10 Years in Music

Looking back is looking forward.

I’ve been known to indulge in my share of excavating. As I prepare for my next big move, I’ve been looking back, not only on the decade-long 10 Cities/10 Years, but also on my youth and even more recent history. Writing these chapters from my life has been rewarding, allowing me to scrutinize my memories and re-examine pivotal moments in my history, recontextualizing my history as it relates to my present. But there are other ways to explore the past.

One of my favorite tools for documenting my life in real time is Last.fm, a website I’ve mentioned not infrequently in these pages. It’s the simplest of ideas: the website tracks the music you listen to on your various devices and compiles that information into charts and data points. It’s extremely nerdy and entirely unnecessary, and I love it.

I started using Last.fm just a few months before I set out on my decade of travel, so I have a document of all the music I listened to throughout the entire journey from day one: my ups and downs, my relationships come and gone, my periods of depression and moments of hysteria, all of it soundtracked. It’s the kind of thing that I can nerd out over for hours, and often do.

I decided it would be informative to look at my Top Songs charts for the various years of my 10 city project to get a sense of the tenor of each year through my musical obsessions. I’ve taken a snapshot of my Top 5 tracks, so now, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take another look back at my project, this time through song.

Call it 10 Cities/10 Years: The Soundtrack.

Or don’t, IDGAF.

1. Charlotte


How predictable. In my first year of traveling, I was still mostly listening to the artists who had gotten me through college, so Radiohead and Rufus Wainwright had been getting heavy rotation for a few years by this point (and still do). “Fake Plastic Trees” was my go-to favorite song for years, though its stature has diminished some over the years.

In terms of evolving musical tastes, The Decemberists were one of the many new artists a friend introduced to me while I was living in Charlotte. Especially in those early days, the Pacific Northwest band was known for their whimsical and eccentric mix of British folk and sea shanties. I was besotted with “The Engine Driver” which has this one verse:

I am a writer, writer of fictions
I am the heart that you call home
And I’ve written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones

It’s the kind of melodramatic sentiment that I absolutely adored back then. (Eh, still do.)

2. Philadelphia


Not much had changed in terms of favorite artists, though I was definitely listening to a more varied selection. “Come Pick Me Up” is my all-time most listened song and has never lost its “Favorite Song” status, but by this point I was starting to seek out more obscure artists. Mirah was another new discovery from my year in Charlotte, and she rapidly ascended into the realm of favorites. Though I’ve only followed her career intermittently recently, I was fortunate enough to see her play live just a few months ago at an intimate benefit show for LGBT youth. She was lovely.

Ghosty, for those that don’t know, is (was?) a band from my hometown in Kansas. They played a set at the famous World Café in Philadelphia and I saw them perform. Staying after to talk with the guys, I was surprised when the lead singer said that he actually knew me because he had seen me read poetry back in Lawrence. That was wholly unexpected and kind of cool.

3. Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa

For a time, Beirut was the musical artist I felt most spoke to my increasingly disparate tastes in music. I used to say that if I had any musical talent (I do not), I would make music exactly like Beirut. It’s interesting how, as especially so-called “indie” music has expanded in form and genre, the once unique Baltic sounds of Beirut have become just another common trope. I still enjoy Beirut, but my fervor has lessened considerably.

4. San Francisco

San Francisco

Starting to see some more female artists gain prominence in this list, though none of these three particular artists would be in my favorites. Still, Beth Orton’s Central Reservation did receive considerable play for a few years. “Concrete Sky,” which is off of a different album, features one-time Orton beau, Ryan Adams, so that probably helps explain its high chart position here. It’s also just a beautiful song.

“No Children” is, for me, the perfect song about a doomed relationship, that kind of love where the two people are terrible for each other but still work in a twisted sort of way. John Darnielle is a storyteller, and the entire Tallahassee album is arguably the best novel he’s ever written (though his two actual novels are worth a read). 

5. Chicago


My fifth year was, at times, arduous, as you might recall, so it’s not really surprising that the songs that got the most airplay in that year were in large part downcast affairs. I adore Neko Case’s entire oeuvre, and I consider her song, “Star Witness,” to be one of the defining songs of 10 Cities/10 Years (I’m frankly shocked at its absence on these lists). Although “Don’t Forget Me” is a Harry Nilsson cover, she definitively makes it her own.

Yeasayer’s “Tightrope” stands out from the other songs on the chart with its propulsive and infectious rhythms. It appeared on the Dark Was the Night charity compilation (along with Iron & Wine’s “Die”) and was basically the standout track from two discs of excellent but mostly similar sounding indie rock and folk music. Worth tracking down.

6. Nashville


In the wake of a bad break up in Chicago, Nashville’s list consists of a lot of old favorites; comfort food, I suppose. Ironic that the one Adele song that I was really into that year was actually one of her more upbeat tracks. Also, “Dear Chicago”? How on the nose could I be? (Granted, it’s a fantastic song.)

7. Seattle


Ryan reclaims the top track, but this time with a song that was never officially released. Both “Karina” and “Angelina” appear on the famously unreleased 48 Hours (bootlegs are available, obviously), which was scrapped in favor of Demolition, a solid but ultimately less cohesive album. I’ve said this elsewhere but, after Heartbreaker48 Hours is Ryan’s greatest album, and the fact that it has never officially been released is a tragedy (a few songs appear on Demolition). “Karina” is his most sympathetic and piercing character piece and deserves to be loved by millions. 

Otherwise, this list clearly reflects the counter-intuitively sunnier times I was having in Seattle. Also, funny to note just how much Childish Gambino has evolved as a writer and performer since those early days. “Freaks and Geeks” is still a banger.

8. New Orleans

New Orleans

This was another hard personal year, but still a year with a lot of partying, which is nicely exemplified in the dichotomy of Justin Timberlake and a pair of The National’s bleakest songs. The Divine Fits’ “Shivers” splits the difference, an old school proto-punk cover with the lyrics:

I’ve been contemplating suicide
But it really doesn’t suit my style
So I guess I’ll just act bored instead
And contain the blood I would’a shed 

Considering my state of mind that year, the song was clearly speaking to me. (The song also includes one of my all-time favorite lines of shade: “My baby’s so vain / She’s almost a mirror”.)

9. Boston


I’d been a fan of Death Cab for Cutie since college, and yet, somehow, I had never bothered to acquire their most critically acclaimed album, Transatlanticism. I rectified that in Boston and soon after became enthralled with the eight minute centerpiece. I was also still obsessing over Hurray for the Riff Raff, a folk/mixed genre band from New Orleans that you should also be obsessed with. Get on that.

(Also, yes, Justin Timberlake made the list two years in a row; no shame.)

10. Brooklyn 


And then came Brooklyn. Kanye West is an asshole. Kanye West is too full of himself. Kanye West lacks impulse control. All true. Also true: Kanye West can produce some amazing music. When Boston roommate, Emily, helped drive me to my tenth and final city, “Power” literally started playing the moment we passed the city limit sign. There couldn’t have been a more thematically appropriate song for that moment.

I had a brief fling with a French girl when I first moved to Brooklyn; my infatuation with The Stills’ french-language “Retour a Vega” lasted much longer. At the same time, I fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with HAIM’s debut. Their latest release is very good, but I still play the hell out of Days Are Gone.

Goddamn right JT threepeated.

Album Credits

Notably, while many of my favorite artists are represented in these lists, there are plenty of others that don’t appear (no Sufjan Stevens, no Elliott Smith, no Spoon, no Rilo Kiley), while a number of artists who I barely listen to anymore (Night Terrors of 1927, really?) showed up.

I could have done this kind of list with my Top Artists or my Top Albums and gotten some very different results. For instance, these were my top albums from my year in Charlotte:

Charlotte Album

All five albums came out between 2005 and 2006, yet only one, Picaresque, is represented on the most played songs. I suspect that I was still getting to know these albums and thus listening to them straight through instead of just cherry picking my favorite tracks.

I chose to look at my top songs instead of albums or artists because I think they reflect my moods in those years more accurately. The album lists lean heavily towards recent releases, and my top artists stay pretty static from year to year (Radiohead and Ryan Adams are almost always in the top spots). By contrast, my ever-changing top song lists across my ten year journey illustrate not only an evolving musical taste, but they also provide insight into my mental state in those particular years.

Perhaps this sort of thing is only interesting to me (if so, you probably aren’t still reading, so who cares), but if you have a Last.fm account, I recommend taking a gander into your own past. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.


For the completists in the continually dwindling crowd, I’m including my second and third year lists from my time in Brooklyn. As I’ve written about previously, the music of Songs: Ohia carried me through a very difficult post-project year, hence The Lioness charting so many tracks. And then, this current year’s list is a result of my concerted effort to seek out more diverse artists and voices, in particular more women. 

Brooklyn (Year 2)

Brooklyn 2

Brooklyn (Year 3)

Brooklyn 3

Ideally, the list will continue to evolve every year because I will continue to evolve. In that way, these charts serve both as a document of the past and a challenge for the future. Who knows what my playlist will look like after a year in Spain? I look forward to making fresh comparisons next August.

5 Songs I’m Loving Now – 10/22/14

Haim – If I Could Change Your Mind

I seriously considered doing one of these posts with all 5 songs from this band. Haim’s (pronounced like ‘time’) debut album has gotten near constant rotation since I found it a few months ago, and it’s because these 3 sisters spit out perfect harmonies like they were the genetic clones of Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac. Constant references to bands of the 60s and the 70s are inevitable with this group, and they certainly don’t seem to want to shy away from those comparisons with their fashion and videos. But it doesn’t matter whose sound they’re aping when they’re doing it so damn well. Honestly, this is probably my 5th or 6th favorite song on the album and it’s still worthy of repeat listens. The album isn’t dead, these ladies proved that.

Spoon – Inside Out

In what is turning out to be one of the best years for albums in nearly a decade, Spoon has once again put out a collection that has a lock on top 10 status. Is there a band whose output is more consistent than these guys? It’s hard to pick a favorite song off of They Want My Soul, but it’s hard to argue with “Inside Out” as a top contender. It’s the perfect mash of Spoon’s best traits, with its persistent, insistent beat, airy instrumentation and Britt’s ethereal voice floating over all of it. Watch out for the day this band puts out a bad album: That’s the apocalypse.

Warpaint – Billie Holiday

This band has been working the cool indie circuit for a few years now, but I only first heard them about a month ago. It was this lovely, eerie track (which reworks the classic R&B torch song, “My Guy”) that caught my attention when it played on some random blog I stumbled across. Hey, apparently those automatic playlists aren’t always the worst. I appreciate a song that hides emotional vulnerability under a cool veneer, and that’s exactly what these women get right here. Give it a listen, it’ll creep up on you.

Ryan Adams – Kim

Ryan can rock. He really can. But let’s face it, most of us fell in love with him because he does sad sack better than anyone. So here’s another moper for the collection, off of his frequently excellent self-titled album released this year. Ryan’s probably got enough songs with women’s names for titles to surpass most other artists’ entire catalogs. Well, “Kim” is yet another femme fatale, and if the emotion in the way he sings, “Ooh, Kim,” is any indication, this one is particularly fatal. Good, we like our boy a little messed up (even while we wish him and Mandy all the best).

Philip Selway – Coming Up For Air

It’s rare that the solo album from a member of a great band is worth a damn. Even rarer when we’re not talking about the lead singer or even the multi-instrumentalist genius, but the drummer. Yet Philip Selway of Radiohead has managed to produce a moody bit of beauty with his second album, Weatherhouse. The opening track, “Coming Up For Air” is the clear standout (though it’s not alone), showcasing Portishead-esque atmospherics in support of haunting, somber lyrics. I guess they aren’t lying when they say Radiohead music is a full-band affair. (For the record, Thom Yorke’s solo album is also excellent, but he doesn’t allow his music on sharing services so I couldn’t feature any of his songs.)

Philip Selway - Weatherhouse

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

To say I haven’t been keeping up with this site would be an understatement. My writing in general has taken a backseat to the long, complicated, exhausting and emotional process of moving to this, my 10th and final city.

I’ve been in Brooklyn now for 11 days, though in reality it’s more like a week after returning to Boston for the weekend and then busing down to Washington D.C. to see Ryan Adams at the famous 9:30 Club for his CD release concert.

Ryan Adams at 930 ClubThe US Capitol Pana

The process of moving to Brooklyn was not easy. In fact, it was by far the hardest apartment search I have ever conducted, far worse than Boston or Chicago. I guess that should have been no surprise, but I was just not clued into how much more difficult it was going to be. We’re talking exponential levels of difficulty. Let me tell you all about it.

When I moved to Boston, I learned far too late that because the whole city moves on the same day (September 1st), it’s absolutely paramount to make living arrangements early. As much as 6 or 7 months ahead of time. Over the years of my project, I usually began my apartment searches in May, but the real hunt usually didn’t begin in earnest until late June. That strategy almost turned into disaster in Boston. So, I learned my lesson and began my Brooklyn housing search in April.

Alas, Brooklyn and Boston couldn’t be any more different. Nobody rents apartments for September in April. Or May, or June. Or really even July. This city lives month-to-month, week-to-week, minute-to-minute. I didn’t get any hits on apartments until the waning weeks of July, and even then they were pretty unpromising. For this reason, I decided to align myself with a fellow newcomer, a woman from North Carolina who was looking to move to the city on the same date as me.

A roommate in New York is pretty damn essential. The improvement in quality of apartment when you up from 1 person to 2 (and from 2 to 3, 3 to 4, etc.) is the difference between Wal-Mart and Macy’s. When I started looking for places with my Carolina partner, not only did the options open up, but the odds of me living in a windowless box decreased. The spots we were looking for were still expensive, but they were within the expanded budget I had set for myself this year.

Unfortunately, with her in the south and me in Boston, neither of us could regularly make it to Brooklyn to see places in person. Her only opportunity to visit New York coincided with my trip to Seattle in early August, and when she contacted me again she let me know that she had taken a place on her own. Admittedly, this wasn’t the most welcome news, but I was already coming to understand that the apartment hunt in Brooklyn was an every wo/man for themselves expedition. This city doesn’t care about you, doesn’t care where you’re coming from and isn’t going to do you any favors.

Manhattan Twilight

Feeling desperate with 3 weeks until my move, I posted in a Facebook group looking for roommates. I was connected with a girl who was already in the city and was herself struggling to find a place to live for September. We hit it off quickly and she connected me with 2 other girls so that the 4 of us could look together. In an ideal world, I would have preferred no more than 2 roommates, but it was abundantly clear to me that there was nothing ideal about this move. On the plus side, 4 people in 1 apartment greatly upped the quality while reducing the price.

The hassles of arranging 4 people’s schedules, preferences and budgets quickly became apparent. Almost as soon as I had been introduced to the girls, 1 was dropped in exchange for a new guy. Even then, though, the search was fruitless. Apartments were too far away for some of the roommates, bedrooms were too small, prices were too high. Being in Boston, my frustration was heightened because I kept being told of great places they were seeing in person only to hours later hear that the group had rejected it for some reason. All I could do was find more listings and forward them along.

Eventually, it became clear that the group of 4 wasn’t going to pan out, too many different needs. I searched for 2-bedrooms in case 1 of the group wanted to break off with me and even went back to looking for single rooms. On a Saturday night while I was at work, now just over a week out from my move, I frantically booked a last minute trip to Brooklyn the next day to look at some promising results.

In Brooklyn, I met with a woman who, with her male roommate, were renting out an available room. It felt like a good fit, in a good location and her tone implied that if I wanted the place I could likely have it. I told her I had to look at another place but I would get back to her by the end of the day. The next spot was a little further out, not quite as nice a neighborhood and the apartment itself was still in the process of being renovated. It was basically stripped bare but the broker assured me it’d be done by the 1st. Unimpressed, I texted the woman back and told her I’d take the room. Finally.

Nothing’s that easy. Whereas 2 hours earlier, I got the distinct vibe the room was mine for the taking, suddenly now she was telling me she had to wait on her roommate to get back from work to decide. Okay, fine, I get that. I took a bus back to Boston and anxiously awaited a decision. Halfway between New York and Boston, I received a text: “Another applicant has taken the room.” Not once in our conversation had there been mention of another applicant. Obviously every apartment was going to have multiple interested parties, but I still felt led on.

Okay, a few minutes of sulking in my seat passed and then I got back to the business of searching. I contacted the broker I had seen that day and asked if he had other properties, maybe somewhere for 4 roommates (I was still keeping that group option open). He said he had a promising 2-bedroom as well as a 5-bedroom in the same building I had looked at earlier.

The next day, the 4th roommate (the guy who was a late addition; let’s call him Bob) indicated that he thought the girls were perhaps backing out, which explained why they were slower to respond to emails. Knowing that we didn’t have time to wait for people to make up their minds, the 2 of us looked into the 5-bedroom. While the location wasn’t great, the actual apartment (once finished) was going to be pretty nice. And cheap. Needing to act quickly, Bob and I put the deposit down on the apartment to lock it down while we found 3 other people to fill the rooms. That would be easy, we figured, we knew tons of people who were searching.

And, in fact, finding potential roommates was easy. The only easy part of the whole process. Having advertised in another Facebook group, suddenly his phone was blowing up. Great. This was going to work. And not a minute too soon.

Tuesday, while at work, I received a call from Bob: Some potential roommates were looking at the apartment where they met a couple guys who said they had already rented the place. Panic! Terror! Wetting myself! In a scramble, Bob and I called, texted and smoke signaled the 2 brokers with whom we’d dealt. They assured us it was a misunderstanding, but we weren’t taking any chances. Bob ran over to the real estate office listed on the paperwork and talked to the office, who told him in no uncertain terms that they had never heard of the brokers. More Panic! More Terror! More pissing of pants!

A day of calls, meetings and lost hair later, we found out what happened: The landlord had hired multiple companies to sell the place, and in classic left-hand-not-even-knowing-the-right-hand-existed fashion, both groups were promising the place to their respective clients. Long story short(er), we didn’t get the place. Luckily, because I had put in my deposit via a bank transfer, I was able to cancel the transfers and no money was lost. Bob had to do some work to get his money back, but last I checked all was right for him, too.

This was Tuesday. I moved on Sunday. Forlorn and resigned to Brooklyn kicking my ass, I began looking for subleases. I figured my only option was finding a place to crash for a month and then look for work and an apartment at the same time. That wasn’t going to be pleasant, but at least I wouldn’t be sleeping under the Brooklyn Bridge. Wednesday, I found potential rooms, but when 1 of them turned out to be nothing more than a living room blocked off with sheets, I had a sudden surge of inspiration: No fucking way.

Back on Craigslist, I once again looked for actual apartments to rent. Finding a promising ad, I sent a text to the contact number and almost immediately received a response back. The broker had an available room in a 4-bedroom (not far from the 5-bedroom) and she wanted to discuss it via Skype. Perfect! I jumped on my computer and opened Skype and… nothing. It wouldn’t log in. My password didn’t work, so I reset it. It still wouldn’t let me in. I tried logging in through Facebook, still no dice. Nothing worked. I nearly threw my computer against the wall.

I suggested Google Chat, a video service I’d used only once. It didn’t want to work for me at first, either, but eventually we were able to get through and have a digital face-to-face. At 5 on Wednesday night, she emailed me the application. I ran down to the nearest Fedex Office to scan in my forms and by 6:30 she and the main office had everything they needed. I would know if I was approved by the morning. Meanwhile, I had told a couple of people with potential subleases that I would let them know by 11 the next morning if I needed their rooms.

At 10:50, I still hadn’t heard from the broker and my shift at work (my very last) started at 11. Calling, she promised to check with the office and get back to me. I paced outside the restaurant for 5 minutes when my phone rang. It was her. I had been approved, they would send the lease over that night. Joy! Ecstasy! More pisssing of my pants (but in a good way)!

I walked on air through my final lunch shift. My co-workers had to have noticed because for the last 2 weeks of teeth-grinding apartment hunting I had been a total pill. Oh well, I had done it. With 3 days to spare, I had a place to live.

Not so fast. I waited into late evening for the lease to be emailed to me, but it never arrived. I tried to wait patiently, but by 7 I was falling back into panic. First I emailed, then a little while later, I texted. When the broker got back to me, she informed me I had to meet the landlord and office manager in person to sign the lease; not what she had told me earlier in the day. She knew I was in Boston and the earliest I could get to Brooklyn was Sunday. I didn’t like the idea of not signing the lease until the day I actually moved in. And then she dropped the bomb: the Landlord wanted to meet me in person before he gave final approval.

In other words, I was going to drive to Brooklyn on Sunday morning with all my possessions and the landlord might still reject me.

This would not stand. As graciously as I could, I asked what the landlord needed to feel comfortable giving the room to me. The broker said he’d like to see my Facebook profile and anything else that would give him an idea of who I was. I sent everything: Facebook, my website, articles and interviews I had done. I sent it off, nervous that he might look at my project and come to the conclusion I was a flake, not worthy of his rental.

Once again, I waited. When the broker did get back to me, she replied: “U will get the place. All those links u sent are perfect.”

I needed a fucking drink.

On Sunday morning, the 31st, my Boston roommate and I drove up to Brooklyn, and after waiting 2 excruciating hours in the office, I was finally able to sign a lease and take the keys to my apartment. After scarfing down pizza, my (suddenly former) roommate and I drove to the new apartment and carried my belongings up to the 4th floor. With my boxes and bags scattered across the floor, I looked around and realized: I did it, I had a place to live, I wasn’t going to be homeless; I could finally wear unsoiled underwear.

As it turned out, only 1 of the other rooms had been rented out. The other 2 filled over the next week and we finally have a full home, though the 4 of us have yet to all be in the apartment at the same time. Something tells me it won’t be like the communal situation I had in Boston, but that’s okay, because I’m here now. That’s all that matters.

I still have job hunting to do, lots of exploring (seriously, this city is massive), and who knows what other obstacles this city will throw in my face (the trains have already tried to ruin my day, twice), but I made it. City 10. Year 10.

Maybe now I can get a good night’s sleep.

Chk Chk Chk at sunsetSpoon in Colors

Never Share Your Love; or The Dangers of a Mixtape

Cassette Tape

One of my favorite things in the world is creating a music mix. Call it a mixtape (I do), a mixed CD, a playlist, whatever, the name doesn’t matter, it’s the act that matters. The curation of a good mix is an art form, but it’s an act of love, too.

Now, I don’t mean an act of love in the sense that making a mixtape means you love the person you’re making it for (though that’s usually the case). I mean that taking the time to compile, organize and craft a mix is the act of loving music, perhaps even to a fanatical, obsessive level.

I’ve made mixes for girlfriends, crushes, friends, siblings, and even just mixes for myself when I’m in a particular mood and need a pick-me-up (the process of creating the mix can do the trick). The common thread in these mixes is my love of the music. Sometimes the songs I choose are meant to be representative of a period in my or the listener’s life. Sometimes it’s about creating a timeless mix. A good mix, besides flowing from one song to the next, can often tell a story, maybe even with a moral.

I love mixtapes, but boy are they dangerous.

When you share a song with someone, you share a part of yourself. No, you didn’t write it, but we all have a song (or movie, or book) that resonates with us so deeply that it feels like an organ inside us. To share it with someone is to open yourself up and say, “This is me.”

We all know the crushing disappointment of sharing that part of ourselves with someone and them saying, “Meh. It’s okay.” For many of us, the art we love is so much a part of our identity that any rejection (or indifference) feels personal. But, I tell you, there’s a far greater danger inherent in the mixtape.

When you enter into a relationship with someone, you share the things you love. There is intimacy in that, even when that just means having “your place” for slices of pizza or a favorite dive bar. A relationship is about intertwining oneself with another, a binding that ties your tastes together. Your girlfriend starts listening to electronica because you blast it on your happy days, or your boyfriend starts watching Paul Thomas Anderson films because you said he’s the greatest living director.

For a perfect moment in time, the things you love are loved by the person you love, and you achieve the Eros Singularity.

And then you break-up.

For the first month or two, everything reminds you of your ex, no matter what it is. The smell of bacon, the way the leaves crunch underfoot, the nattering sounds of co-workers discussing The Voice. Somehow, every road leads back to the one now gone.

With time, though, you heal, and those connections fall away until you can go back to living a normal life without the constant reminder of heartbreak.

The problem, though, is while the implicit connections are no longer there, the explicit ones still exist. You might be able to go downtown without thinking about him, but getting a slice of pepperoni pie at Luigi’s is out of the question. And it doesn’t matter if Mike the Bartender is loose with the pour, you can’t sit on that stool without her sitting next to you.

These connections are never deeper than with shared art. The two of you had a song, a favorite movie, a novel that you read together and had lengthy discussions about deep into the night.

Those stinging associations are the price of doing business. Losing them is yet another loss in the process of heartbreak, but you lived without them B.E. (Before Ex) and you’ll live without them now.

No, the true danger comes with sharing the art you loved before you met the future/former significant other. Those are the songs, movies and books that were a part of you when that other fell in love with you. It’s part of what they liked about you, because you had internalized that art as part of your personality. When you break-up, they get to take that with them, leaving behind a scar. It’s a raw wound, and unlike Luigi’s or the oeuvre of P.T. Anderson, you can’t avoid touching it because it’s still a part of you.

This is why you should never share everything that you love. Sure, this girl is the love of your life now, and you want her to know everything about you, but don’t be a fool. You’re 24 and you’re going to date other people. You got engaged? That’s great, but at one point so were 100% of the people who are now divorced (give or take Las Vegas).

The relationship ends, and suddenly everything that once defined you is ripped in half.

Never share all your love. I love the music of Ryan Adams and have had at least one song of his hold special meaning for every ex I’ve ever had. But not “Come Pick Me Up.” That’s my song, no one gets to touch it.* It’ll never be associated with just one woman (even if the lyrics makes me think of one or two), and I will never be unable to listen to it because of a painful connection.

The same goes for Radiohead’s entire catalog. I’ve never once dated a girl who loved Radiohead like I love Radiohead (which probably explains why none of my relationships have lasted). They might have been fans, or grown to like them because of me, but there isn’t a single song or album by the band that makes me think of an ex. I never have to worry about a startlingly wave of sad memories when I listen to my favorite band.

There’s so much art out there that I love, a lot of which I want to share with romantic partners, even when I acknowledge the realistic odds that things won’t work out. That is, as I said, the price of being in love.

But a person should hold onto something that is all theirs. Autonomy requires it. Love is a ‘many splendored thing’ and all that horseshit, but the love of art is the purest form that exists. Why taint that?

*Obviously it’s a lot of people’s song. But in relation to my personal love life, it’s mine.

Random Video: Wish You Were Here

This is my favorite love song, even though it’s from Ryan’s most uneven album. This is the sort of song that, if a girl likes this song, I’ll immediately fall head over heels. It’s kind of childish, very nihilistic and totally unhealthy, and in that way, it is pretty much everything that I have experienced love to be.

“You know you’re so fucked up / You know I couldn’t help but have it for you” says it all.

So, here’s to fucked up, nearly unconscious, fall-to-the-ground drunk love, and the girl who I wish was here.

The 5 Best Unreleased Ryan Adams Songs

Considering how prolific and unfettered the man is, it’s kind of suprising that there are any songs Ryan Adams hasn’t released.  Even in semi-retirement, he still managed to release the double album III/IV, recorded with his Cardinals cohorts, a true clearing house collection if ever there was one (there’s a couple of winners on there, but I’ve probably only listened to the whole thing all the way through twice).

The man writes in his sleep, though, so there seems to be a never ending stream of unreleased material, as you can see here (the list is old, so some may have been officially released since).  A lot of those songs have made an appearance in concert a few times, but probably plenty of them are classic Ryan clunkers, maybe a nice idea that just never came together.

Still, if you know where to look, you can actually find legitimate recordings of some excellent unreleased songs.  Albums worth of music were recorded in the early years of his solo career, including 48 Hours and The Suicide Handbook (actually a double album), but were never released.  A few of the songs on those albums were later cannibalized and re-recorded for other official releases.  But most of the songs never got a proper release, and that’s a shame because some of Ryan’s finest songs are in the bunch.

Here are my pick for the top 5 unreleased songs in Ryan Adam’s vast stable.  Here’s hoping he gets around to pulling them out for official release.

Song: “Memories of You” – Unofficial Appearance: Destroyer

I have this recording in my collection.  It sounds like it’s probably a live performance, but it could have just been an intentional low-fi recording (à la “What The Devil Wanted“).  Either way makes sense.  As is, it sounds like a Whiskeytown b-side, but add a little harmonica in there and this would have been a wonderful addition to the already near perfection that is Heartbreaker.

Song: “Walls” – Unofficial Appearance: 48 Hours

Ryan has never sounded more country.  And I don’t mean alt-country.  I just mean country.  And that, it turns out, is a great thing.  Twangy, melancholy and melodic, this is why country music used to be the genre that ‘real men’ listened to, before it became  a force of pop sheen and jingoistic propaganda.

Forget all that, and just listen.  The backing vocals remind me of the best appearances by the Cardinals, which were always about accenting Ryan’s worn but still entrancing voice.  If you love Ryan’s Whiskeytown output or his most countrified moments with the Cardinals, this is the hidden gem you need to have in your library.

Song: “Idiots Rule The World” – Unofficial Appearance: The Suicide Handbook

Certainly not treading any new ground, “Idiots” details Ryan’s longing for a girl he’s lost.  The thing is, no one writes these kinds of songs better than Ryan, so I’ll gladly take as many as he wants to put out.  This is a bit of a strange one from him, though, as it actually sounds like an outtake from Love Is Hell era Ryan, which could be thought of as a dig, but isn’t.  At his best, it doesn’t matter what style of music he’s playing because the underlying song works in any genre.

The canned drum shuffling in the background is a bit odd, but I love the guitar work in this song and, let’s face it:  That’s a great title.

Song: “Angelina” – Unofficial Appearance: 48 Hours

Oh, that harmonica.  I’m not sure if Ryan gets just how great a weapon that is in his arsenal, but it pretty much automatically makes every song at least 25% better, and here it does not let down.  As much as I enjoy Ryan when he’s all broken up about a girl, there’s something special when he mixes in a little more cocky bitterness.  This Angelina sounds like a real piece of work, and all the sexier for it.

I love the lyrics, I love the swing of the melody and I love the harmonica.  Doesn’t get much better than this from Ryan.

Song: “Karina” – Unofficial Appearance: 48 Hours

As you can see, this makes 3 songs on this list from 48 Hours.  When they make those lists of unreleased classic albums, it deserves to be on them.  I’m convinced if Ryan had released 48 Hours after Heartbreaker (instead of Gold, an album I like just fine), he would have bought himself at least a half decade of good will before the critics started turning on him.  Oh well.

On a great album, “Karina” is the heartbreaking and stunning climax, a song that (despite no harmonica) hits all the right notes and manages to feel as forlorn as anything on Heartbreaker but with a sturdy resolve that suggests the narrator of “Come Pick Me Up” is finally moving on.  I don’t know who Karina is, but I’m in love with her.

“Everytime I tell myself there’s nothing left, may I always say your name and think of you.”

Honorable mentions:

Perfect and True” off of The Suicide Handbook

Goodbye Honey” off of Making Singles, Drinking Doubles (technically this isn’t ‘unreleased’ as it appears officially on a compilation album, but it’s never been on a proper album and, well, damn, it’s just a great drunken kiss off to a girl.  With harmonica!)