Taylor Swift’s “Red” – An Act of Maturity

taylor swift

I love the New York Times. Really, I do. Not only is it the world’s leading newspaper, it speaks my language–the language of liberals. As much as it might not want to admit this, it does. However, I’m sometimes miffed by their reviews. They often miss the mark. For a paper as erudite as this one, it seems, their reviewers should “get” whatever they’re reviewing.

Case in point: Taylor Swift’s latest album Red. In a piece titled, “No More Kid Stuff for Taylor Swift,” Jon Caramanica (an expert on pop music, perhaps?) provides a glimpse into what he believes Red is all about.

He erroneously begins the review by stating that Taylor’s sole two subjects are love and heartbreak. Has he not heard “Eyes Open” or “Ronan”? Surely, a New York Times reviewer would do their research prior to stating “facts” all over the place. But, no, not Caramanica. Strike number one against his piece.

To frame his perspective that he’ll later support, he states, “Her growth is largely musical, not experiential.” Here’s where I mostly disagree with Caramanica.

What’s strange about his review is that he actually cites lyrics from Red that support the opposite of his thesis. For example, he picks up on the mini-conversation Taylor has with herself during “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” I believe this aside reveals Taylor’s true sense of humor, which, in turn, shows her evolution from serious country star to someone who’s willing to laugh at herself–an adult trait. Carmanica says, “There is something different in Ms. Swift’s voice here: it’s serious and deep, and also shrewd. She has been through this before. She sounds like an adult.” Right, she sounds like an adult–so how does this prove that her growth is solely musical, not experiential?

Caramanica also cites “I Knew You Were Trouble” as misplaced evidence of his own thesis. Instead of proving that it’s just the music that has evolved, he pins Taylor as someone who has pointed the finger at herself as the “culpable” agent in the rocky relationship she sings about. Isn’t that something an adult would do? Isn’t this self-implication unique to Red? I think so.

Providing insight into previously uncharted territory for Taylor, Caramanica discusses Taylor’s foray into the sensual experience of love. How does this not show her evolution has been experiential?  “On ‘Treacherous,’ written with the pop savant Dan Wilson, she sighs, ‘I’ll do anything you say if you say it with your hands,'” he writes.

Beyond Caramanica’s lyrics examples, there are other lyrics that reveal Taylor’s newfound journey into adulthood. In “The Lucky One,” a piece rife with commentary about being in the spotlight, Taylor sings,

And they still tell the legend of how you disappeared,

How you took the money and your dignity and got the hell out.

They say you bought a bunch of land somewhere

Chose the Rose Garden over Madison Square,

And it took some time, but I understand it now.

‘Cause now my name is up in lights, but I think you got it right.

These lyrics signal to the reader that Taylor has had a revelation about her celebrity. “Yeah, they tell you now you’re the lucky one,” she sings, about herself. She is the lucky one, and she knows it, but uses the story of the ex-celebrity as a cautionary tale for herself and her own trajectory. If this doesn’t show “experiential” maturity, I’m not sure what does.

And the fact that Taylor, a seasoned songwriter in her own right who has had 50 Billboard Top 100 hits, made the adult move to collaborate with her “dream” industry songwriters and producers proves she doesn’t need to take full credit for her songs–an egoless decision and something not many songwriters who have had the success Taylor has had would dare do.

An element of Caramanica’s review that I enjoyed was his observation that country cannot define Taylor and that she’s driving her own terms in the pop arena. “That’s because Ms. Swift is post-gatekeeper: country radio no longer gets to define her, and pop radio has accepted her novel terms,” he writes. I believe this is true, and I appreciate his pointing it out. Taylor Swift has had an unparalleled career–from country darling to pop sensation, she’s struck out with her own style and flair in every album she’s put together.

I also agree when Caramanica writes, “Almost everything here is corroded in some way.” From the musical to the lyrical, Red is filled with less-joyful innuendo than her previous albums.

And, Carmanica’s summary of Taylor Swift’s evolution is apt: “Ms. Swift has come a long way from ‘You Belong With Me,’ one of her biggest hits, in which she was the outsider throwing barbs at the more conventional, pretty, popular girl. ‘I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like,’ she sang, wearing her individuality as a badge of pride. But now that other girl, she listens to Taylor Swift. She might even be Taylor Swift.” It’s true.

So, New York Times–you kinda, sorta didn’t get at the heart of Red, but part of what you said was spot on.


Side Street Cafe (Bar Harbor, ME)


side street cafe lobster macaroni and cheese

lobster macaroni and cheese

My Dining Partner and I decided to take a trip up to Bar Harbor, ME for a few days. We needed a getaway spot that wasn’t too far and wasn’t too expensive. We chose Bar Harbor because of its proximity to Acadia National Park, which is known to be beautiful in fall.

Now, the most important thing about our trip to Bar Harbor was, of course, the lobster we would have. So, where would we go for such lobster? Guidebooks weren’t exactly useful and Yelp, well, you know the issues I have with that website, but a combination of these guides, along with the help of the world wide web, pointed us in the direction of Side Street Cafe.
side street cafe lobster roll

lobster roll

Located on a quiet street in downtown Bar Harbor, Side Street Cafe is an unassuming fixture among bakeries and Mexican restaurants (who would trust Mexican in Maine?). When we arrived at Side Street Cafe, the wait for a table for two was about an hour, so we walked around Bar Harbor, checking out local stores and freezing our tails off. At last, we were seated, and our waitress was beyond delightful.

For an appetizer, I ordered the lobster macaroni and cheese, which is easily the best thing I ate all weekend. It was creamy with shards of parmesan cheese on top and big chunks of lobster throughout. It was, in a word, divine.
My Dining Partner opted for the New England clam chowder, which was also delicious. Creamy and clammy, this clam chowder was mild and did not disappoint.
For my entree, I ordered the lobster roll–one overstuffed roll filled with chunks of lobster dressed in mayonnaise and old bay seasoning. I loved it!
side street cafe blueberry pie

blueberry pie

A trip to Maine wouldn’t be complete without a slice of blueberry pie. We ordered it warm with a scoop of delicious vanilla ice cream with whipped cream on top. The blueberries in the pie were whole and amply distributed throughout the pie shell.

Side Street Cafe is well worth the wait, if you find one when you go there. You can order just about anything with lobster, so I advise you to do so. You won’t be sorry!
49 Rodick Street
Bar Harbor, ME

Jacob’s Pickles

Milk and Coffee at Jacob's Pickles

milk and coffee

I rarely make it to the Upper West Side any more. Having gone to college in Morningside Heights (aka White Harlem) and having worked at my alma mater, I’ve had my share of westside snobbery and exorbitant lunch prices to last me a lifetime. But this morning, My Dining Partner and I decided to go to the marvelous Jacob’s Pickles, on Amsterdam near West 85th Street. With the 7 train only partially running, we trekked all the way up there, taking nearly an hour to arrive, but brunch was well worth the trip.

Boasting a clean aesthetic on the interior, Jacob’s Pickles is across the street from The Mathnasium, an academically struggling child’s ultimate nightmare. MDP and I sat outside, gazing across the street at The Mathnasium, and wondering who would actually take their child there. I wanted to know what child would ever consent to going to such a place. “Maybe it’s for kids who really like math,” I said. “I think it’s for the opposite,” said MDP. I guess he’s right.

Western-Cheese Omelette at Jacob's Pickles

western-cheese omelette

Anyway, back to Jacob’s Pickles (JP). The delightful waitress seemed surprised to see us so early. JP opens at 9 am, and we were there five minutes after. I didn’t know if there’d be a crowd, so I thought it best to brunch on the early side. Our waitress informed us that JP makes its own pickles and bakes its own homemade biscuits. As an aside, I never understand why restaurants claim to make “homemade” anything. It’s not homemade. It’s made in a restaurant. But I digress.

Ample, delicious coffee flowed our way for the fifteen minutes that we spent waiting for our food. The waitress was good about that and even gave us our own bottle of water to pour at the table. Overall, I was impressed by the service.

Sausage Gravy Smothered Chicken at Jacob's Pickles

sausage gravy smothered chicken biscuit

I knew I had to get a biscuit, so I inquired as to whether the western-cheese omelette was accompanied by one. The waitress said no, but could put one on the side for me. This reply pleased me.

My omelette came out looking rather well done for my taste, but it was scrumptious. Packed with ham, green peppers, onions and scallions, the western omelette also featured a handful of aged Vermont cheddar cheese. Though the homefries’ texture was right (crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, as MDP observed), they were overseasoned and lacked any real bite. I generally prefer diner homefries. And, as for the biscuit, well, it seems that JP bakes a sheet of biscuits and cuts them into giant squares (as you can see in the above photo). They are fluffy and require consumption by fork, rather than by hand.

MDP ordered the sausage gravy smothered chicken biscuit, which generously came with two pieces of chicken and a side of cheddar grits. I tried the chicken, and it was fantastic. I highly recommend this dish. Plus, the grits were so smooth and creamy, I couldn’t believe they cooked them up in just 15 minutes. They certainly weren’t instant grits, but a magical creation.

We didn’t try the pickles, but there’s always next time. And I’m fairly confident there will be a next time. MDP and I may try JP for dinner some night. MDP says he’d like to try some of the drink offerings at JP. I concur.

As for the prices, they were reasonable, especially for the UWS. We walked south along Amsterdam and noticed a long line outside Good Enough to Eat, a much-heralded brunch spot. I felt like telling the waiting schmucks to walk uptown a bit and try out JP for a hearty, delicious meal at a more palatable price point. Oh well, I’m sure, by now (two hours later), they’ve finally gotten a seat.

Jacob’s Pickles

509 Amsterdam Avenue (between 84th and 84th streets)

Upper West Side, New York City

Take the 1 to 86th street. Walk east one block and south 1.5 blocks. JP is on the east side of Amsterdam.

Burning “Red” is Right

Superbly written at every turn, Taylor Swift’s latest single, “Red” (which is also the title track of her forthcoming new album), will blow you away. It’s a combination of country and rock and pop, and the ping of the banjo is undeniably relentless. “Red” will have you tapping your foot and dancing in your seat. And, if you listen closely, you’ll find an entire English lesson’s worth of similes and metaphors to mine.

Though different from “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” her first single off Red, “Red” shares the same forward-moving rhythm that makes “We Are Never…” so catchy. The banjo plucking at the beginning is ghosted by what sounds like a synthesizer sounding fake strings, as My Dining Partner observed. A departure from the true country hit “Begin Again,” her second single from Red, “Red” has a country feel that’s updated to Taylor’s new pop-rock sound.

Now, how great is this song’s lyrics, you ask? So great. So so great.

The opening stanza grabs you like a punch in the stomach:

Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street

Faster than wind, passionate as sin, ended so suddenly

Loving him is like trying to change your mind

Once you’re already flying through the free fall

Like the colors in autumn

So bright just before they lose it all

Taylor Swift infuses a true country-pop song with such golden word-nuggets. Imagine driving an old Maserati down a dead end street–the thrill of it would end so suddenly, as she sings. What I love best about this stanza is the bit about autumn leaves. This sentiment–that they’re so bright right before they lose their color–is especially poignant because it paints a highly articulate picture of what loving him is like. That is, a splash of greatness followed by a fall or emptiness.

And the chorus is outstanding;

Losing him was blue like I’d never known

Missing him was dark grey all alone

Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’ve never met

But loving him was red

Loving him was red

How true is her portrayal of what these colors feel like? How aptly conveyed are their emotional colors?  Blue = feeling a loss, feeling down. Dark grey = all alone. Red = intense passion that spouts like lava from a volcano. That’s what her love for this individual was like–fiery, impassioned, red. And it’s brilliant.

The rest of the song continues with these ingenious similes and metaphors, explaining the many facets of her love for this person. Now, as alluded to in my review of “Ronan,” songwriting like this makes you wonder what Taylor could do with non-love-story content. Like, what if she wanted to write about lofty subjects like world peace and war? And the human condition? Well, as for the latter, we know she can write beautifully about that (see “Ronan” and “Eyes Open”).

Think of the evolution of the Beatles. They started out writing about love and ended up writing about metaphysics. I’m betting Taylor’s subjects will, over time, evolve, as well. You may think I’m crazy for comparing the Beatles to Taylor Swift, but I truly believe her songwriting ability is of that high caliber. She can do it. I know she can.

I look forward to October 22, the release date of Red. Are you going to download it or buy it in the store? I’m going to Best Buy on my lunch break to get the album, but I’m tempted to download it to my iPhone. Decisions!