Monday, August 14, 2023

This Year: 2002

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more.

I want to say this was the song of my layoff in 2007, but it wasn't, quite. [1] I got this record in December of that year, a couple of months after I started a new job. But I listened to it a lot in the car, driving to and from my new train station, trying to make sense of my new working life.

And that's a good thing: I don't know if I could have supported the weight of this when I was still unemployed. 

Everyone has, I think, a few songs that are central to their conceptions of themselves. Maybe happy songs from important moments, maybe "our song," maybe something bright and happy and cheery from their teenage years. I've always been darker and more cynical that that; I mentioned Matthew Sweet's Knowing People here a few weeks back. This is another one; this one is even more stark.

And everybody thinks that we're in this together
And everybody wishes "always be together"
But we're all in this alone
Oh we're all in this alone
Oh we're all in this alone
And the world is all alone

I roared along with this song, especially that refrain, in my car over and over again. It was a mantra, or a talisman. This is We're All in This Alone by Mendoza Line, the band whose name was mockingly self-loathing. [2]

This is another song that starts up distinctively, with a clicking sound that I've always associated with an old-style movie projector. It's the sound of a story starting, the sound of a beginning, the sound of "let me tell you something true."

And it is just brutal in that truth.

Lately you don't mean that much to me

That is the first line of the song.

Mendoza Line had a lot of back-and-forth, war-of-the-sexes songs on their last few albums - the main singers Timothy Bracy and Shannon McArdle were first marrying and then divorcing during that time, though their interviews at the time claim (in best Richard and Linda Thompson fashion) that the songs didn't actually reflect their relationship; that this was all fictional.

A whole bunch of those songs are great - The Lethal Temptress, It'll Be the Same Without You, It Helps to Leave the House, Morbid Craving - and the bracing, spite-filled, amazing 31 Candles the most of them. (And also listen to McArdle's first solo record, from immediately afterward, Summer of the Whore.)

But Alone is the dark core of that cynicism, the darkest and deepest they ever got, as close to pure nihilism a four-minute pop song ever got.

Occasionally I question my integrity
'Cause I turn a phrase so easily
Into what you want to hear

There's a lot of loathing in Mendoza Line, especially towards the end, both self- and aimed outward. You might have to be a particular kind of person to identify so much with that, but I am, and always have been, that kind of person.

This is still one of my favorite songs. This is still one of the songs that I think of as defining me: that it says something not just true - lots of songs say true things - but something central and important.

We're all in this alone.
And the world is all alone.

[1] That was New Routine, from Fountains of Wayne. I still can't hear that song without thinking about that summer.

[2] Literally. "The Mendoza Line" is baseball-writer terminology for "the worst and/or least qualified Major League player."

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