the story of a middle-aged twenty-year-old.

There’s no tag for Stuff I’ve Been Listening To, but I tend to hear songs as story anyway. I used to get very confused by the people who would say, “Oh, this band has a great sound!” That kind of statement just makes no sense to me. But anyway.

This is the story of my experience with the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter.

My mom owned her two most successful albums from the mid-90s on CD – Come On Come On and Shooting Straight in the Dark. I stole them at age 10 when I got tired of my Chronicles of Narnia audiobooks and listened to them over and over. Part of me will always know every little riff, growl and scream in “Down at the Twist and Shout.”

I didn’t expand until I downloaded Spotify in the spring of my freshman year of college, except for the free sample single on iTunes one day in 2010 (“I Put My Ring Back On”).

Hometown Girl is probably one of my favorite albums of all time, and no, “Just Because” does not make me cry.

What’s funny about a lot of this is that Mary Chapin Carpenter was older when she released her first album than I am now. Despite what she writes about being a young girl, little of what she writes deals with things I am familiar with. Divorced parents, older siblings who grow distant, growing up in the 70s, getting older and how to deal with that, looking back on the adventures of one’s younger days, loss, deep grief.

I’m not on a lot of those wavelengths. My parents are still in love (which I thank God every day for), I am the distant older sibling, I was neither born nor thought of in the 70s, and twenty is not old enough to call it “getting older” (even though I sometimes do) or to have a sufficient stockpile of young-person antics. And the great loss of my life is still in the singular, and only a part of the natural passage of time rather than an aberration, even if it still makes me sad.

But I’m not on those wavelengths. I don’t “get” it.

And yet I can still sing “Just Because” and feel as though I am questioning the nature of love (who are we kidding, I do that all the time).

I can still sing “The Dreaming Road” and feel the poignant sweet self-laughter and the gentle self-reproach of “I ran away from you, I was twenty-two, drunk in Amsterdam,” though I have never run away drunk from anyone and have never been to Amsterdam and haven’t even turned twenty-one.

I can still sing “Halley Came to Jackson” and feel the strange empty nostalgia of learning about things that happened to your parents when you were too small to remember.

I can still sing “Stones in the Road” and feel as though I have been part of history even though I never watched “all those cities burning down.”

I can still sing “Put My Ring Back On” and understand the reconciliation even though I have never been in a romantic relationship that involved rings.

I can still sing “Learning the World” and understand what it feels like to have a curtain of darkness between you and living, when “all that you used to know is no use at all/the same eyes you’ve always had have you walking into walls,” though no loss has ever thrown me into a depression that deep.

I find this interesting. I don’t think I have a particularly old soul. The older I get the more naive I feel. I said to myself the other day that though when I was younger I was told all the time that I was mature for my age, I might have just always been at the maturity level of, say, a seventeen-year-old, and now that I am older than seventeen I am not as mature as I should be.

Oh well. Perhaps, as you can paraphrase L’Engle, there are no barriers of chronology in art.



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