Finney: Confessions of a middle-aged Taylor Swift fan
I land heavily in my therapist’s well-worn recliner. He offers me coffee or water. I wave it off.
He closes the door. The session begins.
“I’ve got a real problem, Doc,” I say.
“What’s on your mind?” he says. He always says that.
“I’ve been driving around town switching radio stations constantly,” I say. “I don’t stop until I find a Taylor Swift song. It’s a game. And my winning percentage is pretty good these days.”
“I’m not sure I see the problem,” the doctor says.
“Doc, come on, it’s Taylor Swift,” I say. “Do I look like a ‘tween’ girl to you?”
The truth is, I’m not even sure what a “tween” girl is. I think it’s some flavor of millennial. I usually avoid those people.
The doctor pops in a lozenge. He always does it on the sly, as if I don’t see him reach into the pocket of his khakis.
It’s a weird tick, but so what? At least he’s not riding around looking for the reigning pop princess on the dial.
“Are you going to her concert Thursday?” the doctor asks.
“Are you kidding me?” I say. “I’m a 40-year-old single man with no kids. If I show up to a Taylor Swift concert at my age, I might as well drive a windowless white panel van with ‘FREE CANDY’ spray painted on the side.”
The doctor laughs.
“Besides,” I say in a quieter tone, “The show sold out before I could get tickets.”
The doctor laughs harder.
“Look, Doc, I have Bob Dylan's entire catalog on CD,” I say. “Well, except for ‘Dylan.’ Nobody should have to listen to that. A man like me shouldn’t be into Taylor Swift. There is no possible way this is cool.”
“Now don’t get me wrong,” I continue, “I’m all for great female voices. I’ve got every Aimee Mann record there is, even the 'Til Tuesday stuff. I’ve seen Pat Benatar and Joan Jett live. Give me a good Neko Case disc or Emmylou Harris and I’m in heaven.
“But we’re talking about Taylor Swift. She’s the cool girl in school who you would fall in love with the first day you see her in high school but doesn’t know you’re alive. She’s in the richest, hippest sorority on campus with the most beautiful girls. She doesn’t belong in my collection, let alone in my most-played list.”
The doctor writes something in his manila folder. I figure he’ll be calling the hospital to haul me out of there any moment, if Gov. Branstad hasn’t shut them all down yet.
The doctor strokes his mustache.
“Didn’t you like Madonna or Cher when you were a kid?” he says.
“Well, sure, Doc, but that’s age-appropriate stuff,” I say. “I mean that was back when there was music on MTV. Cher wearing fishnets, a piece of duct tape and a leather jacket once serenaded a bunch of sailors. That’s coming-of-age stuff.”
“But,” I continue, “I’m way too old for this kid. Taylor Swift is a new millennium pop star out of the digital age. I still have a cassette player in my house.”
The doctor leans forward.
“Let’s try a different approach,” he says. “What do you like about Taylor Swift?”
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“Oh, Doc, what’s not to like?” I say. I feel something inside my cynical heart. It’s dangerously close to what romantic comedies describe as a “swoon.”
“She’s a terrific songwriter,” I say. “That latest single off '1989,' ‘Wildest Dreams?’ There’s a line: ‘His hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room.’ That’s good writing. Sensual. Sexy. But not gratuitous.”
“And then there’s her style — not the song, ‘Style,’ which is great, too — but the way she embraces that old 1950s showbiz chic. I really dig that.
“But, Doc, I think the thing I like best about her is that she’s positive. Sure, she writes about love and breakups and misery. That is, after all, the core of pop music.
“Somehow she’s found a way to raise above the fray that seems to dog female artists and actors. Most reporting about female pop stars is about what they wear to award shows and if they’re feuding with another female pop star.
“Yet the buzz on T-Swift is she loves everybody. She’s friends with everybody from Victoria Secret models to Lena Dunham and Mariska Hargitay. She’s just a beautiful 25-year-old kid who loves her cats, her friends and is having the time of her life ruling the world.”
The doctor shakes his head.
“Dan, I don’t see the problem.”
“I don’t know, Doc,” I say. “It just doesn’t seem right. I feel like I should be listening to harder stuff, ‘70s punk or some Jello Biafra monologues. Taylor Swift just seems too iconic for an aspiring iconoclast.”
The doctor pauses. He scribbles in his pad. He looks up, makes eye contact and grins.
“Dan, the solution is clear,” he says.
“What’s that?” I say.
“Just like what you like,” he says. “And as for the rest of it, well, ‘Shake it off. Shake, shake, shake it off.’”
The session ends before I can demand the refund of my co-pay.
I climb into my car. I drive off. I start to flick between radio stations.
Sports talk. Blah.
Museum rock 'n' roll. Pass.
Oh, wait. There’s my girl, Taylor. The song is “Back to December,” a vintage track from her Nashville days.
I smile. Another win.
Daniel P. Finney, the Register’s Metro Voice columnist, is a Drake University alumnus who grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. Reach him at 515-284-8144 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @newsmanone.