Strand of Oaks, Goshen '97!!!!!"What?" you may say. "Who?" "Which one's the title and which one's the artist?"
Settle down dear, all will become clear in due course.
First of all, here it is:
Do you hear the frustration? The fear? The hope? The Rock 'n' Roll?
I've been contemplating for a while what the difference is between Pop and Rock music, beyond the definitional, namely that "Pop" music is what popular and (new) Rock hasn't been popular for a very long time. I might just devote an entire post to how today's audience is determined to crawl back into the womb of "classic" sounds, but that's for another time.
The point is, Rock music isn't about what's popular. Its about what's true, or at least it should be. Rock history is littered with male power fantasy garbage (here's to you, Motley Crue), but at heart those were pop songs that were just pretending.
Real Rock'n'Roll is mired in the ugly stuff. It has its roots in pagan rituals on slave plantations. Misery is in its DNA. That's not to say that all Rock songs ought to be sad. Surely not. But they all must appreciate sadness. Happiness means nothing without the struggle from whence it is born. A great rock song doesn't have to be depressing, but it has to have the trace of a struggle in it.
Goshen '97 is the sound of a struggle. It gives no indication of where that struggle will take our protagonist - will he be victorious or will it all have been in vain? The song doesn't arrive at any destination, and it pre-empts the journey.
This song is about the moment you realize that the journey is necessary, that its possible, and that it actually started without you realizing it, while you were spinning your wheels in no particular direction.
At least that's what it means to me. Music is pretty subjective, and you can bet a song with the line "I was lonely, but I was having fun" hits all the trigger points for the person who wrote this about the emotional ravagement brought on by a Springsteen song. At its heart, though that line represents that quintessential Rock'n'Roll pairing of regret and the joy of being alive. And speaking of joy:
"Then I found my Dad's old tape machine, that's when the magic began." I love musicians who love music. Almost as much as I love musicians who love life. But flash forward another minute: "Before I was fat, drunk and mean, everything still lied ahead."
I would nominate that for single best line of songwriting of the year. Yes, better than "He toss my salad like his name Romaine." Better luck next year, Nicki. It's unexpected and it cuts like a knife. Likely the only time you've heard those words in life is when you're saying them to yourself, who has the courage to admit something like that out loud?
This isn't a song about facing the world, or even a song about the future. It's about the self. The conflict, the disappointment, the happy memories and the daunting next step.
Because, any contemplation of the future is ultimately a valuation of ourselves. The past - that's all about other people, circumstances that may or may not have been under our control. The present, likewise is cluttered with time and place.
But the future is all us. It's a question of Can? Will? Should?, and the answer always depends on how we feel about ourselves.
This singer is caught up with the past, disgusted with the present and contemplating the future based on these valuations. "I don't want to start all over again," he says. Well, that's not even an option, is it?
We don't ever go back, we just change direction. And for perfectly capturing the moment just preceding this realization, Strand of Oaks gets the humble honour of my top pick for best song of 2104.