Darling, We’re a Nightmare Dressed Like a Daydream

In which the Tay, in her ever-present wisdom, reveals the truth of Daniel’s relationship with his fraternity by means of chart-topping pop music.

To my dear reader,

Every year, for several sessions of four days scattered throughout the summer and winter, over one hundred members and friends of the fraternity of Beta Theta Pi from across North America gather at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There among the endless stretch of fields, they participate in a leadership program entitled The Wooden Institute, named after the famous basketball coach and member of Beta John Wooden. The alumni of the fraternity and friends of Beta lead the undergraduate members in a series of programs, lectures and presentations on different leadership styles, tactics and applications.

On the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

On the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Looking back on my time at this short program and the four days in January I spent there, what I remember most clearly is not the leadership lectures or the plans for personal development I wrote. It is the music – namely, Taylor Swift and film scores.

For those of you so foolish as to not have been following my blog posts before this one, it is imperative that you know this: two of the things that I hold most dear are the music of Tay Swizz (praise be unto Her) and movie soundtracks. They make me feel empowered and elegant in equal shares – two things that I am unlikely to feel strongly in my everyday life. That being said, I came to this fraternity leadership program with no anticipation of them being relevant, and although Greek Life at the University of Puget Sound has been a relatively positive experience for me, I was tentative to place trust in a gathering of college men to whom I would be a stranger.

Upon arriving, the eighty undergraduates of Beta from across the nation were gathered into six “chapters” of twelve members that did not know one another whatsoever. This was, needless to say, a somewhat stilted and awkward interaction, filled with the necessary combination of dead silence and short burst of nervous laughter. But when we arrived at the room where we were to debrief on our new chapter’s get-to-know you activities, we were greeted by “Harry In Winter” – one of the best tracks from the score to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

“All right,” I thought tentatively. “Perhaps I may enjoy myself.”

Three days later, after learning of John Wooden’s life and the history of fraternal life and the many ways to trick people into working together, I sat in a chapter brother’s car as he drove us through the snow on the streets of Oxford on our way to one of the program’s last events. As his phone began to play a new song through his car’s stereo, he grinned and said “Oh man, let’s turn this up!” I had a moment of confusion as he turned up the volume of the speakers before I realized that the song was none other than Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”. He rolled down the windows and we sang to the night – poorly, loudly and out of tune, but together.

Me and the other members of Chapter Five pose seductively before the fraternity's Hall of Chapters.

Me and the other members of Chapter Five pose seductively before the fraternity’s Hall of Chapters.

Friendship is a curious thing, and like many other curious things, such as meatballs and childbirth, may be best left uninvestigated. But despite my trepidation and inhibition, four days of unravelling our lives and finding new ways to change the world around us brought me and my little band of brothers closer than I thought possible. The words of Tswag’s “Blank Space” ring true: “Hey, let’s be friends; I’m dying to see how this one ends; grab your passport and my hand…” And, as the Wooden Institute Demonstrated, I can, in fact, make the bad guys good for a weekend.

With the recent induction of our newest members, the Delta Epsilon colony of Beta Theta Pi at the University of Puget Sound gave to me a sophomore named Zachary Miller as a “Little Brother” – a new member to whom I am to be a “Big Brother” and provide mentorship and guidance. Needless to say, this is a recipe for hilarity and disaster, because Lord knows that any advice from me would likely end in chaos and general discomfort for everyone involved. But a great deal of time has passed since last I felt this excited about anything, and as disastrously as it may end, I am thrilled to share what wisdom I gleaned from my time at Oxford University. Zachary Miller and all the other new members of Beta Theta Pi had best prepare themselves, because after seeing these boys…

Zachary Miller (left) and myself (right): a very big little and a very little big.

Zachary Miller (right) and myself (left): a very big little and a very little big.

…all I can think is “Oh my God, look at that face; you look like my next mistake.”

Love’s a game. Wanna play?

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

An Open Letter to Taylor Swift

In which Daniel unpacks his complex emotions regarding the new musical ventures of the pop star Taylor Swift.

Dear Taylor Swift,

My darling Tay, dear Tswizz, Tswizzle, Swisscheesizzle, Tswift of the swiftest Taylors. When first I listened to your new album 1989, I was a different person. I dismissed it with a certain amount of derision and laughter.  And yet I still felt compelled, perhaps because of my allegiance to trashy pop music, to download your album onto my iPod and listen to it on repeat. Over and over again, I listened to the songs, with the assumption that I would eventually remove it from my music library, but to my surprise, the awkward, almost juvenile manner by which the songs were constructed became charming to me.

The album cover of Tswizzle's new musical masterpiece.

The album cover of Tswizzle’s new musical masterpiece.

Many of the lyrics first struck me as bizarre, as if they were a stream-of-consciousness first draft.  The best two examples are from the song “Bad Blood”, describing a grievous offense by a past friend:

1) “Don’t think it’s in the past; these kind of wounds, they last and they last.” So, Tay, not only do these wounds last… they ALSO LAST AGAIN. Could you think of no other phrasing wherein you didn’t use “last” twice?

2) “Time will heal, but this won’t; so if you’re coming my way… just don’t.” Again, Twizz, it sounds as if you just couldn’t think of anything better. Your ex-lover is approaching you and you tell him “What are you… could you… just… don’t.” I am heavily reminded of the phrase “Could you NOT?”

And yet I am simultaneously delighted by the ridiculous self-indulgence of so many of the album’s lyrics.  Take the words of one of the bonus tracks entitled “New Romantics”:

1) “We show off our different scarlet letters; trust me, mine is better.”  Let’s be real, for a second, Taylor; if someone is actively seeking and listening to your music, I doubt that they are wild enough to merit a scarlet letter from anyone. Mind you, I have no idea what the “crazy kids” listen to these days, but I have a strong suspicion it is not your music.  That being said, the concept that any of your listeners might be wild enough to attract the derision and scorn that “scarlet letter” suggests is hugely over-dramatic, and therefore I am a massive fan.

2) “We need love, but all we want is danger.” Again, few true swifties would be inclined to seek out terribly dangerous activities, but still you offer the philosophy of “thrill over romance” in this song that is so clearly an over-dramatization that I can’t help but love it.

In no particular order, here are a few of my other favorite lyrical and musical moments of the album:

1) The line “The monsters turned out to be just trees” from “Out of the Woods”

2) The first bass drop during “Welcome to New York”.

3) The introduction of male vocals after the bridge of “Out of the Woods”.

4) The line “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” from “Blank Space”.

5) The second bass drop during “Welcome to New York”.

6) The moment in “Out of the Woods” at 3:20 when the stacked vocals singing “Are we out of the woods?” (for the umpteenth time) form an Am add9 chord.

7) The third bass drop during “Welcome to New York”.

8) The line “Love’s a game; wanna play?” from “Blank Space”.

9) The retro guitar riff that carries most of “I Wish You Would”.

10) The sick arena-rock drum beat change during the chorus of “I Wish You Would”.

11) That ENTIRE section of talking in the middle of “Shake It Off”.

12) The use of head voice, rather than belting, in “Wildest Dreams”.

13) The arpeggiation of the EM7 chord in the background vocals at the end of “This Love”.

14) The line “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses their mind” from “Wonderland”.

15) The bass drop during the chorus of “Wonderland”.

16) The fact that the melody of “You Are in Love” only uses four pitch classes: A, B, C#, and E, and yet the song gets stuck in my head all the time and I do not find it unmelodic.

So, my dear Tswift, what I am getting at? I am saying that your album reminded me that life can be ridiculous and fun and, sometimes, you’ve just got a kitten and a cake full of blood and a gazelle, and when the time comes, you just have to stand on your white horse before your Long Island mansion and sing:

I mean, magic, madness, heaven, sin – what’s not to love? They tell us we’re insane, Tay, but we’ve got a blank space, baby…

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert