Hold on to the memories, they’ll hold on to you

I was at the Daily building the first time I played “All Too Well (10 Minute Version).” It was fall, and on my bike ride there, the opening drums of “State of Grace” punctuated the crunch of auburn leaves beneath wheels wet with rain. I remember the night so vividly — listening to the chatter of the newsroom with one ear and the album with the other, rushing to a friend’s place after production to sit on her roof and listen to it again with a bottle of wine. 

As the months sunk into the new year, I listened to “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” on my bed staring at the ceiling, on the way to class, at a Lathrop desk after dark, on the ground facing Memorial Church at night. It was the perfectly devastating soundtrack for a 19-year-old suffocating on fresh heartbreak. For a long time, just the opening chords would renew that weight on my chest so heavy I got used to the feeling of breathlessness. 

And then, two months ago, I listened to the song again on a reclined theater seat, watching the Eras Tour concert film at the Cinemark Mountain View. Those haunting opening chords started, the theater breathed a collective sigh and I leaned onto a best friend’s shoulder. And nine minutes into the song, as the ending began to fade, I realized that it didn’t hurt anymore. 

Music transports you back to memories and past lives that you thought you’d grown out of. But also, it doesn’t. It can’t, of course, because you’re still here. To me, that is the greatest gift of the Eras Tour — that music can mean different things to you at different times of your life, that these meanings coexist as you grow, that you can change without renouncing old selves.

Taylor wrote that “Red” was “a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together.” So is its afterlife, through the meanings it takes on throughout all our lives. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” still suspends my 19-year-old body within empty grief and hollow heartbreak. But it also takes my 20-year-old body to a Parisian evening on the banks of the Seine, staring at the gray water and thinking about my mother 6,000 miles away. And it takes my 21-year-old body to a theater where I realized that at some point during the last two years, I finally started to breathe again.

Part of the joy of the Eras Tour is that this is true for Taylor too. The concert is an offering of the past with the recognition that none of us can really return to it, an ask to both remember who we were when the songs were first written and released, and also to make new memories and associations with them today. 

At the beginning of the “Fearless” era, she yells to the crowd, “Are you ready to go back to high school with me?” And for maybe the only time, I’d say “yes.” Because as the band she’s performed with since the album’s initial release starts to play “You Belong With Me,” her incandescent youthfulness convinces me that despite everything she’s loved and lost over almost two decades, the song is just as true to her today as it was when she first wrote it. And it is for me too. 

I can barely remember the person that 16-year-old me would’ve thought about while listening to “You Belong With Me.” And that’s the point — that it makes you cringe, that it hurts, that it’s embarrassing, but that this concert and these songs are a celebration of who we used to be. 

The immortalization of our past selves is the immortalization of girlhood, of euphoric youth and its coexistence with painful growth. For that, the choice of “Our Song” and “You’re On Your Own, Kid” as the film’s surprise songs was genius — a song from the first album and another from the last, two bookends of eras that captured both the simplicity of teenage naivete and the triumph of being older and wiser but still choosing to take the moment and taste it

Really, both songs are about seizing the present. “Our Song” is about turning quotidian moments into art, about knowing that nothing on the radio could mean more than the supercut of slamming screen doors and nervous first dates and sitting shotgun beside a lover. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” is about having to love and leave behind, about looking around and wondering why the songs have changed, about turning the page anyway. It’s a song written after “our song” turned into silence, but celebrates that history and looks forward instead. 

When I envision the Eras Tour, I see a thread of time weaving and intertwining with itself. I see different intervals of my life superimposed onto each other — I see the elementary schooler who danced on her bed to “You Belong With Me” using a hairbrush as a makeshift microphone. I see the 12-year-old listening to “Welcome to New York” and dreaming of being a teenager and moving to the city one day. I see the 18-year-old trapped at home by a global pandemic, thinking it would’ve been fun if her teenage love had been the one. I see the 19-year-old starving her body like she’d be saved by a perfect kiss. I see the 20-year-old sobbing on Parisian streets, desperate for her girlhood back. And I see the 21-year-old with her head on her best friend’s shoulder, sitting inside that theater, filled with both gratitude and grief for all of her past selves.

As I looked around the theater that night, I saw girls who couldn’t have been more than 10, wearing tiny “Junior Jewels” shirts that they must have made themselves. I saw the other twenty-somethings who maybe, like me, were wondering how those girls could relate to songs like “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” with such ferocity already. And I saw the mothers and older women who smiled at those of us who thought we weren’t girls anymore, who had lived and learned more than the songwriter herself. 

It was a literal representation of the coexistence of different stages of life, and also of the different meanings that the same songs can hold to you at those stages. We all contain multitudes. And music, like Taylor Swift’s discography as presented by the Eras Tour, immortalizes them. 


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