I am jealous of rock stars. I am jealous of their ability to carve themselves open with each song, exposing the hot nest of longing, frustration and guts inside. I am jealous of the way they can magically weave all that ugliness into something beautiful and alive like self-surgeons who also happen to be terrifying basket making hobbyists. Most of all, though, I am jealous of their ability to drag that fragile new life in front of sold-out stadiums just to show it off to the world before throwing it through an amp and setting it on fire. They don't even care; they can make another one tomorrow.
God, they are cool.
And while that raw hemorrhaging of emotion and blind hatred which constitutes rock and roll is slowly being replaced by polished mediocrity, there is still at least one light left in the darkness. There is at least one new artist who rages, and screams and vomits on behalf of the rock mythos. Her name is Taylor Swift, and she is a big beautiful rising sun.
Don't look directly at it.
By now you are likely thinking, "No." And a week ago I would have agreed with you. I've always considered her to be the musical equivalent of milk toast slathered in glitter glue; something that looks kind of pretty but which I would never intentionally consume. Then, I had a chance to meet her for an interview, and together we fell headlong into a vortex of indulgence. If I had to find a succinct way to capture the unimaginable fear and attraction I felt during those 12 hours, I could only describe it as an unrelenting awerection. But we both know that isn't a real word, so it's easier if I just explain what happened.
The first time I saw her in person she was on stage in Michigan covering Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and I was immediately impressed by her willingness to destroy such an iconic song in its place of birth. She didn't care, she murdered it without batting an eye, cutting away any meaning it might have had and then choking it to death with her guitar strings, all while smiling a plastic smile. I've never seen anything more malicious, it was incredible.
The rest of the show she fluttered around in front of a band, singing through white teeth and pouty lips about how hard it is to be a nerd while her hair reflected the stage lights into the eyes of adoring fans, blinding them instantly. It was pure, unadulterated chaos. I knew I was witnessing something important.
When I met her back stage I squeezed her hand tightly. "Ow," she said, alleviating any suspicion I had that she was just a cluster of butterflies pretending to be a human. I explained I was doing an interview for Cosmo Girl and her mouth fell open as she touched her face. "Oh my God. You? Want to Interview me?"
I stared at her for a minute, the surprise never left her face. I turned the recorder off. "Why do you do that?"
"You do that thing. Whenever someone gives you an award, or asks you to sing, or generally acknowledges that you are a musician, you look like you just found out you're pregnant, except ... you know, like if you wanted to be pregnant."
You are devaluing shock as an emotion.
She clutched a hand to her heart. "I'm just a little girl from a small town. I can't believe all these people like me so much."
I leaned into her and whispered, "Let's just cut the bullshit, alright? You've been doing this long enough to know better."
Her jaw stayed unhinged and her pretend surprise turned to panic and she looked to her PR crew. They kept horrifying grins plastered on their own faces and nodded for her to do the same.
"This isn't going to work," I sighed and grabbed her by the wrist. "C'mon, we're going for a drive."
"But there are rules!" her people hissed behind us. "The interview happens here!"
Taylor extended an arm back to them but I was stronger and faster and we were out into the night.
For the first five miles of our drive she was silent, refusing to answer any of my questions. When she finally spoke it was to ask how much money I wanted to let her go.
"I don't want your money. Money is for the corporate shills, I want your rage." I gave her an abbreviated run down of rock history and its disruptive importance in the world. I also gave her a beer but she said she wasn't old enough to drink yet.
I pulled over.
"Good lord you suck. You suck out loud."
"What have they done to you, Taylor? Haven't you ever just wanted to do something awful? Haven't you ever destroyed a hotel room or mainlined Jack Daniels or set a groupie on fire?"
"No. I just try to focus on my talent and be the best I-"
"Rock and roll has nothing to do with talent," I interrupted, "it's about fury and passion and sex. Haven't you ever just wanted to be bad?"
"I'm a country singer," she said.
"You're not anything."
She slapped me once in the face, decided she liked it and slapped me again. Her eyes bulged for a second, then something snapped deep behind them and her whole face rebooted. "Yes. Yes, I want to! Sometimes I just want to let go! You have no idea. I feel like I want to do something illegal sometimes! I want to fight people! I want to kill someone!"
"Yes! Well, maybe a little too far but that's the passion I'm talking about!" I clapped my hands together and started the car. I smiled at her as we pulled back out into traffic. "You and I are going to do some drugs together," I said.
The rest of the night was a blur. I know we started with absinthe, but I have no recollection of the salvia or the DMT or the mescaline. We teleported from one place to the next; shooting automatic rifles at an all-night gun range one second and then breaking into a stranger's house the next just to huddle around the refrigerator and try to replicate the sound.
We got tangled up in a bar fight briefly, but Taylor smashed a bottle on the table and started cutting herself with it while laughing hysterically. That seemed to scare everyone off. I also vaguely remember digging a human-size hole in the desert but I can't recall why.
We ended the night at the docks drinking Robitussin on the hood of my car while yelling at passing ships. I looked at her in the early morning light and she was glowing like a a goddess. Like a magnificent bird that had finally learned to fly. Like a 19-year-old girl on hallucinogens. I had set her free.
A week later I caught up with her tour on a rainy night for the interview we never finished. I found Taylor on her tour bus an hour before she was supposed to go on stage in Philadelphia. I thought she was dead. The bus smelled awful and she had collapsed face first into a shattered guitar. Her shirt was flecked with blood but I couldn't find a wound. She snapped awake while I was searching for one.
"No I wasn't," I said, instinctively.
"Kay?" she whispered.
"Kay!" she screamed. Taylor pushed me away and stood briefly before falling again. From the floor she reached up into a drawer and produced a baggy of Ketamine, her hands shaky and wild. Three quick inhales and she relaxed back into a pile of cough syrup containers and half-finished bottles of rubbing alcohol. With dreamy eyes, she put all her effort into turning her head just enough to see me.
Those sagging eyelids will never look the same.
"Hi," she giggled.
"Hi, we still have to do that interview."
Taylor let her mouth fall open in surprise and blinked a few times. "You? Want to interview me? That is so cool."
"Yes," I assured her, "it is cool."
"But I'm just a little girl from a small town. I can't believe all these people like me so much," she said, or started to before vomit took its place.
"Oh Taylor," I sighed. "No." I sat down on a capsized waste-basket and pitied her. She had regressed. The new drugs were a great touch but now she was stuck in some awful limbo between worlds. Before I could do anything to help, a woman with a headset came to whisk her away for makeup. I wandered out into the seething crowd and waited with the teenagers to see what would happen. It was pouring rain, but the crowd was still thick. When Taylor finally wandered on stage she wobbled, trying to smile but her heart wasn't in it. As soon as she put a hand on the mic, it shocked her so badly that she stumbled backward and fell.
The whole crowd went silent, waiting to see if she was dead. After catching her breath, Taylor pushed herself up and shooed away the medics. She walked back to the microphone and watched it quiver with electricity. With one quick motion, she grabbed it with both hands and screamed out the first few lyrics of "Mean." The audience went berserk. I watched her kick over cymbals and writhe around all while her hands sizzled and smoked in the rain like the talons of a burning phoenix. I knew it then for certain: Taylor Swift was the one. Taylor Swift would save rock and roll.
Burn on, you shooting star. Burn on.
Check out more from Soren in Dear Gwyneth Paltrow: Understanding Why Everyone Hates You and My Sexual Encounter with Ke$ha: A Tale of Horror.