Though I am a bit creeped out by data collection, I do look forward to Spotify's end-of-year summary email. The summary always gives an interesting snapshot of the listener's year in music. How much time did you spend listening to music throughout the year? What songs did you listen to most? These questions and more will be answered.
I guess I'm not so bothered by the practice of data collection as long as I get something cool or interesting out of it. Let's face it, everyone's a hypocrite at times.
This year, the summary revealed that my favorite artist of 2018 was none other than Jason Isbell. If you know me, then this isn't a shock. Isbell instantly became one of my favorite artists when I discovered his album Southeastern a few years ago. I've since had the pleasure of seeing him live in concert on three separate occasions, each time being special in its own right.
I imagine it's impossible to be a fan of Isbell's without knowing a bit of his story, but if you're not a fan, here's a quick summary:
Isbell started his career with the Drive-By Truckers, a country rock band known for raising hell. The band eventually kicked Isbell out because he was too good at raising hell and they were concerned about his alcoholism. At the insistence of his now-wife Amanda Shires, Isbell eventually entered rehab and now seems to have made a true recovery.
Isbell is one of the few artists who actually got better after rehab, a fact which I'm sure must aid in his sobriety. Having your post-rehab work suck must make a person want to hit the bottle.
I discovered Jason Isbell during an interesting time in my life. I was in the process of fighting my own demons and always had my eyes open for inspiration and direction. The thing I've enjoyed most about Isbell's music is his sense of confessionalism. He doesn't shy from his past. Instead, he shares it with his listeners and shows how we can all learn from his own experiences. Isbell gives me hope that we can all become something better than our former selves. If we don't believe that true and sincere self improvement is possible, how can we ever endure the painful process necessary for transformation?
No other artist's work has touched me as Jason Isbell's songs have, and Isbell's strength is definitely his lyrics.
Perhaps his words may push you to open your heart to love again, like in “Stockholm”:
Once a wise man to the ways of the world Now I've traded those lessons for faith in a girl
Maybe, as in the case of “Something To Love” they're an acknowledgment that life is hard and sometimes you just need something to keep you going:
I hope you find something to love Something to do when you feel like giving up A song to sing or a tale to tell Something to love, it'll serve you well
As I listen to Isbell, I often find myself envious of his ability to communicate so much with so few words. We often think that our heroes are supposed to inspire us to mimic them, but sometimes they can actually demotivate you when you accept that you'll never be able to reach their level of mastery. This describes how I feel about Jason Isbell and also Cormac McCarthy.
I am able to attach personal meaning to so many of Isbell's song but perhaps none moreso than “Relatively Easy”, because it's a song that I'll forever associate with an extremely painful and transformative personal experience.
Rewind to fall 2017
I've never been particularly fond of doctors' offices or hospitals. Let's face it, outside an annual checkup, if you're there, it's probably not for the greatest reason. But I've really hated the idea of them since losing both of my parents to cancer in 2011. I can't help feeling that a similar fate awaits me, and I can't tell you how many symptoms I've interpreted as a sign that its time has come. This kind of thinking isn't the most logical, but logic doesn't always prevail over emotion, now does it?
Before the fall of 2017, I'm not sure I'd ever had a checkup. But I most definitely hadn't had one since losing my parents. After running for 6 years, I had finally found the strength to face the monster. Or so I thought.
My fears and avoidance were on my mind the moment I walked into the office. I filled out the paperwork and then was led to the exam room. As I sat on the exam table in a gown, I found myself doing my best to fight off the tears and to contain myself. I don't think I've ever felt so alone and vulnerable at any other point in my life.
Finally, the doctor entered and she started asking her usual questions and I answered accordingly. Then she asked the big one:
Both your parents still living?
And that's when I broke. The doctor knew she'd hit a nerve. I know she knew because that's when she asked, “Did I hit a nerve?” Gee, what gave it away, Doc?
Through the tears, I spilled it all out. The horrible truth that I always wanted to hide, even though it was obviously impossible to do so.
We finished the exam, and the most basic things looked fine. Of course, I'd have to wait for some blood test results to come back before I could be sure, but for the most part, I was good to go. No reason to suspect cancer.
When I got to my car, I cranked it up and broke down again. If anyone saw me in that moment, he likely thought I'd just received the worst news, the kind that people often fear when they go to the doctor. But I was okay. I had faced my greatest fear, and I had come out okay on the other side.
This all happened inside my car as “Relatively Easy” by Jason Isbell played over my car stereo. And one particular piece of the song stuck with me that day:
You should know Compared to those on a global scale Our kind has had it relatively easy
Dealing with personal pain requires quite the balancing act. I'm convinced that not properly acknowledging my pain before almost destroyed me, so it's a personal mission of mine to be more honest about my pain with myself and others. On the flipside, we can't allow ourselves to endlessly wallow in our own pity. There does come a point when you have to suck it up and get on with your day and life.
And that's where those words from “Relatively Easy” come in. I've had troubles throughout my own life, as has everyone. And while there are plenty who have had it better than I, there are plenty who would love nothing more than to have a life like mine. I don't say that to brag. I say that as a function of gratitude. I say it as a sincere acknowledgment.
There may come a time when I stop listening to Jason Isbell. It's hard to imagine such a day, but anything is possible. But if that day ever does come, I know I'll never forget the impact that his music had on me during a crucial time of my own personal development.