My 2017 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. “Wake Up” by The Vamps
The last couple months of 2016 had been a little rough as unemployment settled in and we weren’t living anywhere stably. In early 2016, we moved into the last of a series of short-term rentals, and arrived at final terms to return to my old employer on a seven-month contract. Meanwhile, part-time employment offers from the fall started to bear some fruit. In short, I moved from unemployed to a full-time job and three remote part-time ones. All considered, I’d have liked to have been a little less busy but it was good to be active again. We spent the first month of the year at Myrtle Beach, before we settled into a lease on an apartment in Wilmington, NC, shored up our honeymoon plans in Orlando and, however briefly, life felt as if it came back into focus.

2. “Queens” by La Sera

In an effort to revitalize my stagnating music tastes, I subscribed to a song of the day podcast to expose me to more indie music and new (to me) artists. This was one of my early favorites that I associate with our time in Myrtle Beach and listening to in the car on drives between our place and the gym I frequented for the month.

3. “Billy Elliot” by Chris Cubeta and 4. “Show Me the Stars” by Temple One
“Billy Elliot” was the opening track from the Chris Cubeta CD I first heard when it was sent for review to my college newspaper, and had largely forgotten about until going through old CDs in an effort to pare down after we moved all of our belongings out of storage and into our place in Wilmington. “Show Me the Stars,” was, by contrast a new song I discovered via the aforementioned podcast. While the two had little in common, they became two of my favorites of the springtime this past year.

5. “Greenlight” by Pitbull, ft. Flo Rida and LunchMoney Lewis
I wish I had a better song to commemorate our honeymoon trip to Orlando. We drove down and spent two days at Universal Studios—mostly visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—before going to WrestleMania. This was the official song of WrestleMania 33, and the artists performed it live to a less than engaged audience at the stadium.

It was a heck of a trip. Oh, and the morning of WrestleMania Sunday, we had our first pregnancy test to suggest we might be expecting.

6. “Mantra for a Struggling Artist” by Andrew Joslyn

This is a pretty strings-based song that I liked a great deal in the spring, and that felt particularly compelling if only for its title and the struggle to maintain time for my writing escalated through the spring, into a busy summer.

7. “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron and 8. “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” by Soft Cell
13 Reasons Why is a problematic show on a number of levels, particularly for the implications it might have for impressionable viewers. For better or worse, though, I found it entertaining, and was particularly captivated with its mood-setting soundtrack. “The Night We Met” captured a particularly memorable scene at a dance and was one of my favorite songs the show exposed me to.

On the note of songs offered up by Netflix shows, I’d known the David Gray cover of “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” for a decade or so, not realizing it was a cover until I heard the Soft Cell original on an episode of Master of None. While 13 Reasons became a bit of a guilty pleasure, I have not shame at all in proclaiming myself of a fan of this latter show, and absolutely fell in love with the second season.

9. “Take It From an Old Man” from Waitress
In late April, I made what may have been my last annual pilgrimage to Manhattan to meet up with my best friend and attend Varsity Vocals’ a cappella finals weekend. Over the course of eleven years we’ve gone with a rotating cast of other people and done all sorts of things, but this was the first time we made it to a Broadway show. Finals weekend happened to coincide with Sara Bareilles’s first stint starring in the show she’d written the music for, Waitress.

I had a great weekend and loved the show. In particular I appreciated this song. I’m a sucker for old timers imparting wisdom in dramatic settings and this was the kind of song to enjoy in the moment, and take heart in on repeated listenings over a tough summer to follow.

10. “Devil Knows You’re Dead” by Delta Spirit
It was a long summer. Summers with my old employer always were. This summer had an unusually clear finish line, though. I’d finish up in Philadelphia on a Sunday and fly to Atlanta, where Heather would pick me up and drive me into our new life in Georgia. I started orientation for my new teaching job the next day.

On that last flight, I re-watched the last episode of Friday Night Lights. It was, admittedly, a bit of a random choice, but (spoiler alert to anyone who hasn’t finished the show and intends to) the ending resonated with me in this moment of transition. Eric and Tami Taylor moved from Texas up north to start a new life; here I was flying south to do something much the same, new professional pursuits for the both of us, on the cusp of a new family life.

11. “Heroes” cover by Peter Gabriel

On a re-watch of season one of Stranger Things, in preparation for the new season to launch I found myself particularly captivated by the scene in which the supposed body of Will Byers is unearthed, and this eerie cover of the David Bowie classic that played over it.

12. “Ready for It” by Taylor Swift
As an adult man, I’m probably not supposed to care much for Taylor Swift. I found myself captivated by 1989, though, and all too eager to pre-order Reputation as a treat to myself coming out of a challenging summer. The album’s first pre-released single, “Look What You Made Me Do” was poorly received. I didn’t necessarily think it was as bad as the broader reception would suggest, but it also wasn’t great. The second single “Ready For It,” captured more of the spirit of what I saw Swift going for as a harder edge and more EDM style for this album, while also actually being a really catchy song. It was probably my most listened to track of the fall.

13. “Call It Dreaming” by Iron & Wine

I came upon this song via the aforementioned song of the day podcast, and connected with it on my first listen, driving to work in the early morning hours.

it’s here where our pieces fall in place

It’s odd how much can change over the course of a year. While there were many ways in which our life in Oregon was a happy one, I was also conscious that we lived in Corvallis for me. We’d moved there because that’s where I went to grad school, and our social lives mostly revolved around the friends I’d made through that program. The year to follow had involved moving around and, in a sense, waiting for our life together to take shape. As fall edged toward winter, we were both working fulfilling jobs, and mere weeks from parenthood.

For all the love you’ve left behind, you can have mine

Applying this recurrent lyric to my life, I imagined our son being born into the world—out of a warm place where he was constantly cared for, into life outside. That outside of Heather, I might offer my love to in some way compensate, so Riley might know there was not just one, but two people who meant to make him the center of their world. And then, as I listened more, I thought to of applying the lyric to myself. One of the harder parts of all of this moving has been leaving parts of my life behind. I only tend to see my family and my closest friends once or twice a year these days. I left the community I’d built in Baltimore behind, and just as I’d settled into a new one in Oregon, it was time to leave there, too. But for all of this love I’d left behind, here was my son on his way to change what family meant altogether.

A new life awaited.

14. "I Will" by The Beatles

"I Will" has been one of my favorite songs since I first came upon it in my teenage years. On an off night while Heather was pregnant, we took turns singing songs to Riley in the womb, and this one came to mind.

We sung to him again, on and off, trying to soothe him during his first full day of life at the hospital. When I sang "I Will" to him again, there in the bassinet, his head in my hand, it occurred to me that I'd sung these same words when he was more dream than reality for me, more idea than something I could hold. I started to choke up early in the song, and couldn't stop myself from breaking into tears in the latter stages, one of the happiest moments of my life.

And when at last I find you
Your song will fill the air
Sing it loud so I can hear you
Make it easy to be near you
For the things you do endear you to me
Oh, you know I will
I will.