'I played video games in a drunken haze
I was seventeen years young.
Hurt my knuckles punching the machines,
the taste of scotch rich on my tongue.”
Throughout the 1990s John Darnielle gained a cult following by recording hundreds of songs -- little short stories, vignettes of wacky fictional characters he had created -- to a boombox, full of hiss and all. By the early aughts he had graduated from this world and he started recording in an actual studio and writing an autobiographical trilogy of albums about his teenage years growing up in a broken home in California. “This Year” is from The Sunset Tree, the second part of this trilogy and it’s probably the most quintessential song from that series, in that it chronicles a single day of dodging his abusive stepfather by drinking with his girlfriend, playing video games and then, finally, driving home only to have it all end “as badly as you can imagine.”
It’s a fairly literal song and much of what makes it great depends on the fact that it’s all right out in front of you. And, like any great song, even if you don’t identify with everything there, there are lines and phrases throughout that are universal to any person who remembers what it was like to be 17 years old.
“I drove home in the california dusk.
I could feel the alcohol inside of me.
Picture the look on my stepfather's face,
ready for the bad things to come.
I downshifted as I pulled into the driveway,
The motor screaming out stuck in second gear.
The scene ends badly as you might imagine,
in a cavalcade of anger and fear.
I am going to make it through this year if it kills me.”