Have you heard of Car Seat Headrest? Neutral Milk Hotel? Nilüfer Yanya? Tay-K? Alt-J? Milo, the rapper who references Nabokov and Aristotle, rhyming “axis” with “praxis”? These are some of the musicians we listened to in the car Tuesday night coming home from the Taylor Swift concert. My daughter Jane, who turned 18 last month and got a tattoo and a vape to celebrate, is a big girl now. As I write this, she will only be living at home for another 28 days and then she will be off to the Catskills to attend a school that advertises itself as “a place to think.” She is ready for that. She acquired her notebooks even before her shower caddy and extra-long twin sheets.
(A word about these notebooks, probably no more familiar to you than Nilüfer Yanya, a half-Turkish girl from West London who sounds a little like Jeff Buckley. They are a brand called Rollbahn, “a highly coveted stationery product rarely seen outside Japan,” which Jane learned about from watching YouTube videos about the best ways to study, take notes and keep “bullet journals,” a.k.a. bu-jos. A stack of these brightly-colored spiral notebooks with cream-colored pages and pale gray dotted lines were her birthday gift from her doting thirty-year-old brother.)
Like her notebook connoisseurship, Jane’s musical knowledge comes from the Internet. Thanks to its brilliantly pulsing and ever-proliferating threads, she is forever discovering new artists who have no corporate connections, no advertising, no presence in the mainstream media. This Car Seat Headrest of whom I speak — this is one guy, a gay man in his twenties, who recorded his first four albums in the back seat of a car using GarageBand on his laptop. He has transcended playlist status: Jane’s boyfriend gave her the vinyl version of his first album for Valentine’s Day, then our deejay neighbor brought over a turntable.
To me, Mr. Headrest sounds a little like Jonathan Richman or the Velvet Underground. I like him very much better than the harsh rap music Jane also loves: Brockhampton, for example, a dozen rappers and producers who met on a Kanye West fan forum and moved into a group house in San Marcos, Texas. Or Rico Nasty, whose name says it all. Or “Poop, poop, scoop-diddy-whoop,” a timeless new lyric from Kanye himself.
Just when you think you are living in a science fiction novel, a stray thread of the fabric of the old world pokes through. One evening I heard the unspeakably lovely opening guitar riff of “Unbroken Chain,” from the Grateful Dead’s Live at the Mars Hotel, coming from somewhere in the distance. I had not heard it in years. Moved almost to tears, I wandered into the hall and realized that it was coming from Jane’s bedroom. “Isn’t this the most beautiful song,” she said.
She is, after all, my daughter. She is starting to like hot sauce, she says the f-word too much, she strongly feels that no matter what she ends up doing in life, it certainly will not be what her mother does. Thank God, she cries fervently whenever she hears good news, though she doesn’t have the faintest bit of religious feeling. Like me, she has a scary talent for mishaps. She managed to lose her iPhone on the way into the concert last night — we had to keep running back and forth to the parking lot as we were told first that no purses, then no cameras, then no nothing was allowed inside. But when we called her number, a girl answered excitedly. “I have your phone!”
“I knew the people at this concert would be awesome,” said Jane, after we rendezvoused with our savior in front of the Redskins sign.
It was Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour, a stadium extravaganza with plumes of flame blasting heat and light into the night sky, golden-scaled serpents rearing two stories into the air, a segmented video display to rival Times Square, the singer flying around in fantastical baskets and cages, then being dropped off on a stage at the back, where she played old songs on an emerald green acoustic guitar to the delight of my daughter and the two girls behind us, with whom she had bonded instantly. All were wearing previous tour t-shirts and cut-offs. “We are the same person!” she whispered to me. Taylor addressed all of her remarks directly to them, the zillion-bodied single person that they are, in a rambling declaration of love that went on through the night.
“You guys have always been there for me,” she said. “When I had to go away for a while, you guys were there when I got back.”
Her face shining with tears and sheer joy, Jane kept leaning over to share comments. “I feel like I’ve died and come back to life,” and “I’ve never felt this close before to someone I didn’t know.”
Jane was 15 the last time we saw a Taylor Swift concert. Both she and Taylor, now 28, have changed a lot since then. Taylor doesn’t write about crushes in the bleachers and teardrops on her guitar anymore; she mostly writes about being famous, which is a phase all pop stars go through.
Back in the early days of Jane’s fandom, I remember feeling awed at how utterly and abjectly she worshipped Taylor Swift, and I wondered if that sort of obsession would carry through once she started dating. Truth be told, I was worried, having gone through many unhappy such episodes in my younger years. These days Jane does have a boyfriend. But for her, no one will ever be Taylor Swift. Not even Mr. Headrest. It is clear that Taylor Swift is well aware of this phenomenon; this is what last night was all about. Eighty-two thousand of them, madly in love.
Surrounded by all this youth and passion, I felt a little fragile. Was I the oldest person there? Maybe. I danced a bit, but slid into my seat and started to yawn during the final set of songs and fireworks. After we found the car, Jane drove home (she drove down too; I’ve been officially retired as lead driver). On the way, she waxed philosophical.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said, moving into the left lane on 295, Ms. Yanya crooning in the background. As Ravens Stadium glowed purple on the horizon, we were still traveling in the same fleet of cars in which we had left the concert, Baltimore fans returning home. “Our lives are just so simple, and sweet.”
I was struck dumb for a moment. We had just been talking about climate change, and this is pretty much the last thing I think about our lives. But to hear that this is how my daughter, freshly 18, about to leave home, feels about her life: Thank God, as I have taught her to say.
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