and the truth is, we're just getting started
Album: Aim and Ignite
The story, as my parents once told it to me,1 was that the year before Caitlin and I started dating was the worst of my life. That is, uh, pretty harsh, as parental assessments go. And while I’d probably disagree, I can see their point. In that purportedly worst year, I graduated college and did a whole lot of nothing with the expensive degree that they had financed; I moved in with a bunch of my high school friends and took a pointless, minimally-compensated job with no future; I dove headfirst into more social turmoil than I had experienced across the rest of my life combined; and then I got into a single-car accident that was expensive, embarrassing, and entirely my fault.
So, sure. Not my best year. I get it.
That next year, though—well, I think even my parents would agree that I turned things around. Caitlin and I moved to Oregon so we could live in a town so pretty that Top Chef just filmed some episodes in our old backyard, and I took a job that turned out to be the first stop of what has since become a quality career. These were, undoubtedly, steps in the right direction.
We also listened to Aim and Ignite a lot. I love The Format with all my heart, so my anticipation for Nate Ruess’ next project was substantial. Aim and Ignite isn’t perfect—at the time, I called it the sixth best album of the year—but its high points are extremely high and so it became a staple of listening in our house. “Be Calm” and “Take Your Time (Coming Home)” are among the greatest songs about finding yourself that I’ve ever heard and “The Gambler” is the song you would guess I’d be writing about in a post that is ostensibly a love letter to my wife,2 but I’m not writing about any of those songs today.
Instead, I’m writing about “Barlights,” a song that, in the same verse, manages to name-drop Little Bo Peep while also calling out “all the rich white kids […] looking for a fight.” Quality stuff. And see, Caitlin always accuses me of liking depressing music—she’s not wrong!—so finding something that is uptempo enough to hold her attention and pretentious enough for me3 is no easy feat. “Barlights,” with its driving rhythm, inescapable hooks, and tremendous lyrics, manages to clear that high bar.4 It also, for me at least, hits close to home.
For a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted out of my life. That’s a vague statement but you can interpret it however you’d like and be more right than wrong. This is not a sob story; I graduated from college into the worst economic climate in a hundred years with an economically useless degree and a desire to do work that was, against all odds, even more economically useless than that degree.5 I was also self-aware enough to see all of that in real-time, and to know that I was lucky to have both a degree at all and some passions to guide me. I wasn’t lost, just directionless. I knew some things about myself—I love music, I want to write, I don’t want to be poor—but not what to do about any of those things. I didn’t know what I wanted out of my life.
And then—sorry, dear, I know how heavy-handed this will feel but still—I started dating Caitlin. For the first time in a long time, I knew something that I wanted out of my life. And I knew that I was going to pursue it, no matter the cost.
So, look, I don’t know if the year before Caitlin and I started dating was the worst year of my life, but I do know that the first year after was one of the best. And in “Barlights,” a song that fits into the overlapping section of the Venn diagram of Caitlin and me, Ruess pretty well covered a big part of the reason why, of what it’s like to find defined purpose after so long without it: “For the first time in a long time, I feel alive.”
I did then and I still do now.
Happy birthday, Caitlin.
I give “Barlights” five out of five stars.
Hi, Mom and Dad!
I’d say “we’re getting to the point, Caitlin, I promise” but you know how I am.
Why deny it?
It also may have been the song that led to a real who’s-on-first-caliber unintentional comedy routine between Caitlin and her sister—hi, Erin!—on a drive through those scenic Oregon mountains.
Spoiler alert: My decade-plus of blogging has not been lucrative.