New Year’s Day


“All is quiet on New Year’s Day!

We can break through!
Though torn in two,
We can be one!”

– U2, “New Year’s Day” (Island Records, January 1, 1983).

Happy new year!

I have a memory of leaving a friend’s New Year’s Eve party shortly after midnight on January 1, 1997. At that time, I lived in Austin and attended The University of Texas. I left the South Austin apartment where the party had been held, and I made my way to my gold 1995 Saturn SL1 in the parking lot. After finding my way to the highway, I drove north on I-35 to my apartment in Northwest Austin. I remember U2’s “New Year’s Day” then coming on the radio (as it often does in the wee hours of January 1 each year).

It was a nice moment on a leisurely drive that took place two decades ago. Later that year, on November 23, 1997, I saw U2 perform in San Antonio on its PopMart Tour. The show, which was the first time I’d seen the band perform live, took place the day after INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence died. (You can find the setlist for that show here.). In the years since 1997, the Saturn Corporation dissolved, consigning the SL1 and its ilk to the dustbin of history. Today, on January 1, 2017, I will listen once again to “New Year’s Day.”

Farewell to 2016, the cruelest of recent years. Let us brace ourselves for 2017.



In December of 2015, I turned forty, an occasion which prompted much existential thought. To “celebrate” the occasion, I compiled My Life’s Playlist, a collection of one song from each year that I’d lived. In the 40 days preceding my birthday, I identified a song a day, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” from 1975 and ending with Lera Lynn’s “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For” from 2015. In posting my choices to Facebook, I used the hashtag #40Songs40Days40Years. A fun project it was (and a challenge, particularly when I reached the meaningful songs of the early 1990’s, of which there were many). You can read about that experiment – and see all of the song selections – here. If you find yourself on Spotify, you listen to the full set of songs here.

As this year’s birthday approached, I knew I would add a new song to the list to represent 2016, a year which has robbed us of too many artists and musicians. The choice this year was simple: the powerful and somber “Blackstar” from David Bowie’s album of the same name. Released on January 8, 2016 (which also happened to be Bowie’s 69th birthday), the album was somewhat of a surprise foreshadowed only by a few digital singles in late 2015. Bowie’s death just two days later on January 10 stunned the world.

Although it was technically released as one of those digital singles on November 19, 2015 (a month to the day before my fortieth birthday), “Blackstar” properly arrived two months later with the formal release of the album of the same name. I listened to it that day, unaware that the song would become all the more haunting in just 48 hours when we would all learn the sad news. Now, knowing what we know would come, the song – intended by Bowie to serve as his final farewell to his fans – is overpowering:

Something happened on the day he died,
Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside,
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried:
(I’m a Blackstar, I’m a Blackstar).

I’ve thought about Bowie a great deal in 2016. I read Rob Sheffield’s excellent book, On Bowie, a collection of a music critic’s observations and memories released just five months after Bowie’s death. Not once, but twice, I saw The Wham Bam Bowie Band, a tribute band based in nearby Asheville, North Carolina (a video of whom you can find below). A week after his death, I penned my own obituary of Bowie, in which I wrote:

Now we find ourselves a part of a popular culture absent David Bowie, once its ubiquitous fixture. For many, including myself, there was never until this week a cultural landscape that existed without Bowie thriving therein. As Jemaine Clement, a member of New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords musical duo, remarked on behalf of that group, “Both born in the ’70s, we hadn’t witnessed a world without Bowie.” To fans and followers of popular music, Bowie remained omnipresent in both his output and influence, and we always anticipated that he would soon release something intriguing and new. Unlike many of his contemporaries who long ago lost whatever edge they once maintained, Bowie never halted his quest to experiment and reinvent himself. One need only listen to Blackstar, his haunting final album released just a few days before his death, to confirm that fact. Its stark album cover . . . now seems especially foreboding in light of what we would soon learn about the state of his health.

There were other songs which resonated with me this year, including Angel Olsen’s “Shut Up Kiss Me,” Radiohead’s “True Love Waits” (an ancient song by the band finally seeing its official studio release), and, of course, Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” (the emotive impact of which was also amplified by the artist’s death shortly after its release).

But, to me, “Blackstar” was the only choice for My Life’s Playlist for 2016. I chose Bowie’s “Heroes” – a marvelous gem – as the selection for 1977. In fact, only Bowie, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire appeared more than once on the playlist. Requiescat in pace, David Bowie.

“Sing This With Me, This Is 40.”

“Sing this with me, this is ’40,'” implores U2 frontman Bono, as he introduces the song to the crowd assembled at the band’s August 20, 1983 concert in Sankt Goarshausen, Germany. Recorded and released on U2’s 1983 live album, Under A Blood Red Sky, this live version of the song captures U2 in its prime but not quite yet at its zenith.

I was seven years old in 1983, but as two weeks ago, I am now 40. With that milestone arriving so close to the end of the calendar year, I’ve spent some time of late thinking about days gone by. As Morrissey once quipped, “the past is a strange place.”  Indeed. With each passing day, the bits and pieces of our personal experiences and the remnants of our era’s popular culture sink further into our memory. I’ve often wondered about the harm we do to our memories when we fail to give them sufficient space in our minds. Years ago, I discovered Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, which would later win the Pulitizer Prize for Fiction. Not for the feint of the heart, the book offers a dark and gritty tale of the future. In one passage, McCarthy remarks upon the peril of remembering the past:

He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.

In revisiting our memories, do we risk altering, or even overwriting, them? Is there such a thing as spoliation of memory?  By the same token, when we travel again to a familiar and fondly recalled place, do we corrupt our recollection of earlier visits? Again, I turn to a novelist who can capture the sentiment far better than I ever could. A decade or so ago, I read Elizabeth Kostova’s first novel, The Historian, in which she chronicles the exploits of a scholar in pursuit of Dracula. One passage struck me:

As an adult I have often known that peculiar legacy time brings to the traveler: the longing to seek out a place a second time, to find deliberately what we stumbled on once before, to recapture the feeling of discovery. Sometimes we search out again even a place that was not remarkable itself – we look for it simply because we remember it. If we do find it, of course, everything is different. The rough-hewn door is still there, but it’s much smaller; the day is cloudy instead of brilliant; it’s spring instead of autumn; we’re alone instead of with three friends. Or worse, with three friends instead of alone.

Reading Kostova and McCarthy together, we learn that the simple acts of revisiting a place and remembering our past experiences adulterate our memories of those things (to say nothing of the nullifying effect of the passage of time on our ability to reminiscence generally).

But what can you do?

This, I suppose, is 40. Happy belated birthday to me.

(The photograph above was taken by me near the famous pier in Santa Monica, California on a chilly December day in 2013).



Nearly two weeks ago, I turned 40. That milestone naturally prompted some nostalgia. To me, nothing evokes the past more than the music of days gone by. Accordingly, about forty days before my birthday, I took to Facebook and posted one song per day for each year that I’ve lived. Using the hashtag #40Songs40Days40Years, I offered a bit of commentary on each song (an example of which you can find in the screenshot above). I timed the project such that I would post my final selection – a song from  this year, 2015 – on my actual birthday in mid-December. Today, on the last day of the year, I’ve assembled a list of all of the songs in one place.

For each year, I scoured the contents of my iTunes library and record collection for the perfect choice. For many years, I easily identified the perfect song (usually one which I remembered fondly or which I felt perfectly captured the spirit of that particular year). Other years proved far more difficult, particularly the dreaded 2013. Throughout the endeavor, I was ever mindful of the words of Rob Gordon, the character played by John Cusack in High Fidelity, who analogously remarked in that film:

. . . [T]he making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you ‘re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.

Wise words. Thus, I established some rules for the project. I followed most of them (including the very strict requirement that only one song could appear per year, making the choice for 1991 an extraordinary dilemma). I did, however, break the self-imposed rule that a particular band could only appear once on the list. In the end, I even created a three hour Spotify playlist collecting all of the songs I chose (which I hope you will enjoy).

Without further ado, the complete #40Songs40Days40Years list is below.

The 1970’s

  • “Thunder Road,” by Bruce Springsteen, from the album Born To Run (Columbia Records, 1975).
  • “Blitzkrieg Bop,” by the Ramones, from the album Ramones (Sire, 1976).
  • “Heroes,” by David Bowie, from the album “Heroes” (RCA, 1977).
  • “Radio, Radio,” by Elvis Costello, from the album This Year’s Model (Radar, 1978).
  • “Suspect Device,” by Stiff Little Fingers, from the album Inflammable Material (Rough Trade, 1979).

The 1980’s

  • “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by Joy Division, from the single of the same name (Factory, 1980).
  • “Ceremony,” by New Order, from the single of the same name (Factory, 1981).
  • “Tell Me When It’s Over,” by The Dream Syndicate, from the album The Days of Wine and Roses (Ruby Records/Slash, 1982).
  • “Kiss Off,” by Violent Femmes, from the album Violent Femmes (Slash, 1983).
  • “The Killing Moon,” by Echo & The Bunnymen, from the album Ocean Rain (Korova, 1984).
  • “Bastards of Young,” by The Replacements, from the album Tim (Sire, 1985).
  • “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths, from the album The Queen Is Dead (Rough Trade, 1986).
  • “Where The Streets Have No Name,” by U2, from the album The Joshua Tree (Island, 1987).
  • “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies, from the album Surfer Rosa (4AD, 1988).
  • “Strange,” by Galaxie 500, from the album On Fire (Rough Trade, 1989).

The 1990’s

  • “Candy,” by Iggy Pop, from the album Brick by Brick (Virgin, 1990).
  • “Black,” by Pearl Jam, from the album Ten (Epic, 1991).
  • “Sweetness Follows,” by R.E.M., from the album Automatic for the People (Warner Bros., 1992).
  • “Soma,” by Smashing Pumpkins, from the album Siamese Dream (Virgin, 1993).
  • “Pay No Mind (Snoozer),” by Beck, from the album Mellow Gold (DGC, 1994).
  • “Fake Plastic Trees,” by Radiohead, from the album The Bends (Capitol Records, 1995).
  • “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” by Oasis, from the single of the same name (Creation, 1996).
  • “No Surprises,” by Radiohead, from the album OK Computer (Capitol Records, 1997).
  • “Oh, Comely,” by Neutral Milk Hotel, from the album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Merge Records, 1998).
  • “Wise Up,” by Aimee Mann, from the original motion picture soundtrack to the film, Magnolia (Warner Music, 1999).

The 2000’s

  • “The Night,” by Morphine, from the album The Night (DreamWorks Records, 2000).
  • “Fell In Love With A Girl,” by The White Stripes, from the album White Blood Cells (Sympathy, 2001).
  • “Dear Chicago,” by Ryan Adams, from the album Demolition (Lost Highway, 2002).
  • “Maps,” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, from the album Fever To Tell (Interscope, 2003).
  • “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” by Arcade Fire, from the album Funeral (Merge, 2004).
  • “Mr. November,” by The National, from the album Alligator (Beggars Banquet, 2005).
  • “The Funeral,” by Band of Horses, from the album Everything All The Time (Sub Pop, 2006).
  • “Intervention,” by Arcade Fire, from the album Neon Bible (Merge, 2007).
  • “For Today,” by Jessica Lea Mayfield, from the album With Blasphemy So Heartfelt (Polymer Records, 2008).
  • “You and I,” by Wilco, from the album Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch, 2009).

The 2010’s

  • “I Think Ur A Contra,” by Vampire Weekend, from the album Contra (XL, 2010).
  • “If It’s Alive, I Will,” by Angel Olsen, from the album Strange Cacti (Bathetic Records, 2011).
  • “Continuous Thunder,” by Japandroids, from the album Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl Record Co., 2012).
  • “Spring Break (Birthday Song),” by Ex Cops, from the album True Hallucinations (Other Music Recording Co., 2013).
  • “Archie, Marry Me,” by Alvvays, from the album Alvvays (Polyvinyl Records, 2014).
  • “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” by Lera Lynn, from the digital single of the same name (Harvest Records, 2015).