My favorite artist is John Mayer. Infer from that whatever you will. I know he can be quite a douchenozzle and a top notch egomaniac, but if you read anything and ask any musician, he’s a hell of a guitarist. His talent and ability with the guitar isn’t the reason that I have such an attachment to him though. For some reason, Mayer’s discography follows the arc of my life, and weirdly enough with each album release he somehow manages to capture the essence of what I’m going through in that time. It’s almost as if I’m living his emotional life on a year or two time delay, which I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
We bit our lips
She looked out the window
Rolling tiny balls of napkin paper
I played a quick game of chess with the salt and pepper shaker
And I could see clearly
An indelible line was drawn
Between what was good, what just slipped out and what went wrong
— “My Stupid Mouth”
I remember listening to “Room for Squares” and this is in high school. You hear this album that’s just bursting full of headstrong yearning for life, heartache, and wanting to find someone and figure it all out. If that’s not the analog for my teenage years, I don’t really know what is. I remember listening to this album and hearing the neurotic truths in the lyrics, especially in “My Stupid Mouth” and I immediately was drawn into the record. What he sang was what I would do, in the same situation, and I can’t tell you how many times I had that on repeat. When you enter adolescence I think you finally believe that you “get” music, which is a load of bullshit, but for some reason I found someone that inhabited the same headspace as me, and that was beyond exciting for me.
I believe (You can’t love too much, one part of it)
That my life’s gonna see (You can’t love too much, one part of it)
The love I give, return to me
“Heavier Things” was an apt title. Between dealing with the passing of Jason and my mother’s cancer, the latter half of high school was a gut check. Most teenagers are imbued with this sense of invincibility, and I guess I lost that earlier than most. I remember at the end of senior year looking out obviously with longing and hope, but with the longing subduing the hopeful part of it. I always found a comfort in the solace of this song, and to this day I can’t listen to it some days, because it instantly transports me back.
No, I’m not the man I used to be lately
See, you met me at an interesting time
And if my past is any sign of your future
You should be warned before I let you inside
— “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)”
College was definitely an interesting time. I’m obviously still changing as a person, but god, in college, I almost feel like month to month I wore a different skin. Between that and an incredibly frustrating series of false starts and aborted relationships, you can tell that I was in a good place emotionally and romantically. I feel like “Continuum” was very much an album about maturing and realizing who you are and trying to discover what your place is. I just kind of wish I worked harder in school instead of “trying to figure myself out”. Also of note, this was when John Mayer grew out his hair, and it was not a good look for him.
So young and full of running, all the way to the edge of desire
Steady my breathing, silently screaming,
“I have to have you now”
Wired and I’m tired
Think I’ll sleep in my clothes on the floor
Maybe this mattress will spin on its axis and find me on yours
— “Edge of Desire”
After college I took almost two years studying acting. I don’t think I was too angsty or emo in high school (though I did listen to my fair share of Dashboard), so I think this period in my life took the torch for that. I’d always been told to push myself intellectually, and this was the first time that I actually got the time to explore and understand emotional work. Obviously, it was incredibly intoxicating, but when you dive that deep into something without a sort of counter-balance you get a bit blinded. Exploring that full spectrum of emotion was breathtaking, and as such my proclivity for unrequited love hit a peak here, and “Battle Studies” came out at a time when I was really hitting rock bottom of that. So yeah, the album was a bit over the top emotionally I think, but it still hit home for me in a very real way.
‘Cause when you’re done with this world,
You know the next is up to you.
And for once in his life it was quiet,
As he learned how to turn in the tide,
And the sky was a flare,
When he came up for air,
In his homemade, fan-blade, one-man submarine ride.
— “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”
“Born and Raised” came out when I had zero fucking clue what I was doing with my life. To be fair, I could say the same now, but back then I was really lost. I love this song because it was just something that came out of the blue. It’s this really strange concept about a guy who’s tired of his life in neutral and decides to build a submarine. Obviously, everyone thinks he’s crazy, but eventually he makes it to Japan, and begins anew. It’s a soft-spoken melody, but there’s a driving urgency beneath it and the whole song is wrapped in this feeling of hopeful melancholy. At the end of the day, this guy is running away from his troubles and his responsibilities. There’s nothing noble in that, but there’s also something admirable about doing the impossible and earning a fresh start.
Give me my badge and gun
Give me the songs that I once sung
Give me those jet-black, kick-back, lay down nights alone
This house is safe and warm
But I was made to chase the storm
Taking the whole world on with big ole’ empty arms
— “Badge and Gun”
I’ll fully admit it, “Paradise Valley” is my least favorite Mayer album. I feel he goes a little too Neil Young here and is trying to be something that he’s not. But there’s something about that last line in that verse, “taking the whole world on with big ole’ empty arms.” That’s how I felt when I moved to New York City. I had to leave safe harbor, and I had to throw myself out there. I really had no one, and no one was looking for me either. I had spent a lot of my life being sheltered and protected, and for the first time I had to get the shit kicked out of me. Over and over and over, in ways and places that I couldn’t even imagine. But out of that, you know, is a life, for better or worse.
Still like the letters in your name and how they feel, babe
Still think I’m never gonna find another you
Still like to leave the party early and go home, babe
And don’t you know, babe
I’d rather sit here on my own and be alone, babe
— “Still Feel Like Your Man”
And then of course, there’s the John Mayer album that just came out which is a few songs short of being a whole record about his breakup with Katy Perry. Funnily enough, the first of his new tracks to come out was about the time when I was working through the aftermath of Hurricane Daisy. As soon as I heard the album, I laughed out loud alone in my apartment. It’s funny you know? It’s the little things like a multi-platinum artist being the emotional soundtrack for your entire adult life that makes you realize that no one really has any idea what we’re doing. Discography aside, I feel like Mayer’s music has been the accompaniment to my life every step of the way. It’s therapy, and it’s comfort, knowing that while he is both richer and more talented than I am, he still lives in my headspace, and is probably as emotionally stunted as I am.
But my favorite lyric? I always thought that this would describe my perfect girl—
I loved you
You know what the crazy thing is?
I was actually right.
Touche Mr. Mayer.