Friday, December 30, 2016

My 2016 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. “Could Have Been Me” by The Struts I encountered this song in late 2015, and in early 2016 it became shower music and running to catch the bus music--in either case the kind of song that’s full of momentum and got me moving

2. “Formation” by Beyonce This was the it song of late winter. I was pretty enamored with the whole Lemonade project to follow, but this song in particular stands out for its bombast and non-traditional but nonetheless irresistible structure and instrumentation. I have a mixed audience that reads this blog, so I’m going to steer clear of the political implications and controversies because I’m not looking to incite new debate. Regardless, this song left an indelible mark on me early in the year.

3. “Stutter” by Marianas Trench I’d come across this song years earlier in a cappella circles, but in 2016, found that it surfaced on my iPhone on the walk from my hotel to the Los Angeles Convention Center, my first full day at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference. I’d been to AWP once before, but this time, five-sixths of the way through my MFA program and actively submitting to journals and contests, I felt a different energy about the experience--at once educational, a reunion, and a celebration of this writer’s life that I’d chosen. A can of Red Bull in hand, this song blasting through my earbuds, I was ready for a day of panel discussions, readings, and mingling with editors. A lot more exciting than it probably sounds.

4. “My House” by Flo Rida I didn’t go to WrestleMania this year (it overlapped with AWP), and given other life commitments, didn’t get nearly as invested in celebrating it as a holiday this year as I have some others. Nonetheless, WWE programming remains an inveterate part of psyche, and so the theme song that played over shows leading up to ‘Mania, not to mention the event itself, finds its place in this soundtrack.

5. “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart On one road trip or another, this song came on as Heather and I were driving along a patch of highway surrounded by trees and Oregon greenery. I’ve known this song for years and always liked it, but when the lyrics hit--

A year from now we’ll all be gone
All our friends will move away

--I found myself profoundly affected. For a year and a half earlier, I’d left my friends in Baltimore, my friends and family on the east coast altogether, to pursue my writing career in earnest in Oregon. And there I was a year and half later, unsure of where my next steps would take me, but nonetheless cognizant that things would change again. For all of these friends I’d made in Oregon, all of these people I’d finally found my bearings with and grown comfortable around, we’d soon be going our separate ways again. There’s a bittersweet-ness to that sensation of growing close so quickly, then moving along to another life just as fast.

Been talking 'bout the way things change
And my family lives in a different state
And if you don't know what to make of this
Then we will not relate

6. “Levels” by Nick Jonas I’d heard this song in passing at the gym, where I absorbed most of my pop music through osmosis, but couldn’t dismiss it as background when I went to New York City once again for Varsity Vocals’ a cappella Finals weekend, and a number of groups gave this song a whirl (most memorably, my pick for the top college group, The Carnegie Mellon University Originals). It stuck with me through a good, if quieter take on this annual pilgrimage, the first time that our crew for this trip had whittled down to just two friends.

7. “Never Let You Go” by Third Eye Blind As graduation approached, I started reflecting on music from the era of my high school graduation, and got nostalgic (as I’m wont to do). Cheesy as it may be, this song stood out as not just one I remembered well, but one that felt like pure celebration, which felt appropriate to wrapping up all of that hard word and all of those good times from the preceding two years with a series of parties and more casual get-togethers, not to mention the graduation ceremony itself.

8. “Falling in Love” by Lisa Loeb and 9. “Truth and Bone” by Heather Nova There was a brief awkward period--only three-to-four days really, though it stands out in my brain for feeling longer--after Heather and I had moved the overwhelming majority of our belongings into storage, after Heather had left for her summer gig, when I was on my own in our cleared out apartment.

I was working on a new flash fiction project, featuring an idiosyncratic narrator and when I listened to this old Lisa Loeb song, it provided the skeleton of a story of this narrator meeting her new partner. I encountered the Heather Nova song for the first time during this same stretch. For a long time, I’ve found my enjoyment of her catalog uneven, with songs that I absolutely love, and songs that bore me to tears in more or less equal proportions. This was one of the ones that I really liked, and I remember listening to it on a long walk between the gym and the empty apartment under the early summer sun.

10. “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake and 11. “Love yourself” by Justin Bieber It was a long summer, but, overall, a good one for me. I had my first experience teaching a CTY summer course. While thirty hours a week of guiding a writing workshop for the same group of kids was draining, it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career. I followed that up by working as a Dean of Residential Life for the first time in nine years. I was, admittedly reticent about stepping back into the job, but found rewards there, too, in working with the kids and working with a stand-out group of RAs.

Still, when early August hit, I was relieved about the chance for a break. As I was walking through dorms to gather items left behind, I treated myself to downloading these two pop songs that the RAs had played so often through evening social times and Friday night dances.

11. “Palisades Park” by Counting Crows At the end of summer, I traveled to Upstate New York for a bachelor party weekend with three of my closest friends. We kicked it off with tomato pie and a Counting Crows concert in Syracuse. Listening to this song, in particular at the start of the Crows show, felt like a book end. It was during my cross country drive to move to Oregon that Somewhere Under Wonderland, the Counting Crows album that opened with this song, first dropped, and here I was some of my oldest friends, at the front end of transitioning to whatever life would have in store next.

The concert was good, the company was better, and we moved along from there to a night at the Turning Stone Casino, and two days in Saratoga Springs.

12. “Glorious Domination” by CFO$ WWE capped its summer with SummerSlam weekend, including a great NXT: Back to Brooklyn special. During it, long-time indy star Bobby Roode made his debut, and did so with this song playing him to the ring, and a cast of fans singing along to it. Needless to say, I was hooked.

I downloaded the song and played it in the early mornings and on long stretches of open road until it became something of an unofficial anthem for the trek Heather and I made back to the east coast.

13. “I Choose You” (Live, Acoustic) by Sara Bareilles and 14. “Uptown Funk” by Marc Ronson ft. Bruno Mars Within a few months of dating in earnest, Heather and I selected “I Choose You,” and more particularly this acoustic version as our song, and so when we got engaged there was little doubt that it would be the song we played for our first dance.

Leading up to the wedding, we decided we might splice in another song, and could think of none better than “Uptown Funk”—a cliché, perhaps, but a song we had engaged in impromptu dance parties to in the car before, not to mention one that people would know. As we spent the month in the mountains of Boone, NC, and the wedding approached, I choreographed, Heather refined, and we practiced over a series of days before we were ready to perform.

Our wedding week turned out to be a stressful one--more so than most, I’d argue, for the specter of a hurricane that would pass nearby, a shuffling of plans last minute, and a number of people who were important to us not making the trip to steer clear of the storm. Just the same, the wedding itself--the ceremony and reception--went as well if not better than we could have expected. This dance marked a turning point for me in particular, the last piece I meaningfully had to remember or keep track of before relaxing for the rest of the event.

15. “Happy Birthday Guadalupe” by The Killers I came upon this Christmas song a year ago, so it wasn’t entirely new, but still relatively fresh to me in 2016, and the last track of the holiday playlist that I played and replayed throughout the month of December.

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