Anatomy of a Mixtape: March 9, 2003

Mixtapes occupy a strong role in the literature of people who grew up in the 80s to the early 2000s. A mixtape tells a narrative through song if often an accidental one. The person assembling it might be trying to express their feelings for someone or just putting together music they like but which captures in wax how they feel in a moment if they know it or not. The narrative possibilities of this artform have been exploited by many, most recently by Libby Cudmore in her awesome, funny, fun novel The Big Rewind which I can’t recommend enough. 


So why not have some fun studying a “tape” (It’s a cd but the term is awesome) of my own. This was one minted on 3/9/03. What’s notable about that day? Open up A Flickering Life the book to Journalism Day 2003. I was pretty disillusioned that day. I didn’t go out on top. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore. I was all too aware high school was over. So let’s recapture that spirit. Crack open Tropical Sprite, which I am drinking as I write, and let’s take a look at how one CD I still have and which still plays reflects a specific moment in my life.

Track 1: Seether–Fine Again Very downbeat, very bleak, very morose start. This is a song about recovering from addiction and realizing that sadly relapse is inevitable. For depressives, drug addiction imagery is extremely palpable to us even if we aren’t addicts though many of us are. This song sets the tone right off the bat. I’m hurting and I’m not hiding it. The idea that I’ll heal only to fall back into hurt is extremely accurate to what did happen. This is a brilliant song.

Track 2: Sum 41–Still Waiting Look at the date. This was nu-metal’s prime and this won’t be the last appearance. If the first track was bleakly ironic, this is raw anger. I’m feeling frustrated. It’s not a great song but it fits the tone.

Track 3: No Doubt– New Remember how badass No Doubt was for a while before they collapsed into selloutdom? This was on the Go soundtrack. This is such an amazing, perfect 1999 song but more to the point it fits this mix. There’s a certain confused tone to the first three songs that builds to this one with its spiraling vibe. Things reach a climax in the first act of this disc with this song. By the end of this song I’m breathless, exhausted, and uncertain as can be as to how I feel.

Track 4: Nina Gordon–Tonight and the Rest of My Life What’s interesting about a mix is you’re finding meaning in why the song was there even if it’s not the song’s actual meaning. This will emerge again soon. This song I’m not sure of the actual meaning of but in the context of the cd it feels like a cry. It’s very dark. The next few songs are fairly unified in tone and it starts here. This is a song that makes me feel alienated, lost and ok that I am. I love it. I needed it.

Track 5: The All-American Rejects–Swing Swing  Emo as we know it arrives with this song. It’s honestly still a hell of a song. Nice instrumental work, a nice tight pace, and lyrics that capture someone in pain and desperately seeking to rebuild from it. I’ve just realized my world as I know it is over.  This song felt so very good to listen to in that moment. It’s raw, unabashed screaming about how much you’re hurting. I can’t mock emo for that.

Track 6: Godsmack–I Stand Alone This is so not a good song. But context is everything. I’m mad, I’m angry. I’m depressed. I’m confused. Yes this felt good. The song isn’t.

Track 7: The Calling–For You Alex Band, whose work isn’t that interesting, is the scion of the Band family. The creators of Empire and Full Moon pictures. I just have to note that. He’s the son of Charles Band, one of the last great exploitation gods. Seriously. Oh and this song actually holds up. It’s a song about love off the Daredevil soundtrack with countless references to that underrated film. In context it feels like I’m in the gutter looking up. I want hope. I’m struggling with it though. I want to be saved from my pain, but I won’t be.

Track 8: Nelly Furtado–…On the Radio Consider this a weird oddity that should be struck. It’s not a good song and in theory of the CD it doesn’t fit. Except that as I listen to it I can’t help but think it does. It’s someone looking at their critics and former friends and deciding to stand for themselves instead of what others want. It’s empowering.

Track 9: Pete Yorn–For Nancy Again, the literal meaning of these songs doesn’t matter. This is a song about a woman in an abusive relationship. But there’s something about the lyrics “convince yourself that everything is alright/cause it already is” that fits my narrative. I’m depressed. I’ll lie to myself that I’m not. If I pull it off I’ll be better. That’s heavy stuff.

Track 10: Zwan–Honestly Notice an upswing in the music. I’m telling myself that I can pull through this. I’m going to make it.

Track 11: John Mayer–Why Georgia An upbeat song but the lyrics give  away the game. I’m definitely still unsettled. No song with the refrain “am I living it right” cam be considered a song to listen to thinking everything’s ok. The music is a mask for the emotion. I don’t know in on this day, but I’ll be doing a lot of faking my emotions for the next few months. This is whiny white boy music but I was one.

Track 12: Blues Traveler–Back in the Day Who the hell am I kidding? This is another upbeat song with a dark meaning and it’s the single most relevant one to this day. It’s a song about revisiting your past and knowing you can’t go back. It’s openly frustrated about that. But it’s so much fun to listen to. Blues Traveler didn’t stop being awesome after Hook though we act like they did. John Popper sells this thing.

Track 13: Foo Fighters–Times Like These OK, we hit on the best known song. I doubt I need to explain why this is here. This is the ultimate “I’m in pain and I know it but I will get through it” anthem. This is the best song on the whole CD. It’s the one I returned to the most. Note: I included the live version from 2007 because it’s the best version. Foo Fighters kill it live.

Track 14: The Calling–Could It Be Any Harder Here’s the truth of depression: There is no clear arc. That’s why sad songs like this bump in. And yes, of all artists this is the one that repeats on this CD. But you know what? A raw, honest admission of pain was what I was feeling. This song captures that moment. Because after the sarcasm fades and the lies stop, I was still hurting like I’d not hurt in years. BTW, speaking of Band’s family, this is about his mother abandoning him. There is real pain in this song.

Track 15: London Philharmonic Orchestra–Kashmir As apocalyptic songs go, Kashmir is the top of the top. There are several covers in this style but this is the one on this CD and it fits. I’m in an apocalyptic mood.

Track 16: Sister Hazel–Happy Not exactly a song that sits its title. This is someone feeling frustrated in a bad relationship. It’s angry despite their standard feel good upbeat tone. It’s an ok song but kind of a filler really.

Track 17: The Beach Boys–Good Vibrations OK, this is really the best known song on the disc. This song has a dark connotation in light of Brian Wilson’s reality and Cameron Crowe’s career best use of a song when it plays over the deconstruction of reality in Vanilla Sky. Everything is not okay. Things are VERY bad. But it’s the sound of riding that as it comes. Also this song is an all time classic.

Track 18: Bruce Springsteen–Atlantic City We close on a fitting note. What matters to me now won’t matter as much anymore. There’s one more competition I’ll barely care about going to and won’t win at ahead of me. It’s over. So a song about the end of a world fits. There’s the standard darkness and rawness of Springsteen on this track. There’s another connotation though. I heard this song through Ryan who was and still massively is a Springsteen fan. My friends represent my future.

So what can one conclude from this set? It’s not perfectly set up. I’d omit a few tracks. But what is here is indisputable: A set from someone coping with pain in the moment. The truth is all of these emotions are hitting me from faking it to not faking it at all. I hurt. I can’t fix that. But I had to go on. So I did



Epitaph For A Life That Was

As I keep writing about on this blog, everything in my life is changing. This is inescapable. I am going to be a father. The grand fight of my life? Well it becomes secondary to her life. That’s how it must be. That’s how it should be. That’s how I want it to be.

I need my life to go this way. The last two years have been frustrating as I searched for purpose. I had a hole in me I was trying to fill but in truth only one thing could: paternity. I was and am ready for it.

But there’s something inescapable that I must accept: There are things in my life I will never and can never do again. In my past I’ve taken trips in as short of notice as 24 hours. I’ve impulsively bought graphic novels that cost $45. I’ve stayed up until dawn. I’ve lived freely and “independently.”

In truth these days haven’t existed for a good three years. When I moved in with Amanda I settled down in the physical sense for good. Moving three times in three years made that harder to see but it’s been true. That period of my life has long been in the past.

But it took Lola Faye’s rapidly approaching birth to make me see that. There won’t be any deciding that we can do it as a couple. Amanda and I are locked down. And everything in our lives will change greatly. Even the simpler mes are gone. The Austin who ran to Barnes and Noble out of curiosity? The karaoke Austin? He’s gone. The moviegoer? Gone. Period.

So if I acknowledge that he’s gone, it feels as if I’m breaking the social contract. Saying I’ll miss him sounds like I don’t want this life. Except of course that I do desperately. I think about my daughter in every moment. But I can’t pretend I’m unaware my life is changing and what I’ve known is gone for good.

I’ll miss it. Of course I will. As I’ve noted in the book, I often felt limited in my childhood. In my 20s I released those limits and I lived quite fully. How can I use Google Earth to retrace my trip to Springfield, MO and not feel some nostalgia? It’s impossible. I have great memories and I’ll cherish them.

But these times can’t last. I’m 32. I’m older than I like. If I was still living that life it would start to feel miserable for me. I’d look at what I had and feel I’d accomplished nothing. I would be pathetic. As it stands I’m on the brink of a daughter with my soulmate. I’m fulfilled by what’s to come. It’ll be hard as hell, yes, but the challenge excites me.

And there’s something else that I’ve come to realize: the phases in our life are far shorter than we think they are. That independence I recall lasted less than four years. Really only three and maybe less. College was only four years. I dated Amanda for under two years before we moved in together. Even the seemingly endless unemployment was a mere 15 months in my life.

These phases create a mosaic of experience. They enrich us. They make our lives fuller because we got to sample a bit of everything. Life isn’t endless so shouldn’t we live in more than just a single moment? Yes I loved my trips to Springfield but they’d get old if that was all I did.

I will at some point tell all of these stories. I did with the first 24 years of my life, which are still on sale at I will for these too. I’m not yet ready I admit. But they were me and they deserve it.

For in the end that life I’m saying goodbye to is still a life I lived. I had that life. It wasn’t long but it was wonderful. I will never let go of who that person was just as I remember everything in my life I can no longer go back to and every person I can never speak to again.

So it is I write an epitaph. I don’t mourn. I look back in joy. Then, with my heart warmed with hope, I turn and I look ahead.

Thoughts on Lola Faye on a Sunday morning

I won’t do this often after today. 

I’m sitting in the Rave alone on a Sunday morning seated to see a movie. This is something I’ve done constantly for the last 13 years. It’s a natural part of my life. When I have time and money I see a movie. And after June, it will rarely happen. 

It’s one of the myriad things that will change in my life after Lola Faye Shinn arrives. When Lola comes, all my routines, all my order will go away. She will destroy all I know and remake it anew. To a great degree she already has and she’s just sitting in her mother’s stomach, growing. She is a force of great change. She’s literally “apocalyptic.” (The term means great change in its original meaning and I rather love that meaning so that is what I use.)

Am I scared of this? It’s a lie to say I’m not. I lose sleep over my fears that I’ll fail her. I think constantly about her in every situation. When I fail I worry it’s a sign to come. I’m not perfect. I wish I was for her. 

But all the change and the worry? It barely exists next to the joy I feel at the thought of what she will be to me. She will be born of 50% me and 50% the woman I love like nothing else on this planet. How is that not miraculous? She will surprise me in ways I cannot picture today. She will be like nothing I’ve ever known. And I cannot wait to meet her. 

See, I’ve thought this through. After all, Lola Faye is far from an accident. Amanda and I struggled to conceive. I’ve had a long time to think about her. I’ve built up every preparation possible in my head. Am I completely ready? Who is? But I know what I’m walking into. I’m not naive. I can learn.  And the benefits make the risks look subatomic. 

So when in the future I find myself at the Rave on a Sunday morning, I’ll not be alone. I’ll have my critter beside me. She’ll be my library buddy. She’ll be my life. And I cannot wait to watch her grow up. 

She isn’t born but I love her so.