Sunday, December 27, 2015

My 2015 Soundtrack

Since 2002, each December I have compiled a mix CD or playlist to document the past year--a soundtrack that charts memorable moments, trends, and events in my life over the preceding twelve months.

The rules are as follows:

-The collection must be short enough to fit on a standard 80-minute CD.
-The song choices are not bound by “favorites” so much as songs that are, in my mind, distinctively connected to the preceding year.

Without further ado, this year’s track list:

1. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars Whether it was hearing this song at the gym, jamming out to it with Heather along a road trip to the Bay Area, or watching the RA staff’s choreographed routine to it at this summer’s CTY talent show, this song was as ubiquitous as it was catchy to me in 2015.

2. “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” by The Mountain Goats My friend Joshu back in Baltimore drew my attention to this track, and, moreover, The Mountain Goats’ larger album, Beat The Champ, an extended meditation on professional wrestling in the southwest, circa the 1970s to 1980s. I found the album uneven, but loved this track, earmarked for early release, and grew all the more enamored with it as I drafted a short story, “Finishers,” my unofficial coming out party as a wrestling fanatic to my writing workshop.

3. “Rise” by David Guetta ft. Skylar Grey I assure you this is it for wreste-talk on this countdown. Heather and I spent spring break this year driving down to San Francisco via Napa Valley, swinging over to Las Vegas for a spell, then coming back into Santa Clara for WrestleMania weekend, featuring a shockingly over-achieving WrestleMania show itself. Before each match, WWE played this theme song over a highlight reel, thus creating an inextricable connection in my mind.

4. “Elastic Heart” by Sia I liked this song the more I heard it over the winter and spring, culminating in using it for a key lesson plan with my English Comp class in April. It’s a funky pop tune with a simultaneously maddening and irresistible music video; a story of strength, deterioration, and perhaps most importantly recovery.

5. “She Used To Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles Before the full album of songs from Bareilles’s new Waitress musical dropped, bootleg copies of her singing this song live made the rounds on YouTube and I latched on to yet another heart-wrenching, lovely encapsulation of broken heartedness from my favorite contemporary female solo artist.

6. “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silento Re-read that disclaimer about this soundtrack not being about favorites. I find next to nothing to like about this song, and yet it was such a favorite among students and staff alike at my summer gig this year that I could not avoid it, and it became permanently linked in my mind to hot, humid summer back in Baltimore--hundred-hour-work weeks, stealing ten minute naps at my desk, trying to cling to how much I used to love summer camp to survive this run through.

7. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon and 8. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten I first meaningfully encountered each of these songs on my weekend off during the summer, when I rented a car and drove off to celebrate (and officiate) the Peek wedding. That trip wound up being one of the best of the year (heck, one of the best of my life). At the wedding itself, I heard “Shut Up and Dance”--a song I had encountered in passing on top forty radio, but that hadn’t really registered with me until this point. It’s a song that felt like a celebration, though, and all the more fitting for Peek and Missy first meeting on a dancefloor.

I heard “Fight Song” on the drive back to Baltimore to finish the summer. Saccharine, cliché, over-produced, laced with vague platitudes--the song represented all of these elements I fundamentally de-value about pop music. Just the same, After catching glimpse of life with friends again, and remembering the life I was headed back to at the end of the summer--of writing and teaching writing and hanging out with other writers--the song began to take up space in my head as something of an anthem for reclaiming my life.

I wrapped up the summer exhausted and then suffering from food poisoning. In the week to follow, when I worked part-time hours, I would recover--sleeping in, getting breakfast, writing for an hour, before heading to the office. I listened to this song, looking ahead and moving forward with my life.

9. “Three Is The Magic Number” by Blind Melon A month after the Peek wedding, I found myself standing up as the best man at the Scalise wedding. After the ceremony, Peek discovered this strange little song that we had all heard in the movie Slackers and made reference to for years in between. He downloaded it and, at the ceremony, he, Will, and I—the groom’s three closest friends—choreographed a simple routine to the song to perform in tribute to the man of the hour.

It was silly. Objectively stupid. Too specific and odd for more than a handful of the wedding attendants to have any idea what we were doing.

And it was glorious.

10. “All I Can Do Is Write About It” by Lynyrd Skynyrd After our summer jobs had ended, and the bustle of weddings was behind us, Heather and I traveled to North Carolina. To scout potential wedding venues. To see her family. To eat southern food. To be together again as a pair, for a brief reprieve free from outside obligations.

We made our last stop in Asheville, staying in a perfect, quiet Air BnB cottage. Eating some of the best barbecue I’d ever encountered. And, finally, going on a hike through the mountains. Along the way, this old song came to mind--a snapshot of nature, and giving oneself over to it.

11. “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift Despite the busy nature of the summer and only getting squeeze out about ten-to-fifteen minutes a day to write, the period also functioned as an incubator of sorts for story ideas. I walked away with four concrete ones, the first three of which I tackled with a fury as the summer wore down.

At the end of the summer, I also underwent a conversion. After a year of my fellow writers at OSU extolling the virtues of Taylor Swift, and a summer of so many staff members doing the same, I finally gave her work more than a cursory listen. I got hooked. I bought 1989 on iTunes.

This song became permanently linked to one of my stories. It’s Swift at her most sultry and vulnerable, a suggestion of danger and the loss of innocence. Objectively, it doesn’t bear that much resemblance to my violent little coming-of-age story, but I expect that I’ll always associate the two with one another in my mind.

12. “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis & The News I can’t claim to be a Back to the Future obsess-ee, but between my friends and my social media, and many fond memories of watching the original film as a kid, I had to take notice of October 21, 2015—the day when the real world caught up to the future portrayed in Back to the Future 2. I listened to this song on my iPhone in recognition. When I got home, Heather and I watched the movie one more time.

13. “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC On a largely random, otherwise insignificant Friday morning in October, I woke with this song in my head. I dug it up on YouTube and played it as I got ready and along the early-morning walk to school to teach my 8 a.m. class.

When I got to class, I played it again.

The explanation, to my bleary-eyed undergrads, who were just surviving another week: “How can you listen to this song and not feel psyched?”

14. “Everything Changes” by Sara Bareilles When Bareilles’s full Waitress album dropped in November, I listened to it pretty obsessively. The trance-like “sugar-butter-flour” refrain that starts in “What’s Inside,” the up-beat melody of “Opening Up,” the comedic oafishness of “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me,” the adorable little triumph of “Lulu’s Pie Song.” And then there was “Everything Changes.” It’s at once, the kind of big, show-stopping finale-ish kind of number that I love dearly in a musical, and one that bespeaks personal evolution in a heartfelt way that feels much more intimate.

15. “Demons” by Sleigh Bells This minor musical rebellion set the stage for the Jessica Jones finale--one of my favorite sequences of what was probably my favorite original television show of 2015--certainly my favorite TV from the final two months of the year. On re-listening after the show and studying the lyrics I became increasingly convinced it was the perfect song to cap this particular story.

16. "Dirt Sledding" by The Killers Each year, The Killers release a new holiday song, and more often than not I love it. This is the entry for 2015, and one of the band's very best.

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