John Mayer: Room for Squares (2001)
I spent the last couple of days at my friend Ren’s apartment in Toronto while he’s been out of town. I was looking at the gig posters he has hanging on his walls, Arcade Fire and Wilco and Wolf Parade, and they filled me with something akin to regret. Most music fans experience many moments of self-discovery as they listen to bands like these from day to day – on walks, at the computer, on the way to work. Personally, these moments now serve as whispers of inspiration where there once were angelic proclamations.
I’ve constructed too many ridiculous psychological barriers that have skewered my appreciation for music. Before most of the labels collapsed and modern indie rock really began to take hold of the young, predominantly white, tech-savvy hipster consciousness, I heard “No Such Thing” by John Mayer and downloaded it. I bought his album and heard the song “Why Georgia,” where I came across the term “quarter-life crisis” for the first time. The song is about driving and feeling the temptation to keep driving instead of returning to daily life, for fear that everything is going wrong, that life is a theatrical absurdity, that we have no idea what we’re doing, saying or thinking.
I spent the greater part of my 20’s feeling that way precisely. John Mayer’s lyrics were easy to relate to. They were songs about figuring out women (“Love Song for No One”), about doing or saying the wrong thing (“My Stupid Mouth”), about the joy of sex and the potential heartbreak in its implications (“Your Body is a Wonderland”), about growing up and experiencing not a pleasant-sigh inducing nostalgia for the simplicity of youth, but one that represents a necessary escape from emotional turmoil (“83”). John was 23 when he released the record. They’re songs from a young man whose most passionate belief stood for music, validated by a career that has since revealed the depths of his talents as a guitarist and lyricist.
I’ve long had an attraction to a subculture of “cool” that has stretched out beyond high school into the real world, where young fans of music strive for a tangible authenticity of which John Mayer has no part. There’s nothing indie rock or art school about him. His persona isn’t particularly imaginative and his subject matter certainly doesn’t break new ground. But back in 2001, I connected with the John Mayer of “Great Indoors,” who relates a fantasy of never leaving the house, and the John Mayer who sings softly and apologetically about a lifestyle of making mistakes in “Not Myself.” When I listened to “St. Patrick’s Day,” I heard it as a blueprint for how I felt about a girl (who was way more into Luke Doucet). I understood his descriptions of the way a relationship could stop and start and how affection can endure underneath it all.
At times I feel as though I’ve damned myself for my own taste in music. I beat myself up for jumping on certain pop bandwagons, acting too target-market and on and on, to the point where I can’t enjoy any music, no matter how new or unheard of. I’ve lost the ability to be honest with my own tastes – too concerned about how it might appear to others, or that I won’t be able to find anyone else who understands the connection I can have to a record like “Room for Squares.”
That’s not John Mayer’s fault. It’s a new decade. Time to put the quarter-life crisis and all its superficial and ignorant concerns aside once and for all. I need to remember the way “Room for Squares” and all of these records I’m writing about necessitated my growth as a person. I need to regain the faith that music still has the power to pull me out of myself and offer me a look at something greater. I want to spend the next 10 years with music in my headphones, on my video screens, on my walls, and in my life. The only question is whether or not music will still want me.
Live performance of “Why Georgia”: