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On Francis' 'Marathon,' And Picking Yourself Up

On February 20, 2016

2011 was a weird year. I was a terrible non-profit employee and almost lost my job a handful of times. I spent most of the first half of the year living in a small house in Raleigh and drinking too much, and most of the second half living in my parent’s house in Charlottesville and drinking too much. I was neck deep in a relationship that had evolved into a nuclear-grade-anxiety-inducing shit show that took up every square inch of my emotional and mental real estate. I had no idea what I was doing or who I was even trying to be. I smoked, like, a million cigarettes. I was miserable.

That October found me in France for a week(ish) to visit my then girlfriend who was studying abroad. I know. I spent my twenties walking into almost every possible cliche pretty brazenly. The point is, I was there and she couldn’t meet me for two days because of exams so I was alone in Paris. I knew about as much French as most of your college friends who got really into Amelie, which is to say basically none, so I had to find something to do with myself that didn’t involve saying anything other than “more wine, please.” Easy to do, as you’ve probably guessed. Several hours later I was ribs deep in wine and my mind was starting to simplify like it so often does in those conditions. Things were off kilter and I knew it. She and I were bad for each other, and I didn’t have the balls to break up with her, and I couldn’t see anything good past the inevitable end of it. Pretty normal stuff, but it doesn’t seem that way at the time. As cliche as it is, it feels like your life is over, and I guess in a way we’re not wrong. A version of our life is over, and it’s hard sometimes to see any good in the prospect of a fresh, solo jaunt back out into the wide world and so on. It’s scary and painful and the loneliness feels closer than anything else etc etc.

I bring that up because I was listening to Francis’ new record Marathon this week and fell in love with it for a weird reason. Mainly, that I wished I had had this record during my 2-day existential layover in Paris all those years ago. And it’s not because I needed the typical sympathy. I didn’t need a Justin Vernon-ish grief choir letting me know it’s as bad as I think it is and it only gets worse. I didn’t need Josh Ritter asking her to come and find me. I needed encouragement to take my licks and get on with it. I needed perspective. I needed the kind of friend who doesn’t just pick you up and dust you off but lets you know that as much as it sucks you’re going to have to go through the thing that you’ll then have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off from and afterwards you’ll be better but you won’t see it for awhile. And that’s what this record was for me. It was a helping hand I needed then but don’t need anymore. It’s a reminder of how far I’ve come since that table in Paris and how small I thought life was back then. How much I didn't know. And I think it's an album we all ought to let sink in. There are so many albums that let us know that we've gotten it wrong, and so few that remind us that we’ll get it right.

Profile Picture of Tyler Barstow
Tyler Barstow

Tyler is the co-founder of Vinyl Me, Please. He lives in Denver and listens to The National a lot more than you do.

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