If you just want to let the whole list ride, play this playlist. If you want to jump around, I broke it down for you by chapter. I would say let it ride, but the option is yours.
Slept On: Chapter One — The truth.
If the truth scares you, you picked a bad time to come to my blog. Look, let me put you on to something: 2009 was a really horrible year for me, and I’m not alone. This was a year full of confusions, explanations, loss, rebirth and unsubtle change. If the rest of the world was a restless mess wallowing in its own mire, mine was a journey into a blistered tunnel of darkness and back into the light. Make no mistake: this list of records and this blog entry is something I wrote for me, and I’m sharing it with you.
I realize why we have best-of lists now: human beings like to have everything all in one place so they don’t have to do a lot of work. They like for people like me to do the work for them, and we gladly oblige your indulgences. I hope you will find enjoyment from my indulgences and that the story behind them doesn’t bore you to tears. These songs are in order from number 1 to number 40 on my best of 2009 songs list, in the exact order, in fact. I recommend headphones.
I realize that most people reading this thing don’t know me or know much about me. Blogging proffers a music fan and a writer a subtle kind of anonymity that I’ve shielded myself in for a long time. But part of 2009′s reawakening for me was that who I have been in my own sort of spiritual journey through life, this year and beyond, is part of the code. My story, the one I don’t talk about, is probably something you’d relate to: its more than reflections of emotion or opinion about music. I realize now that we share many common bonds, that each of our musical interests can in some ways secretly reveal our own character traits and flaws to the universe and to us.
As I see it, there’s really no way for me to continue talking about the records I should’ve listened to more, any records really, without getting into the reasons why I should’ve listened more. This year, I felt the universe wanted to end me.
Slept On: Chapter Two — Inverse Opposite Right Side Up
There’s this “gotta be cool” part of me that likes to use writing a music blog as some sort of crutch for not having to do very much else in life. Over the last few years, I grew accustomed to a certain kind of cache that comes with writing a music blog. I want you to like me and think I’m cool because I know something about music. But you know what? There’s a whole lot of mfkrs out there who know something about music besides me, and knowing something about music isn’t always enough.
In this year’s film An Education, there’s a scene in which the main character, Jenny, is dancing with her boyfriend’s best friend. She asks him, “Trying to work out what makes good things ‘good’ is hard, isn’t it?”.
He responds, “Well the thing is Jenny…you KNOW…without necessarily being able to explain why. You have taste. That’s not half the battle. That’s the whole war.”
I heard the words ricochet through my mind and, in an instant, I realized something dark about my intentions. In pursuit of maintaining some capability of being able to know what makes good things good, I slowly gave up on everything else that makes me who I have become in this world, showing no real regard of my station or lot in life in the process. I overvalued my sense of good taste and undervalued my ability to accomplish the things that I had once only dreamed about.
Both me and my little website here have been called “tastemakers” by people whose own taste I respect but, inevitably, would give me no financial backing or outlet to pursue aiding the makers of the tastes that I discussed here. They think we music bloggers are your free A&R people who sift thru the coal to find you a diamond. We are thought of as your psychic friend who stares deeply into our tarot cards or crystal ball or whiskey bottle, tells you what’s good and then, if you have money and are clever, you go out and sign the bands I tell you about and make them stars. Though I was loathe to repeat this term to anyone, I secretly got a kick out of it because let’s face it: who doesn’t want to be called a tastemaker? But later on, it felt dirty and unsatisfying. It was an empty, condom-free, cheap piece of intellectual ass that was easy to get, didn’t cost anything, got me fluffed up then let me fall apart.
Slept On: Chapter Three — Purpose
I admit this to you freely: I’ve done in my writing and blogging what I accused bands (both publicly and privately) of doing with their music. I have slowly allowed my fears of perception to sterilize the content of my work, becoming one of those writers who gets torn between turning his music reviews or opinions into Live Journalling and keeping it all bottled up and free of personal connection. I figure what makes the river between me and everyone else seem so much longer has been my unwillingness to let my guard down and show any vulnerability at all because it’s “unprofessional” to talk about one’s own self. Oh wait, so I don’t get paid shit to do this, and now I’m a professional?
To do so, I was told, assumes the reader gives a toss about me or my life as much or more than what they’re hearing. On the flip, I feared a piece like this would come across as weak to people, whether to other writers, to my friends or my family or to myself. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that I had to keep working way too hard at things that didn’t matter to fit into this world that is an intimate part of my life. If I focused on my personal life in any way in the way I wrote or what I said, I was robbing the artists I talk about of the attention they deserve. After all, it’s supposed to be about them and not about me.
But right now, I don’t care what looks professional or what someone thinks about how I do my writing. I’m grateful that this year I’ve discovered there’s way more people out there writing the way I once wrote than I ever imagined when I started doing this in 2004. Isn’t the reason I write and you read, if you’re a regular reader, because you know how deeply music moves me?
Slept On: Chapter Four — Revelations
You feel that way, too, probably. Maybe you’re sitting at a cafe or a coffee shop trying to force an idea to the surface and you wanted some music to get your wheels turning. Maybe you’re a rapper with skills and no way out of your life, a young DJ or a music producer trying to get on that new ish.
You’re a wife or a husband, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a lover, a partner or maybe happily alone. Maybe you’re a painter staring at your empty canvas, a web designer or developer, a graphic artist or a graffiti artist. You’re at school or at work or you’re on the train and nobody will talk to you so you browse the web and look for music to change your mood.
You ate today or, maybe, you haven’t eaten yet because you only have enough money for food or cigarettes and a beer but not both and, well, cigarettes come first. Maybe its the choice between food or gasoline, between food for yourself or your kids. Maybe you can get someone to buy you lunch today or dinner. Maybe you’ve gotta go out and work the corner for a minute so you can make enough money to feed you and your son or daughter, get some new kicks or some rims or buy your girl some jewels. Or maybe you can’t make it out of the house today because instead of working the corner, the corner has finally started working you. Who knows.
Maybe you’re a singer, you want to be a singer, or it could be that you just love karaoke after too much sake or too many whiskeys? Maybe you’re a musician trying to find themselves in the lost highway of people creating. Maybe you’re sitting there in your bedroom at your parents house, dreaming about a world that exists only in pictures and videos you’ve seen and, perhaps, in the creativity of your own mind. You’re a miscreant. You’re a beautiful, torn, frayed and beaten but truly fantastic freak of nature gasping for some fucking air in a oxygen-deprived world that sometimes seems like it was built to keep you standing right where you are forever.
And then, there is music and for some handful of beautiful, painless minutes, you feel more alive than you ever thought possible just through the simple act of listening.
Slept On: Chapter Five — Escaping the Island of Self
For me, after God and my family, music is the most important part of my life. It is now and always has been for as long as I could remember. Whether I listened, watched, or created the music, I have always found and reawakened myself through music. And whatever with my self-consciousness: the truth was that someone already accepted me for me a long time ago, and that person is me. This year, for me, has been about learning to be vulnerable and humble at the risk of being thought of as weak, about letting go of control of things that I couldn’t change. I am still not good at it.
So this year, while I was supposed to be listening to records, I was going about the world feeling sorry for myself. I started the year feeling sorry for myself because I was poor, that I was having extreme difficulty picking up paying work. I starved and scrambled and hustled for basic survival. The work began to come in, and things became much more tolerable.
As if on cue, at the precise moment when the work picked up, I came down with a very serious illness. I developed a debilitating case of diverticulitis this year, complicated by multiple abscesses and punctuated by numerous emergency room trips and three hospital stays. My insides had decided they were going to work differently from the way they were intended, and there was little I could do except pray. I went from feeling sorry for myself for being poor to feeling sorry for myself because I had gotten sick and knew I could have died.
When faced with my own humanity, I began to disconnect from the world. Slowly, I went from working all the time into steadfast silence. I was forced to give up things that mattered to me like my weekly at Dish, jobs were lost to me and given to others, and I just sat here thinking, “When is this shitty part of the movie going to be finished?”
But in life, like any good movie I’ve ever seen, it’s the scenes that have the most dramatic effect which lead to the moment in which the audience can connect. In those hospital stays, through the drugs and the IV’s and the surgery and being forced to give up things that mattered to me in order to make my body whole again, I have entered a personal reawakening that has me thinking about different futures for myself than just being a blogger or a writer. You know, once upon a time not that long ago, I used to play music. I can sing my ass off. I can rap. I am not just some guy who writes music reviews on a website, but I’ve been hiding from the person I am in my own life. When I was in college, I studied in the best acting program in the United States. By time or circumstance, those lives shed me or I shed them. And in those blank moments of chaos that swirl around in my brain unable to calm me, I began to dread the notion of my life ending without ever pursuing my acting or releasing any of my own music.
These thoughts of mortality, which preyed on me for many a year prior to this one (but ever so quietly) became unsubtly louder and more direct, much like a stuck car horn that will not leave my ears so I can concentrate or recall where I am.
Slept On: Chapter Six — Walks Among Us
I realize I have spent four decades jumping from island to island looking for another castaway to hang out with. I can admit I have no idea what love is, don’t know my capacity for identifying or feeling it. That’s why I am still stranded out here wondering whether being alone out here is comforting or corrosive. I realize that what makes me hardest and most brittle is in direct parallel with the freedom I have enjoyed to do whatever I wanted without thought or consideration to anyone else. Perhaps if I just took the time to really give a damn about someone besides myself, I wouldn’t have had to go through all of this bullshit in 2009. That’s what I tell myself, of course. The truth is less technical: I got very unlucky and I’ve had to deal with it. And you, my fair reader, you have been unlucky too, haven’t you?
The life you thought you wanted turned out to be someone else’s nightmare and you got your own. Or maybe you’re living the dream? Maybe you’re living someone else’s dream and they’re living yours. Today, I think the truth that I want to fight against exists in a yesterday, and today has the potential to be something different. I don’t think I want to be rich and famous and make so much money that I never could afford a vacation. Today, I want to make enough money to eat and pay my rent and my bills, to do nice things for my mother and my family, to make their lives better. Sound familiar to you? I want to live a simpler version of the life I thought I wanted so that other people will have the same chance. If it should be that I can’t share my own artistic ability with the world, I want to share music with the world that pushes every endorphin in my body to its limit, that sends a rush across my senses and pushes off whatever yesterday I’m troubled by down a dusty street.
Slept On: Chapter Seven — Dedication and Unity
To the businessmen and bankers, the bosses, the bakers and boilermakers, the brave men and women in our armed forces, the bar keeps and bar stool savants, all of you dreaming of some door through which to walk that will change your life forever, this year was for all of you. This horrible, awful fucked up shitty year was for saints and sinners, beginners and trophy winners, trophy wives and the men who betrayed them, for hellos and goodbyes to parts of ourselves that we thought could never be greeted or walked away from. It was a year of firsts and lasts and in-betweens, for artists to create and for people figuring out what those creations mean. This year happened for all of your sins and took with it the wreckage of your being so that 2010 could be a better year for you. It was not ours to judge, it was ours to witness and to experience.
And until this moment, I haven’t found a way to let the emotion of this year come out of me. I bottled it up like I was saving it for some kind of renaissance that would happen later on. In between wiping away tears and trying to explain myself to people who don’t know me, who probably might not even give a shit what went on with me, I saw and became one with my essence and my mortality. I became open to enlightenment and, by becoming open, have begun an enlightenment agenda that I was made to discover.
When I finally started cracking the towering stack of records that I had not listened to in 2009, I saw myself sitting there in that stack, an unplayed CD or piece of vinyl that was begging to let himself be heard. As quickly as I started discovering the gems of 2009 pouring out of my speakers, I knew: what I slept on wasn’t just some records that I couldn’t find the time to pay attention to. because life had happened while I watched. What I’ve really slept on, and not just this year but for a long time before now, was family, my true friends and, importantly, my self and my own self-worth in this world.
Slept On: Chapter Eight — Seat Belts and Air Bags
Recognizing this got me to this moment. Like so many of you, whittling your lives away in places you don’t want to be doing shit you don’t want to do trying to figure out how to steer this ship of your own lives….forgiving myself has become my daily operation moving into the next decade and the next year.
But, as Georgia Muldrow put it so eloquently, “I feel like I’m running, not away but to take off and fly using this life as a runway.”
Now take these records that I have searched out for you and do what I’m going to do. Let there be no more 2009′s, and let 2010 be the year of new beginnings for us all. To the many whom we lost and those special few whom we each found, I give thanks to you all for the wonderful music and inspiration you’ve lent to me that I might pass it on to others. The gift of gratitude and so many intangible blessings have been given to me, and I will not take them for granted.