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Cover Story: It's Sad and Beautiful World

Screw a list! My 2007 recollections cannot be contained by your silly number system!

By Mike Breen · December 19th, 2007 · Cover Story
The seventh year of the 21st century was the most fucked up year of my life. Fucked up in a good and bad way, if that makes sense.

I felt my heart crumple and then soar. Peppered with little fantastic bursts of elation, melancholy and misery. I had no physical tragedy, only a Tilt-o-Whirl of emotional ones.

I have seen people's lives shattered a billion times worse, people going through what I did this year, only amplified to the highest register. I'm grateful for what I do have.

I've absorbed all of these experiences and have had a life-changing switch in perspective (or maybe just an old-fashioned "swift kick in the ass"). Through it all, I can look back and be appreciative for going through what I did this year. If you'd told me that six months ago, I would have...... I dunno, written a bad review about your band or something.

People talk about music saving lives or changing the world, and it's easy to get cynical about such overtures. A fear of mine is that with the speed of culture accelerating daily and entertainment choices becoming infinite, people will know more about a lot of different things but they'll care less.

If you're groaning right now, trust me, you have company. One of my little awakenings this year involved the newest addition to my job description: "blogger."I was resistant to the very idea at first, partly because I've always said, "What I write in the paper is my "blog,' "and partly because of the heightened workload it was bringing.

Since I was asked to post regularly, I began to just sit down and write without a real sense of space conformity. Small word counts are tough to mold.

I decided to write and never use the "Word Count"button on my laptop. I ended up with some rambling bits and fun stuff. Maybe exhausting for readers sometimes, but it helped me.

I wasn't afraid to be non-"music critic-y."I wasn't afraid to be ridiculous. I wasn't afraid to be wrong. It was a great writing exercise. I got silly. And I got personal.

Just as I began blogging, the rug was pulled out from under me in a long relationship. Out of the blue. Never saw it coming. I was devastated. It flattened me. I started writing.

I've played and written music in a black-cloud state as a means to "let it out,"but I've never been much of a journaler, so writing about what I was feeling on a personal-life level was fairly new to me. I wrote about my woes and how I'd been clinging to depressing music to keep my misery company.

I asked for suggestions and got a butt-load of responses.

Heartache is one of the human race's universal truths, and leaning on music in times of turmoil is almost as widely common. I learned that -- as much as we sometimes hate to admit it -- I do rely on others. I need people. And, holy fuck, do I ever need music.

I love art that provokes. I love horror movies because they cause physiological reactions. And I love good sad music.

I have a response similar to eating chocolate or falling in love when I listen to depressing tunes in the right state. I dove in and just floated in the musical angst and agony. It might be masochistic, but it helped me get better (i.e., stop feeling sorry for myself) a lot faster. And it's a lot healthier than a fifth of Jack Daniel's.

This year I discovered that I might have an unnatural (or at least uncommon) love, respect and need for music. I wrote a bit about musicians selling their songs to shill products and how I felt betrayed by an artist who sells a song that had already become a part of the music lexicon, songs that people have had time to grow a relationship with.

I don't so much care when new artists sell little-known songs to a commercial, but when I hear Who songs ad nauseum in ads, I feel suckered. It can often ruin or even replace the original image conjured by the songs -- maybe a flashback to a point in time -- with something crass (like a flame-broiled cheeseburger or an SUV). Some of the responses to that blog post startled me. Some people felt artists should reap whatever they can from their craft. I felt I was "owed."I feel the art itself is owed.

I felt vindicated by Jeff Tweedy, the mastermind behind my favorite album this year, Sky Blue Sky. Wilco's "What Light" is a pretty simple Dylan/Band-type song, but the optimistic lyrics revealed themselves to me at just the right time. I needed a jolt of end-of-tunnel light. Tweedy (yes, he did a VW ad campaign this year... but it was all new songs!) seems to agree with me: """And if the whole world's singing your songs/And all of your paintings have been hung/Just remember what was yours is everyone's from now on.""

The song is about being true to oneself in one's art and creativity. Funnily enough, a lot of fans and some critics felt that Tweedy was being too direct on Sky Blue Sky. They wanted the Dali-esque poetry and sideways imagery. The album had a nutrient mix of sad and beautiful songs -- even the downers were somehow optimistic, even if in nothing more than a slight lilt in the musical tone. No matter the mood, Tweedy seemed to be being honest.

The album's truthiness hypnotized me, nursed me and pointed me in the right direction.

In 2007, I rediscovered my love and, again, need for making a connection with a performer in a live setting, thanks to amazing shows by Jason Lytle, The National and Wilco and especially local artists like Pomegranates, The Lions Rampant, Bad Veins, The Read and a Lollapalooza-full of others.

I re-sparked my appreciation for hearing music on vinyl records. I rediscovered the great joy I derive from talking about music with people.

This year, I rediscovered my best friend. I reawakened a vital dependency. I was bluntly reminded of what an apocalyptic mess I would be if I couldn't hear.

I made of series of mix CDs this year, something I hadn't done since my early twenties. I hope I can keep them and reopen a box in 40 years to see their rainbow-tinged glare glowing off the third moon of Saturn (on my new spacefront property, of course).

I will see "Sad, Sadder, Saddest"and dig out the old-fashioned boom-box. I'll cue up Elvis Costello's brutal, bruising "I Want You"and I will remember 2007.

I'll cue up Wilco's "Either Way"from the CD with "Hope"scrawled in black Sharpie on the front and remember being militantly optimistic.

I'll cue up "North American Scum"and "All My Friends"by LCD Soundsystem (who made my second favorite 2007 CD, the super-dynamic Sound of Silver) and remember the year I met my wife.

I'll cue up Belle and Sebastian's "The Monkeys Are Breaking Out the Zoo"(from the great kids' disc, Colours Are Brighter) and remember carving a pumpkin for Halloween with my daughter (now President Breen), who finally worked up the nerve to reach in and pull out the guts of a Jack-o-lantern-to-be this year.

My favorite movie quote of all time was a mistake. While making Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law with Tom Waits and John Lurie, a pre-Oscar-win/even-more-English-language-challenged Roberto Begnini was to read the line, "That is sad and beautiful music."

What he mistakenly said (if the legend is true) caused Jarmusch to change the script. And gave me a quasi-Zen mantra: "It's a sad and beautiful world."

And the soundtrack kicks ass.



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