Music has always been important to me, and hearing a certain song can place me immediately in a specific time or moment in my life. Play me Kate Bush’s the “Hounds of Love,” or the “Upstairs at Eric’s” album by YAZ, and I’m immediately in the dressing room of my college theater department in 1987 getting ready for a show and feeling terribly artistic and deep.
All the stages of our life have a soundtrack
If I hear “Both Sides Now,” by Judy Collins, I’m riding in my family station wagon in the early 1970s listening to my sister and her best friend sing along, their identical long straight hairstyles held in place by identical barrettes. The Latin music craze of 1999 brings me back to the hot summer days when my infant daughter could only be soothed by the sounds of Ricky Martin or Carlos Santana, and High School Musical was so much the soundtrack of my early years as a single mom, that hearing “We’re All in This Together,” has the power to reduce me to tears.
We love music in our house, and we love to tease each other about our music collections- mine is a predictable mix of Broadway cast albums and the Indigo Girls, my wife’s is eclectic, ranging from Yma Sumac to the Beatles to Amy Winehouse, and our 21-year old daughter’s is…actually something I haven’t given much thought too since the day I uncoupled her iTunes account from mine when she was a teenager.
How I came to appreciate Taylor Swift
Until this year, when the pandemic, quarantine and a whole lot of time together with my daughter (exiled as she was from her college campus) brought me something I never saw coming – an appreciation of and love for the music of Taylor Swift.
This spring, when it was still snowing in New England, and we were running out of TV shows to binge, my daughter suggested watching the documentary about Taylor Swift, Miss Americana. Now I knew a few of her songs, mostly “Shake it Off,” which I forever associate with a crowd of dancing teenagers at my daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday party, but I honestly had never given much thought to what else she had written.
I settled in somewhat reluctantly, but too tired to put up much of an argument. A little over two hours later I emerged with a new-found appreciation of her as an artist, a slightly better grasp of her music, and a new way to connect with my daughter. Little did I know that six months later I would go from casual listener to full-on fan.
To combat quarantine boredom as spring bled into summer, we took to taking road trips, even local excursions to a nearby all-outdoor restaurant became an “event.” And on any car ride, no matter how short or how long, music would play and singing (not necessarily good singing, but singing nonetheless) would happen. And more often than not, my daughter would offer “let’s listen to some Taylor Swift,” a process usually punctuated by “oh I love this one!” or “skip that one and put on the next one,” and then one night my wife said “I downloaded the new Taylor Swift album if you want to listen to it.” And we were off and running.
For many weeks I was a bemused bystander to all of this, grateful to simply be in the car with my family, grateful for the slow changing of New England seasons that allowed for open windows again, and content to sink into my thoughts as I watched the scenery pass by with the sounds of Taylor in the background. Until one night.
A Taylor Swift song led to one of my favorite moments of summer
It was July, we had ventured to a restaurant about 30 minutes from us with high marks for safe outdoor dining procedures. After a wonderful dining experience that felt “almost” normal, we were heading home with the windows opened to the warm night air. Taylor Swift music on shuffle as our usual soundtrack. The song “Paper Rings” came on and my wife and daughter were singing along – then I realized “wait I minute, I think I know these lyrics too!” And for a few blissful moments, as our three voices joined together, life felt OK again. “I like shiny things but I’d marry you with paper rings, uh huh, that’s right,” we sang at the top of our lungs, laughing at my wife’s steering wheel ‘dance moves’ and feeling so content in the power of our little family of three. Whatever was happening in the world couldn’t touch the feeling in our car that night and I had Taylor Swift to thank for it.
Since that night in the car, the Taylor Swift section on my phone has grown and grown. “Listen to this one mom, I love the bridge,” my daughter will say, or “these three songs go together, did you know that?”, and I’m off again down the Swift rabbit-hole.
I take my morning walk to the beats of “Out of the Woods” or “Ready for It,” while an unexpected October snow day finds me moodily hitting replay on “Invisible String” or “Last Great American Dynasty.” These are all songs I had no idea existed at the start of the year, yet now form the backdrop of much of my days.
This year has given me the gift of time
This year has been so many things, exhausting, scary, anxious, hard and unpredictable. But it’s also been strangely comforting, often bringing us exactly what we didn’t know we needed until it was in front of us.
For me, this year of quarantine gave me the gift of time with a daughter standing right on the precipice of flying off to her own life, time for long talks about ‘what comes next,’ and time for letting her musical tastes influence me for a change. No one can tell when all this will end or what our new normal will look like but I will always remember 2020 as the year greatest comfort came in the form of two wildly different, supremely accomplished young women who give me hope – my daughter…and Taylor Swift.
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