Swiftly to the Top

I got the new Taylor Swift record a few days ago. Like her first album, it knocked my socks off and it hasn’t been out of my CD player, other than to give it brief relief while I listen to her Christmas EP. It replaced my copy of the latest Kellie Pickler CD at the top of the stack.

I am at the top end of the Taylor Swift listener demographic and her lyrics do not reflect my level of life experience. Part of the appeal of her music, beyond drawing out the false nostalgia of high school and young adult experiences I always wished I had, is the relief from the overly sexualised themes that seem unavoidable in most music today.

The rumour recently raced through the Internet that Taylor was pregnant. Not only that – she was reported to pregnant by Joe Jonas. There was dripping salivation at these stories, because Swift and Jonas are both Christians and both virgins. This was almost as good a story as Jamie Lynn Spears’ second teen pregnancy. The world is desperate for good people to turn bad.

I’m glad that Taylor doesn’t do “Christian” music. There are probably still those out there that live in the same sort of musical bubble I did, where there is Christian music and secular music and if you are a Christian and a musician, it is assumed that you to the former because if you do the latter, there is something spiritually wrong with you. On top of that, if you do Christian music, you are expected to have a music ministry. If you aren’t out there to evangelise or worship, you need to have some sort of spiritual goal for your listeners.

Unlike a number of successful artists who have started a music career at her age, she does not presume (or presumably even desire) to have a ministry. She just writes good music on the themes of her life, most of which involve a revolving door of innocent relationships.

To review Fearless itself, it is satisfying because it goes where it wants to go and gets there. In constrast, while I like the Kellie Pickler CD, it doesn’t do this. It appears that Kellie is trying to do a country-pop cross-over thing, even including a re-recorded or re-mixed song from her last album.  I never heard her on American Idol, but she has a voice made for country. Taylor’s voice isn’t as intrinsically country, and her style is less distinctly country, but it isn’t all over the place.

The songs are as good as the first album, which is difficult for a sophomore project. Even though she isn’t a sophomore herself, as when she record the debut, she also doesn’t have a catalog to draw from that dates from the 6th grade. (Who else is so talented that they have a song written in elementary school on a multi-platinum record? Or début with a smash single written in freshman math class? There are some old unsuccessful songwriters out there that find this very irritating.) I can hear at least four or five radio singles.  It sold over 200,000 copies on the first day it was released and was certified gold by the end of the week. It had over 129,000 legal downloads in the first week.

I’m glad she (or her record company) has stuck with Nathan Chapman as her producer. He’s clearly got what it takes to tap Taylor’s talent onto tape.

Country Music Goes PC

As I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of country music artist Taylor Swift. I may not fit her target demographic, but clearly she has a broad enough fan base to be the only female artist in the history of the Billboard country charts to have five consecutive Top 10 singles from a debut album.

I was pleased to learn that she got her high school diploma through a Christian homeschooling organisation. Families have to agree with Aaron Academy’s statement of faith. I’m guessing that means Taylor and her family are Christians.

I acquired a copy of the available-only-at-Wal-mart EP Beautiful Eyes. Since we have no Country radio in this country, I had never heard the radio mix of “Picture to Burn”. I was disappointed that the PC lobby apparently got to her record company. The lyrics originally said:

So go and tell your friends
That I’m obsessive and crazy,
That’s fine
I’ll tell mine
You’re gay,
And by the way,

Now the last part says:

That’s fine,
you won’t mind
if I say

The thing is that the original lyrics weren’t even offensive gay listeners, if the 90 comments on the 9513 blog are any indication. It’s only politically correct straight people who couldn’t get the context and the usage. The original lyric is about retaliation and fighting fire with fire. (Not exactly turn the other cheek stuff, but when have you ever known an offended young woman to thinkabout that when it comes to lying ex-boyfriends?) The new lyric makes no sense.

A perfectly good lyric has been sacrificed for the sake of a group who don’t even care.

Another Country Queen

Being on the wrong side of the ocean for any radio exposure to country music, it takes a while for me to pick up on what’s hot. First I discovered Carrie Underwood,  and more recently Taylor Swift. Now with Kellie Pickler, I have completed my collection of the current triumvirate Queens of Nashville.

Once again, I have found an album that knocks my socks off. What distinguishes Kellie and her songs are the reality of them. Country music tends to have a real-life feel about it generally, but Carrie and Taylor have fairly conventional happy family backgrounds. Nothing wrong with that and I’m not denying that conventional or happy is just as real-life as any other. Kellie was deserted by her mother at age two. Her father has been in and out of prison and she was raised by her grandparents, until her grandmother died when Kellie was in high school. Not surprisingly, there’s a little more pain in Kellie’s songwriting.

I’m sure that there are male country artists who are worth a listen. It’s just a matter of finding a way to squeeze them into my playlist amongst the three beautiful blondes.

Forever Young

The difference between adults and children is that children want to grow up and adults wish they didn’t have to.

I mentioned earlier in the week that I might have further reflection on Peter Pan. Kids love Peter Pan because of all the adventures. They want to fly and fight pirates. Adults just wish they could stay forever young.

I think that’s part of the reason I like to listen to Taylor Swift. Her music, with themes of innocent love and summers past, is nostalgic. It’s a false nostalgia, but sentimental nonetheless. I never had those idealised relationships or breakups – just wished I had. It’s not that I now wish that I had, but rather that I wished it back then. So maybe I’m nostalgic about how I wish I could have been nostalgic. And then there’s the whole wishing I could have been as talented and successful at that age, when I was starting to write music and wanted to be a professional musician but had none of the talent or connections. That’s a lot of layers, but it still gets to the same place.

So part of it is the desire to re-live what was and what could have been, or even what never could have been but would have been really great. But Peter Pan is also about avoiding the consequences of mortality. It’s not just that he stays a boy – he never dies.

Regardless of how old I get or how old I feel, I never think I’m old. It doesn’t seem like I’m 26 years away from my three score and ten. When I dream, I’m not a fat one-legged almost 44-year-old. No, somehow in my mind I’m still in my 20s. I’m grown, but just. Until I remember the truth, I still feel like I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. When I think of the truth, and think of how little I’ve done with the time I’ve been here, it’s just a little depressing

I think about death constantly, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to die. With every season of the year that passes, I think about how I have one less to experience ever again. And it’s not like 70 years is a guarantee. Northern Illinois University yesterday is evidence of that. Four years ago, my own brother died at 34.

Sadly, nostalgia is ethereal and mortality unavoidable. The only Neverland is eternity. There is only one way to be forever young, and that is to (hopefully grow old and) die. My favourite Psalm is the antithesis of Peter Pan, perhaps because my desire for a life like the latter brings into clear focus my need for the former. Moses, as recorded in Psalm 90 (in the LXX it is Psalm 89) says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”