This week poses a few problems. On the one hand, John Mayer’s first three albums, most especially Continuum, the subject of this week’s throwback, mean a great deal to me and are representative of different stages of my life. On the other hand, John Mayer is a prick. You see my dilemma. So, I’m going to attempt to write about the album and why it’s meaningful, without having to go into too much detail about Mayer himself. Here goes!
I first started listening to John Mayer at 15, lured in by the absurd, Notebook-levels of romance that is ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’. Like Jason Mraz, John Mayer was advocated by a cool, older girl whose blog I read and at 15, this was reason enough for me. I remember hearing tracks from Room for Squares on the Paul Gambaccini show on Radio 2 and finally getting hold of the album and lying on the floor of my bedroom, listening to songs about starting new lives in cities, first dates and escape and wondering when that would be me.
Mayer’s second effort, Heavier Things, appeared on the scene while I was studying for my A-Levels and I remembering listening to Mayer croon about loss and longing and adjusting to being a grown up as I made the biggest decisions of my life so far.
When Continuum was released, I was in my second year at university. I pre-ordered the album through HMV and wandered down to the store to collect my CD the day it was released (everything about that sentence now sounds ancient).
Continuum contains a lot of songs about heartbreak, but that’s not what drew me to it, or what makes it stand out in my mind. There is an overall mood of reflection and retrospection (which Mayer always fills his albums with) and a collection of songs that philosophise about life, growing up, getting older and finding meaning in what you do. I had just started my second year of university, was living independently for the first time (I’m pretty sure catered halls of residence don’t count) and starting to feel like proper grown up. And this was all as scary as it was exciting.
I had a hard time in my second year, for various reasons. I struggled to engage with my studies, felt lost and swallowed up by the world in general and pretty terrified by the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. About anything. On my favourite track, ‘Stop This Train’, Mayer sings about needing a pause, a break in life. The train is moving too fast and he’s starting to realise what it means. He’s scared of his parents aging, scared of aging himself, of all the natural processes of life. I had terrible insomnia as a student and these sorts of questions were part of what kept me up at night.
In ‘Waiting on the World to Change’ Mayer sings about a generation full of apathy, frozen and unable to change or mark the world the way they dreamed. In ‘Belief’ it’s about the need and desire to believe, to have faith in something. ‘Gravity’ has Mayer musing on how to stay true to yourself, to find your centre and to stay grounded (ahem). I was searching for all these things; for a purpose in my day and in my studies, to feel excited and fired up about something and to have something driving me forward. I listened to these songs and wondered (again) how it was that music could tap into how you felt with such precision.
On my other most listened to track, ‘Heart of Life’, Mayer sings about optimism, the joy of love, of friends and of life. He reminds the listener that there are good things to be found everywhere. After so much heartbreak and pensive reflections on life, ‘Heart of Life’ is a breath of fresh air. It helped to remind me that scary though growing up was, there was plenty of fun to be had in the meantime and that most things turned out to be good in the end.
Whatever I may think of Mayer personally, there is no question that this album marked a significant turning point in my life. Even now, I still find his music oddly prescient and timely; his latest album Born and Raised features a track titled ‘If I Ever Get Around to Living’ that talks about wasting time and feeling stuck. It came along at the exact time I was feeling frustrated and stuck in my own life and yet again, it struck a chord. I like to revisit Continuum every now again and think about how far I’ve come since my first listen, which will always make it special.