2004 Year End Thoughts
Derek Miller

My Year With Music

hereís business to take care of, caveats to apply before we begin. Those who believe these music pieces should never tread too closely on the writerís life, that these critiques and commentaries must remain staunchly objective, turn away this instant. Iím bound to fracture every one of your rules. But I wonít be the only one. In fact, several of the ten pieces that Stylus will run this week will be more personal than what youíre used to reading here. And just as many may have little to do with the annual rundown of music per se. Weíre embracing what impact music had on us this year, with little heed to temporality or time-sensitive indie trends.

With that in mind, this may be the most personal of all those to follow. This year was one of turmoil for me, and at times I couldnít even listen to music. I felt my CD collection, something Iíd thrown so much into over the past ten years, had little substantive value. I couldnít hear albums without feeling all of the peripheral attachments they held, all those ruptured seconds they owned in partnership with another. But weíll get there.

In August, my wife walked out the door. For a week, I couldnít listen to music. I needed voices, flat-lined static across an AM dial. I listened to public radio. I listened to coverage of the upcoming election, how registered democrats werenít allowed into Bush rallies. I listened to the war from a great distance. Ordinarily, I would have shouted at the radio. Alone in my car on the way to work, I would have lost my mind in tune to the simple-fuck drollery of that simian twit in the House. It didnít matter what was being covered, whether Iíd heard the same program that morning as the night fell. I held tight and listened again. I couldnít even look at my Case Logics. Each seemed bound to a previous time, one I was already struggling to dislodge.

I lived that way for a week. And, slowly, music began to reappear at the edges. I flipped past the oldies station to get to NPR, and I followed along for a second to Otis Redding or the Turtles. I bought my first CD: Figurineís The Heartfelt. I scanned my CDs again, and I returned to my college habits (classic rock kid, born and raised). Exile on Main Street. Blonde on Blonde. Ziggy. Tonightís the Night. Ronnie Laneís Anymore for Anymore. These watermarks were cut apart from memories of my ex, and they were safe ground as such. I hadnít heard most of them in years. Well, thatís not exactly true. Exile on Main Street gets in like clockworkóitís the perfect jogging album.

But with this reintroduction, I realized my tastes had changed in the interim. Before the divorce, it was like I craved emotional distance, and I disconnected myself through minor-toned melodrama like Radiohead, Postal Service and Bjork. Anything clinically separated from the self, forlorn and miserable; anything that traded in crisp-edged beats and plenty of night-break synths. If it wasnít sanded-down through a computer, I wasnít interested.

I began to listen to old school hip-hop. The energy and infusion of those front-porch jams was perfect. Raw and haggard, beating with resolve, it was escapism for those already half-gone in some way. I listened to the first CD I ever owned, Public Enemyís Fear of a Black Planet, and I fell in love again. A form Iíd long dismissed as criminally devoid of anything I could relate to from up close, too given to braggadocio, criminal bravado, and street-grit, began to dominate my rotation. I picked up The Pharcyde, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, which in turn led to introductions to MF Doom, The Roots and Jurassic 5 (Iíve only half-thawed to Kanye).

In turn, and as a natural extension, I returned to punk and post-punk. The first time I heard Pink Flag after laying it aside for so long was an instant state of baptism, like sizing up some broken force against your own brutal awareness and knowing youíd come out ahead. From there it was back to the Clash, Talking Heads, the Ramones, the Buzzcocks. Their frugal carnality, quick and crude like a shiv, returned me to a life of direct impact and confrontation. It didnít cover up as much as it filled in and plastered over. Something tossed off and still thorough, a critical-level spill of essentials into unimportance. I swallowed them all whole again and returned to a simpler state. Not retraced roots per se, but at the very least a blind stuttering feel amongst the bushes.

September. Only a month and a half after everything. The leaves began to curl and slip in Minneapolis, and music became secondary again. Not of some loss though; I found someone. Well, not found. Iíd known her for a while, but she was always more friend and confidant. The path Iíd followed since early August, when the summer heat was still buzzing with cicadas and the parks were colored with dried-out grass, seemed to make sense now. All had been erased and rescripted. Iíd reconfigured the music I loved in the first place. Heralding all the albums Iíd long since dismissed as amateur collegiate listening and the slivered haze of teenage bong-loads, I balanced myself against my past.

The new girl considers herself punk rock, but she gets weak for Postal Service. Between the two, we should be able to live without mutual chagrin (my exís CD collection was an utter travesty; TLC for Christís sake!). She reminded me music should never anchor itself inside the hipster throngs, but those emergent elements should be spread amongst everything else youíve known. Iíve gone back to electro-pop, and the late year has found me enjoying new records by Styrofoam, Patrick Wolf (Feb.), and LCD Soundsystem (Feb.). Many of them come out next year, which is only fitting; this one was full of catastrophe. And yet it finished with a simple renaissance. I understand now the value of building yourself up through your past and that of your music, no matter how fractured and dissolute either may seem at times. I trust all audiophiles can relate; Iím writing this for one who I know can. Cheers to all whoíve made it this far and Happy New Year to the rest...

Reviewed by: Derek Miller

Reviewed on: 2004-12-20

Recent Reviews By This Author

The Frames - Burn the Maps
Styrofoam - Nothingís Lost
Bright Eyes - Iím Wide Awake, Itís Morning / Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Fiery Furnaces - EP
Le Tigre - This Island

Log In to Post Comments
Posted 12/20/2004 - 04:07:08 AM by JoshLove:
 Wow, the first part of that was tough to get through, but I'm glad to hear everything worked out for you. Trading up when it comes to your partner's musical taste is always kickass, in my short career of Long Term Relationships, I've gone from Backstreet Boys/NSYNC to Limp Bizkit/KoRN/assorted goth shit to Counting Crows/John Mayer/Jewel to Radiohead/Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Decemberists/Libertines/Ted Leo. Sometimes, grrls RAWK.
Posted 12/20/2004 - 09:22:05 AM by trigrrrcut:
 Truly I am touched by your piece. I've had a year fairly tomultuous. You my friend have given me a great sense of perspective, and I thank you. I've had those moments this year (though much more spread out) I couldn't listen to anything. I'd listen to Air America and laugh that sort of empty angry laugh that vitriol can bring out. However in compiling my own year end list I've spent some time mulling over what made records truly important to me this year. Thanks for the words. Better luck in the coming year. P.S anyone interested in my year end list i posted it in my blog on myspace.com Tim Duffy Staten Island, New York if you need to find me.
Posted 12/20/2004 - 10:03:05 AM by abrokenlull:
 wow. happy for you things have turned around so quickly. august must have been hell. great article.
Posted 12/20/2004 - 01:58:44 PM by MEKsLP:
 nice piece Derek
Posted 12/21/2004 - 05:28:14 AM by ninja-bob:
 touching stuff, derek. i hope all turns out well for you. it certainly sounds promising.
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