Taylor Swift – “‘Tis the Damn Season”

About 25 years ago, the company I was working for turned me into a COBOL programmer. It involved about four months of full time training with a training contractor the company brought on site. The principal trainer owned the contracting company and was significantly more well off than any of us in the class, but he had middle class Baltimore roots and was usually able to connect with us. In fact, he had a real knack for noticing when his class was losing focus (not uncommon in eight hours a day, five days a week classes). Almost every time, he had some anecdote about his days as a programmer or his life in general that lightened the mood, allowed us to decompress and then refocus. It really was a gift. Except for one time. That one time, instead of sharing some funny programmer tale that helped us imagine a pretty fun future or a light-hearted story about his hilariously wild pre-school aged son, he shared a story about his Rolex. The story wasn’t untrue or lacking authenticity. He really did have a Rolex and it really did keep notoriously bad time. But it was lost on all of us. We were more the Casio or Timex set.

What does this have to do with a Taylor Swift song? Well, in this case, everything, because Taylor Swift’s confessional song has all the trappings of being true to her life, one of extreme wealth, privilege and good fortune, despite her well-documented romantic difficulties. Most of the song is relatable with memories of churches, schools and bad perfume and muddy truck tires, much like most of the COBOL trainer’s stories, but she throws away all of that common ground when she sings, “So I’ll go back to L.A. and the so-called friends / Who’ll write books about me.” At that point, riff raff like us can’t see to the other side of the tracks where betrayal means someone you trusted gossips not on Facebook or Twitter, but in a published book that people in general will read.

In Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce Springsteen candidly jokes that he’s made a heck of a living singing songs about working folks when that residency at the Walter Kerr Theatre is the first steady job he’s ever had. What’s interesting is that Taylor Swift’s song probably reflects her reality better than Springsteen’s reflect his own. But what he gets and what she fails to grasp is that the songs are not for him. They’re for the listener. Unlike Swift, Springsteen has eschewed fact in favor of truth, a truth his listeners, over several generations, can grasp.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

3 thoughts on “Taylor Swift – “‘Tis the Damn Season”

  1. Chuck

    I’ve never heard this song until now, but as a Taylor Swift fan, I was surprised. One of the things that made me a fan is her skill in taking unique (and often privileged) experiences and making them universal. As an example, one of my favorite songs is an old album track called “Long Live”:

    We are the kings and the queens / You traded your baseball cap for a crown / When they gave us our trophies / And we held them up for our town

    It’s the kind of line you can drop onto your own triumphant underdog moment, that time when you won a little league game or became prom queen or saved the world from Y2K with your mad COBOL skills. It doesn’t matter that she’s talking about winning Grammys and touring the world, it’s your song.

    So yes, I was surprised to read the misstep you described in your review. But when I listened to the song for the first time just now, I feel like you left out a pivotal line:

    So I’ll go back to LA / and the so-called friends / who’ll write books about me / if I ever make it.

    Those last five words change the entire dynamic. They make the song about the kid who is struggling in the big city chasing a dream, the kid who comes home and craves the parents they left behind, the romance they left behind, the comfort they left behind. But that dream is driving them and they’ll give everything up for a shot at a future where they get betrayed by their so-called friends.

    As a kid who moved to LA, a kid who came home for the season and had that person I called babe for the weekend, this song speaks to me on a very personal level. For years, the road not taken looked real good. But the thought of those friends who would betray me looked even better.

    Obviously, my story didn’t end up the way Taylor’s did. But when I heard those extra five words, she could have slapped me across the face. She isn’t talking about her Rolex in this song, she’s looking at her Casio and dreaming about the day she has a Rolex. That makes for a completely different story.

    With that all said, thank you for writing this review. I missed this song, and even if I’d heard it, I wouldn’t have listened to it the way your comments motivated me to listen to it. The song took me back to my hometown and some smiles I missed and some lovely damn seasons, which I always gave up for those awful trips back to LA.

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  2. bobvinyl Post author

    I don’t necessarily agree that she’s looking forward as you suggest, but it’s an interesting idea.  And to be fair, I was not sure what to make of “if I ever make it.”  My first thought was of Charlie Poole getting his big break to be in a movie and starting to drive across the country only to drink himself to death halfway there. I didn’t really think that was where TS was going, but it is what occurred to me first. So, I didn’t read that line as looking to the future fame from the her pre-fame days. I thought of it as more of a chance she would get sidetracked on her way back, maybe even the vaguest hope that she would break free of going back to that unhappiness even if she knew she would.

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  3. Chuck

    In songs like this (and in life experiences like this) I think there is a vague hope that we’ll break free of going back to the unhappiness of whatever it is we’re chasing. It doesn’t matter if it’s flying back to LA after the holidays end or going to work/school on a grey Monday morning; there’s a vague desire that some force of nature will come in and simply let you be where you are instead of where you’re going.

    I’ve been sitting on a short personal story about the day I left my childhood home to move to LA, but this review motivated me to finally post it.

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