I’m listening to Taylor Swift.
I know, I know, she hates me, with her you’re either in or you’re out, we were friends and then I called her out and she wrote that song about me and people still tweet hate to me about it but “Tell Me Why” came up on random as I was walking through the neighborhood and it put a smile on my face, brightened my mood and made me feel good to be alive.
Remember going to the amusement park? Waiting in line for the ride? And then you get on, especially the roller coaster, and they pull the lever and the car starts to move and you’ve got no control and all you can do is go along for the ride? That’s what listening to “Tell Me Why” is like. It hooks you right from the start, with no tricks, just changes, hooks and despite it being Taylor Swift most of the lyrics are secondary to the track, but the ones that shine through…
I took a chance
I took a shot
All the ski racers listen to music before they leave the starting gate, and if you were faced with the first drop of the Hahnenkamm you’d psyche yourself up too. Watch the women, as they close their eyes and weave their hands down the memorized slope, they’re in a trance, they’re taken away, they’re empowered by the sound.
And you might think I’m bulletproof
But I’m not
It takes a lot to take a risk. And the funny thing is those who take the biggest are prone to embarrassment. Like Howard Stern at the 1992 VMAs. You take a chance and you can win, or you can fall on your face, but few take the risk. But if you do not play you do not win. And you can never return to ignorance, you wish you didn’t know what you know now, that you could start over, without inhibitions, when you were still hungry and fighting for attention.
But you can’t.
“Tell Me Why” is a minor masterpiece. It’s got the bridge the Beatles made famous that everybody in pop seems to have forgotten, but it’s on her second LP, so I decided to go back to the first, to her breakthrough hit “Tim McGraw.”
This was back before she was famous, before Scott Borchetta was the king of Nashville, when it was still a lark, it looks easy after the fact, but at the beginning it’s an uphill battle.
And “Tim McGraw” is part of the country genre. But there’s a sincerity and a movie is created in the listener’s mind and as I was listening I realized there’s nothing like it, and like Taylor Swift.
Not today’s Taylor. Now she’s spent. Because she’s been living in the spotlight for too long. Well, maybe this year off has given her perspective, but I wonder after pulling that stunt with Katy Perry on Spotify, you punch up, not down, and Perry is not in Swift’s league, but Swift needs to be the biggest, needs to be loved, she doesn’t know yet that we’re all replaced, that no one really cares and your money doesn’t keep you warm at night.
And now she buys insurance from Max. Everything’s in place, like her hair, there’s an artificiality that was absent previously. If only she released an LP about her travails of the past few years, how she truly feels, but that’d be really brave, almost impossible for a teenager living in a woman’s body.
But when she was still a teen…
That initial LP also had that other smash, “Teardrops On My Guitar,” no one else would release a cut like this, which sounds like a teen on amateur night, with her weak voice, but that’s what makes it work. She’s so SINCERE! You can’t help but fall in love with her, which is why her aw shucks moments were real before they became a cliche, how do you go from geek to glamorous? Taylor Swift did it, at least she didn’t commit suicide, like so many of her predecessors, hell, it was very brave to reveal her truth, even if she had help from Liz Rose.
We live in fake world where no one is vulnerable, except for the social media wannabes looking for attention. But the bar in popular music is higher, especially if you want success.
But even so, that first LP is still a bit generic. But on the second, the aptly titled “Fearless,” Taylor Swift stretches out. Not like Miley or Katy telling us she’s got a new identity, that she wants to leave the past behind, but that she wants to go DEEPER!
I already talked about “Tell Me Why,” but what about “Fifteen,” which has even better lyrics and an almost as good track. This isn’t the fake high school of the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean, this is honesty from a girl’s perspective, which is such a relief in a world where too often the female sings but the male writes the words. Only Taylor Swift could tell this tale…
And that’s what makes her an original.
It’s less about practice than experience, a point of view. A way of seeing, articulating the truth we all feel but never speak.
Then there’s “White Horse,” which is wise beyond its years, we’re all looking for perfection, and one of the great disappointments of life is waking up and looking back and realizing you never reached the brass ring, making peace with a path that only you chose that cannot be changed that left you here. Whew! But when you’re young you get hurt but you recover, the future is bright, at least in your mind.
We all want to be in love.
We never give up on this dream. It’s what keeps us going. More than achievement, more than money, we want to be understood, accepted, embraced.
And in “Love Story” she somehow makes “Romeo & Juliet,” the bane of high school English, modern and interesting.
And at this point she was functioning with a bit of attention, but still she delivered. And maybe I have to give her credit for doing the same thing with pop, it’s just that now the music sounds just like everybody else’s and the lyrics became more simple and stupid but Alanis could only cut one hit album, Taylor Swift has far exceeded her.
But Alanis blew up instantly because of her originality. The authenticity of her lyrics has not been eclipsed since, the naked, raw emotion.
And whatever Dave Grohl is doing pales in comparison to what his old bandmate Kurt Cobain achieved. Grohl is a cheerleader, the captain of the team, Cobain was never picked and never wanted to be and then he blew up bigger than he could ever conceive and couldn’t cope.
And every day there are tracks on the hit parade. Every day something is popular.
But then there’s stuff that’s almost subliminal, that’s in the air, and spreads without a push, it’s just that good.
The men don’t know, but the little girls understand.
And when I went to Staples with the little girls, when there was almost no mainstream press, I sang along and thrust my arms in the air just like them, that’s the power of music, it brings out our best selves, makes us feel young again, with hope.
That’s what the originals do.
They burn hot and we transcend everyday life.
They’re in short supply.
But we’re always looking for more.