If you’ve read me for a long time, you know every year around my birthday I create a new mix CD to mark the occasion. This tradition started accidentally, but evolved into something I spent way too much time thinking about. Sometime around November I’d start adding songs and begin to ruminate about in what order they might appear the following August. For something this inconsequential, I was investing way too much brainpower.

That’s why I’ve changed the way I think about this mix, and, consequently, the way I write about it. I fully realize this article isn’t for you, it’s entirely for me. I further realize you could make that argument about many of my articles – shut up. In this particular case, it’s a chance to catch my breath for a minute and reflect. If that interests you, read on. If not, whatever.

This year I stopped fretting about my mix, I gathered as many songs as I could, and then about a week ago I put them in an order. I got the order and selection right on the first try. This has never happened. Why?

Because I gave up the notion that I know what the fuck I’m doing at all. As I said in the True Blood piece from earlier this week, we’re all pretty much just making this shit up as we go along, and this year has proved that to me definitively. I thought there was no way we could have kids, and Kristin gets pregnant. I had two reviews at work, one bad and one good, and they both went exactly the opposite of how I expected them to go. My uncle died after 29 years in a vegetative state, which left me completely incapable of knowing how to feel about that, and for awhile, anything. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I thought about Tony Sly, and how that factored into featuring two songs from his tribute album as well as having the man himself close out the mix.

Every time I expected to zig, the world zagged. Slow down, speed up, press forward, hold off, turn right, veer left… Never have my instincts been so out of whack. Instead of fighting it, I’ve learned to let go and just sort of flow with it. Be open to change, accommodate opportunity, and laugh at the very concept of having any control over anything. John Lennon has a quote (that I first saw in the movie Kuffs) that says, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

I’ve found that to be abundantly true this year. And for our immediate purposes, this thought is easily modified to be “A good mix is what happens while you’re actually trying to create one.” Having spent a great many years up my own ass and inside my own head, I would never have been open to making a mix with three different Against Me! songs from the same album, an Arcade Fire song, and a 5-minute bluesy rock track.

Yet, what was the result of me Costanza-ing this mix and ignoring my instincts and “better” judgment? While driving up to Keystone with Kristin last weekend, she says to me, “I really like the way you’ve laid out this mix.” I like to think I make good mixes, but I need to stop pretending like it’s an actual skill. Just listen and go where the music leads you, and the mix will come to you.

In the case of that Arcade Fire song, it makes me feel many of the feels. It’s too much to get into here, so look for a longer style article about it next week, but let’s just say I was moved by this video in a way that both surprised me and enlivened me. More on that later.

As I think about the year that’s passed, sure, there was a lot of uncertainty and managing through the tumult is never easy, but as I look at this mix, there’s also a lot of hope, a great deal of joy, and just some plain ol’ RAWK. “Chelsea Dagger” came out in 2006, but it re-emerged in my consciousness somehow earlier this year, and it’s currently the most fun song I listen to. Jimmy Eat World makes me think of my chat with Jason Heller, the first interview I scored off a cold call. I text part of “Via Munich” to my wife every time I have to leave town without her. The fulcrum of this entire mix is “Kiss the Sky,” which I discovered thanks to the trailer for Capers in Dry Brine. It’s easily my favorite song from this year, and possibly one of my favorite ever.

Scattered throughout this mix are notes of professional angst (as usual), some dissatisfaction with the world as a whole, and just some generalized pissiness, but that’s part and parcel to my own nature, which is also inherent to much of the music I’m naturally drawn to. I think that’s why I’ve been so enamored with Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! If you’re not familiar with Laura Jane Grace, lead singer of Against Me!, you ought to be.

She’s a hero. And she, along with her band, has created an iconic punk rock artifact. I will never know how it feels to be transgendered, but by articulating what she’s gone through so poetically, there’s something here to apply to your own life no matter who you are.

It’s also a total punk move to make your strongest track really tough to recommend to people based on its wildly offensive title. You try telling someone to download a track called “FUCKMYLIFE666” – all caps, all one word – with a straight face. You can’t. It’s a middle finger to convention, and just the cherry on top of an awesome record.

I go into the next year of my life filled with optimism, excitement about all the changes that await me, and confidence to take the unexpected challenges the world throws at me, and account and persevere accordingly.

Thanks for continuing the journey with me. And if you’re interested, here are some tunes that mean something to me. They might to you too.

1. Who Needs You – The Orwells
2. Police On My Back – The Clash
3. FUCKMYLIFE666 – Against Me!
4. Coffee and Cigarettes – Jimmy Eat World
5. Older Than You – The Golden Boys
6. Thunder Clatter – Wild Cub
7. Something Good Can Work – Two Door Cinema Club
8. Via Munich – Russ Rankin
9. Like A Record Player – The Lawrence Arms
10. Soulmate – Strung Out
11. Chelsea Dagger – The Fratellis
12. Talking Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me!
13. The Great Die-Off – Rise Against
14. Kiss the Sky – Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra
15. Team – Lorde
16. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire
17. One Minute More – Capital Cities
18. Black Me Out – Against Me!
19. Them Shoes – Patrick Sweany
20. Invincible – No Use For A Name

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