Happy New Year!
The year works great as a metric for measuring incremental personal change. The century helps us conceive of human history as it extends beyond ourselves. But the decade strikes a perfect balance, helping us define and analyze coherent mini-eras within our lives.
It’s convenient that they’re set in cycles of ten, because living through ten of them is as much as any of us can hope for. We confidently abbreviate decades in conversation, omitting their parent century because, for example, we know we didn’t see the 1890s and we’re pretty sure we won’t see the 2090s. The 1990s were our ‘90s, and they will continue to be the only ‘90s throughout our run of things.
Those ‘90s were the first decade I saw all the way through – five years old when they started, 15 years old when they ended. It’s the one decade that’s never going to feel like one decade when I think about it, because I can’t remember a thing about life in 1990, and 1999 feels way too recent. The ‘90s took me from Sesame Street to driver’s ed, from not being able to tie my own shoes to having the same speaking voice I do now. My first concert in the ‘90s was my first concert full stop (Squeeze, then my favorite band, at the University of Hartford in 1991), and my last concert in the ‘90s wasn’t even the first time I’d seen the headlining band (R.E.M., then my favorite band, at Jones Beach in 1999). The ‘90s were my entire childhood, and laid my musical foundation.
The ‘00s took me from 15 to 25. This is my big, defining musical decade, the one no other can ever beat in emotional significance. My first concert in the ‘00s was coincidentally the first I’d attend with Kyla (Fiona Apple at the Oakdale Theatre in 2000), and by the last (I think TV on the Radio at the Boston House of Blues in 2009?) we’d seen more together than I can count.
The ‘10s, then, are my first fully-adult-throughout decade, 25 to 35, the one that feels clearest as a picture from beginning to end. It was our New York decade, with the first concert kicking off our tenure in Brooklyn (Rogue Wave at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in 2010) and the last being somehow even more of a New York thing (David Byrne’s American Utopia on Broadway last month). It was a decade full of amazing music, and I was blessedly able to be in a place where I could experience an enormous amount of it.
There was never going to be a tidy way to wrap up this month-long writing exercise. There’s no one big song of the ‘10s for me, and any of the 30 I’ve already written about could be my favorite on a given day.
So I’m going back to the album that kicked things off, Beach House’s Teen Dream. It was released in January 2010, just as we moved to the city. We saw Beach House open for The National in Prospect Park later that year, and I remember Victoria Legrand’s voice sounding perfectly dreamy. I loved this record when it came out, and it hasn’t lost any of its magic for me. Though they’re a Baltimore band, they’ll always sound like New York in my head.
My favorite song on the record has changed over time, but these days I’m most drawn to “Take Care.” As an earnest expression of romantic love it’s beautiful, but what always gets me is the unexpectedly open-ended promise of the chorus: “I’ll take care of you / if you ask me to / in a year or two.” It’s the promise your favorite music never breaks.