In celebration of a new calendar year and the completion of another full year of my life, I've been listening to "This Year" by the Mountain Goats, a track that I've busted out at so many New Year's celebrations that it's now a personal cliché.
I started loving the Mountain Goats in college. I heard my first Mountain Goats song, "Jam Eater Blues," on the FSU radio station on the way to check in at the Tallahassee offices of Cutco, where I, like so many other bewildered students before, had been made to believe that I could hawk overpriced cutlery to my parents and their friends. I was the worst at that job. And I hated it. So when John Darnielle's churning guitar came over the airwaves, telling me in no uncertain terms that "life is too short to refrain from eating jam out of the jar," I knew I was going to quit that job, and then I was going to drive straight to Krispy Kreme. And that's precisely what went down .
It was the early 21st century, but even so, I didn't have Google glued to my fingertips like I do now, so I believed that John Darnielle and company were as new to the music scene as my tastes were. In point of fact, the man had been inspiring fans to make his music the soundtracks of their early twenties for well nigh a decade-and-a-half. Of all the albums that I heard and loved in my collegiate years, it was and will forever be The Sunset Tree, the album on which "This Year" appears, that runs underneath the memory of that time, even though it came out not long before I graduated.
I'm not sure how it's possible, but somehow, my time in college seemed to contain more angst than even my teenage years, possibly because I was pretending to be both a teenager and an adult at the same time. I was, in fact, neither. "This Year" spoke to that reality in a lot of ways: it's a song about looking hard at the present moment, and longing for a different future. It's also a song about recklessness; a very specific brand of recklessness (i.e., stealing your stepdad's car to play video games and get drunk with Cathy), but the spirit of the song was something I could relate to, even if I didn't drink and didn't know anybody named Cathy. I knew a Katie, though. Sometimes we'd get a milkshake. I guess it's not the same thing. In any event, that's the best way to describe how the song sounds: like a nervous kid getting away with something. Didn't we all feel like that the when we first struck out on our own?
Even outside of my personally outrageous angst, it seems like twenty-somethings in college consider themselves to be the most put-upon beings on the planet. To that end, the song's chorus, "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me!", was something I could really get behind back then. That's not to say that I discredit the events of that time in my life as being less mountain than molehill: it's actually not easy to work and go to school at the same time, and it's not easy to consider your place in your family home now that you don't live there anymore, and it's not easy to try and figure out what to do about your friends and your boyfriend or girlfriend when you leave school, and it's not easy to figure out what the heck to do with your life next. It's just that "making it" didn't really mean anything tangible or even practical. When I lit the sparklers and ran around the yard with my friends singing this song at the stroke of midnight, all I was really hoping for was to attain the kind of happiness I assumed the world owed me.
This year, we stayed in on New Year's Eve. The baby had just gotten over an ear infection, and we didn't feel like waking her up and taking her out in the cold to get to the annual ball drop downtown. Frankly, we didn't feel like going out ourselves, so Anthony cracked open a beer and I poured some Spumante and we watched King of the Hill until it was 2013. Then, I headed off to bed, and the usual pre-sleep worries started to swirl around my head: when do I get paid next, and where will that money go, and is Lucy ready for the potty, and do we damage her psyche when we tell her big girls don't poop the floor, and can I take on an extra day at work, and when will I find time to finish that story I started months ago, and will we ever find a bigger place to live, and why do I feel old now, even though I know that I'm not?
I put on the Mountain Goats, and I felt that same thrill that I do every time I hear this song. Yeah, alright. It's true. I can do this, and everything, probably. I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.