug of a heartstring is the line that pulls you home/And you bear witness to the ones you used to know.” Allo Darlin’ has been a mainstay on any and all “end of year” lists I’ve made since starting this now deeply neglected blog. I think what I love most about Allo Darlin’ is the ways in which Elizabeth, as a songwriter, is able to blend the specific and the universal, is able to put the story of her own life (however intentionally or unintentionally) in conversation with the stories of the lives of everyone who is listening. I know that “Capricornia” tells a story about Elizabeth’s life, but I can hear my own story, too — lost friends, young deaths, hometowns that feel unspeakably foreign, a slowly diminishing sense of self, a worry that you will never be quite the right person in quite the right place, no matter how hard you try. “Capricornia” is unspeakably beautiful and sad and I can think of few songs (new or old) that hit me harder this year.
02. The Babies, “Mess Me Around” (YouTube, live in Cleveland)
Sometimes there is a desperation to things — it’s hard to articulate. It’s like an itch under my skin, like a fever that won’t break. In early 2012 I saw The Babies and the moment this song began, I knew it was the one. I listened to a bootlegged version from that Cleveland show obsessively, howling in my car, “They’re gone mess me around, Lord.” Berating myself, “You’re a dumb fuck, you fucking idiot.” 2012 started rough and, sometimes, it feels like it stayed rough. Like that desperation simmered for 12 long months and is getting ready to boil over.
03. EMA, “Take One Two” (YouTube)
This is what I wrote about the video for “Take One Two” the first time I saw it (February 15, 2012): I can’t watch this video and not think of what things used to be like — how those are our tiny bedrooms and our bad makeup and our Jesus pictures with darts thrown at them, our own tiny private rebellions strung together in the hours after school and the hot, stifling Ohio summers. I can’t watch this video and not think of fist fights, of breaking glass, of the moments that defined my teenage years — half fear, half adrenaline, half the beauty and terror of my friends and I jumping out of windows and driving aimlessly late at night and wading in the river til the water came up past our waists. Experiences that don’t add up right when you check the math. Experiences that are unknowable, unmappable unless you have been through them too.
(As I test I watched the video again just now and I cried at my kitchen table. I saw a lot of good shows in 2012, but EMA was far and away the best — leading the crowd through a series of unexpected encores – “The Whole Wide World,” “Miss World,” “Outta Me.” I cried in the car on the way home.)
I cannot remember a time when Guided By Voices was not a staple of my life — I think back to the earliest years I can remember, to my first awareness of music as a thing that was around me, and GBV is there, always. There as much a part of my identity as an Ohioan as loving the Cleveland Browns in spite of every painful loss. The last time I saw Guided By Voices, a stranger grabbed me by the hair and kissed me on the mouth and I was so, so mad, so hurt, so violated. It was like someone punched me in church, you know? Like everything I loved was being torn apart in front of me. And I was thinking, this is it. This is it. Everything is terrible and everything is ruined, but at the very end of the night they played “Quality of Armor” and it was like being rebuilt, like I got a new stronger heart, a tougher set of bones. For the rest of the year, this was the song I turned to when I needed strength.
05. Drake, “Take Care” (YouTube)
It is late November and Matt and I are driving through Westlake. We just stopped at a drug store because he wanted to buy an ice cube tray. He doesn’t think you can get them at the drug store, but I am confident. We find them in an aisle that has paper plates and plastic forks and “As Seen On TV” products. It’s dark and his car still has new car smell. We are flipping through the radio and I hear the opening notes of “Take Care” and say, “No, no, no, stop, stop, stop.” This is the first time I have ever had a boyfriend who will indulge my penchant for Top 40 Friendly music. Planes blink by in the night sky and Matt says, “I saw Drake coming out of an elevator once, but I didn’t know who he was.” I think of all the nights in the last year that I have gotten into bed, pulled the covers up, and heard Drake’s voice on an endless loop — “My only wish is I die real.” This year I tell myself over and over again: be real, be real, be real. This was the year of taking care — of being good to myself, of learning to let other people be good to me, and it doesn’t get any realer than that.