I watched a documentary about John Mayer’s career this week. It’s on YouTube and was a really good look at his career if you’d like a deeper appreciation of his music and journey.
In baseball, players typically watch video and study the approach/career of other players. Typically, they will pick a player in the big leagues who has a similar style, similar experiences, similar pitches, or anything similar to themselves, so that they can learn from watching that big league example.
As a writer, I take that same approach with writers and artists.
John Mayer is my big league example.
In a weird way, he’s marked the path of my entire life.
Room For Squares, his debut album, came out my senior year of high school. It’s an album about a quiet, immensely niche-talented, soft faced high schooler who can’t talk to girls and spends too much time alone in his own world in the great indoors. It was my anthem.
The next album, Heavier Things, came out my sophomore year of college, around the time I became a manager at a local movie theater. The song “Something’s Missing” off that album is still to this day one of my favorite songs of all time. In this album, John is still soft faced, but more confident in his path, and slowly finding that what he really wants is a home life, which even to this article’s date has escaped him in terms of a romantic relationship.
Possibly my favorite album of all time, and definitely my most influential album, is Continuum, which came out around the time I was graduating college. This album was the equivalent of a hard push into adulthood — like getting out of college and being told your student loans are due in six months and they’re HOW FUCKING MUCH A MONTH?! This album has my favorite song, “Vultures”, as well as an amazing cover of “Bold as Love”. The first CD I ever bought was Jimi Hendrix, which shaped my musical path. Doing a Hendrix cover secured Mayer’s place as one of my favorite artists. Everyone should listen to this album once.
After that, he formed the John Mayer Trio with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino, releasing a blues album called Try! He also released a live album in 2008, which is fantastic. All of his live stuff is somehow better than the studio work, whether on YouTube or albums (Any Given Thursday in 2003 is another great one).
For me, 2005-06 was peak John Mayer. Blues is my favorite style — probably due to Hendrix — and this is John Mayer’s best style. This album and Continuum nailed that, and were on heavy rotation in my car’s six CD changer. I’m pretty sure John Mayer always took up half the spots, with Linkin Park taking up most of the others, giving a very wide divide between styles.
From this point forward, I gravitated more toward that rock style, and John Mayer gravitated back toward his pop style. I actually didn’t like the single “Say” when it was released. A big part of that is because it was played so much on the radio. This was also when the media could only focus on his relationships. He followed up “Say” with a breakup album in 2009 called Battle Studies.
Over the last two years, I’ve been diving back into his older stuff, and finally advanced my listening to his albums beyond 2006. It helped that I was going through the messy end of a relationship that very much fit the Battle Studies theme. But what really stood out to me was his work in 2012 and 2013.
Mayer went off the grid for a few years after all of the relationship drama. He burnt bridges with his ex, Jessica Simpson, and Taylor Swift wrote a song about him and launched her army upon him, as she does with every ex she has.
To me, I hated this period for John Mayer. By this point, I had followed his career for well over a decade, and all of my adult life. He went from being the soft, sensitive kid signing about dreaming of love in his empty room, to becoming the biggest heart-throb in Hollywood. He was a guy who wanted to be liked by everyone, and was thrust into a world where that is an impossible thing. In his attempts to be the funny man, or be his version of the popular guy, he became less of himself.
Mayer returned from his hiatus with the album Born and Raised, which is up there with Continuum for me. This is a coming of age album, where Mayer reaffirms that he’s a good man with a good heart, who had a tough time and a rough start in the song “Shadow Days”. The song on this album that speaks to me the most is “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”, which was the first song Mayer did where he wrote about a character. In this song, Walt Grace wanted to change his life, so he built a submarine, despite no one around him believing in his dream. Eventually, he reaches the dream. His wife, who told his kids he was crazy, never expected him to call from Tokyo. His friends, who said he’d fail, now bring him up when he’s drinking.
To me, this song captures the cold and lonely journey of any artist. You have a vision that only you can see and only you truly believe in. The people around you might believe in you, at best, but it’s impossible for them to believe in your vision. I can tell you that I experienced the same thing in my life when I started trying to make Pirates Prospects a full-time job. I had people close to me saying I’d fail — in nicer terms like “When are you going to get a real job and give this up?” — and there was no friend who understood what I was aiming for. I’d say that I ended up in “Tokyo” when I made it to Bradenton, but that’s not accurate. In my mind today, Pittsburgh is “Tokyo” and I’m living the second verse of Walt Grace.
The timeline of the release and albums didn’t match, but I feel like the last few years have been my downfall from my height as a writer. Then, I hit a point where I realized I can still do all of this, and do it better than I had before. In the documentary above, Mayer says a few times about how nothing will be like Continuum. That might be true, but his work after Continuum went to another level, starting with Born and Raised.
He followed that album with another self-exploration album called Paradise Valley. This album included his rumored response to Taylor Swift with the song “Paper Doll”. To me, this is a song about a people-pleasing girl who has so many different personalities, and values the material and glamour over immaterial things like love and care and comfort from another person. Mayer hasn’t confirmed this song is about Swift, and Swift hasn’t confirmed that Dear John is about Mayer, though that one seems a bit on the nose. I wouldn’t expect any artist to confirm what their art is about, as that takes a layer away from what they’re doing.
These two albums have a different sound than his past work, moving into more of a bluegrass arena. Mayer’s style is unique, to where his pop work doesn’t always sound like typical pop music. A big reason he’s my favorite artist is the fact that he can cover so many styles so well. He’s most known as a pop artist, but is one of the best blues players today, and is now highly influential to young artists in the country and bluegrass scene.
One thing that seems to have changed with Mayer is his desire to mentor and boost younger artists. Two such collabs that come to mind are “Inside Friend” with Leon Bridges and “SUPERPOSITION” by Daniel Cesar. In the latter song, he only plays guitar, with a solo, though Mayer’s guitar is a voice in itself.
He released the album The Search For Everything in 2017, which pushed him back into the pop realm, but again with some unique sounds that resembled some easy listening and more soul-based music in the 80s. The song “In the Blood” has Mayer wondering about the impact his parents had on him, and whether he’ll be able to change that. He follows that song on the album with “Changing”, where he says he’s still changing, but can’t change his ways. “Moving On and Getting Over” is one of my favorites from this album.
I spent most of 2021 diving into the four John Mayer albums that I hadn’t listened to. There were two breakup albums, and two self-exploration and growth albums in a year where I was going through a breakup and a lot of self-exploration and growth. I listened to these albums so much that I was among the top .01% of John Mayer listeners on Spotify in 2021!
With that similarity, I noticed a trend. Mayer is split between two loves. The love of his art and craft, and the love he has for whoever he is with. And it seems that those can clash at times, and he always picks the music. Or maybe that’s how I see it, because that’s how it always plays out for me. I always pick the craft. This might be the way I relate to John Mayer the most, sadly. In my past, I leave a trail of women who grew angry when they met the real me. The real me that gets an idea for an article series, and spends two days straight researching and writing to bring that to life, all while not doing the dishes, putting away laundry, or even appearing alive from the vantage point of everywhere else in the house. And when all of my writing is done, that’s when I’m available 100% to them. I even spent my last relationship trying to find a balance to fit another person in my life. It was in the last year that I realized, ironically enough, that the John Mayer and Taylor Swift song “Half of My Heart” is my situation over and over.
Your faith is strong
But I can only fall short for so long
Down the road later on
You will hate that I never gave more to you
Than half of my heart
I’ve considered in the past giving up writing and trying to live a “normal” life with the person I’m with. What I’ve come to discover is that I probably need to change the type of person I’m with. Mayer’s love songs all have a yearning for this something that is missing. Something that can’t be described. My theory is the thing he’s looking for is unconditional love, someone who doesn’t need his entire heart, and allows him to just be himself. Maybe that’s just my view because that is my reality, discovered after a year of heavy listening to my favorite artist.
Mayer released a new album in 2021, called Sob Rock, and it literally came out the day I completed my move back to Florida. At this point, I feel like I’m somehow being trolled.
This album was a very 80s-pop inspired album that sounds way better at night time, as a lot of 80s-pop does. I wasn’t a huge initial fan of this album. Part of that is because by the time it came out, I had already heard most of the album, with a few of the songs being years old. But it occurs to me now that this is just a continuation of the evolution of Mayer’s style, along with the consistency in his ways.
After those first two albums, every album since has been experimental in a way. Mayer tackled the blues in Continuum. Battle Studies was pop, but Mayer’s version of pop. If that was his debut album, it probably wouldn’t have gotten as much airplay. There’s country and bluegrass with Born and Raised and Paradise Valley. There’s a return to a pop sound, but a softer, relaxed sound in The Search For Everything. And Sob Rock is almost a concept album with the 80s references, down to the Eric Clapton feel of the album cover.
Eric Clapton is one of Mayer’s inspirations — perhaps his big league comp that he studies to try and improve his own skills. And after a two-decade career of establishing himself as one of the best modern-day guitar players (Clapton has called Mayer a “master” guitarist), Mayer is still paying homage to his inspiration, through both his sound and style — while still making that sound and style feel authentic to John Mayer.
Song of the Day
Songs of the Week
Each week in this Saturday feature I’ll provide a playlist of what I was listening to throughout the week, giving you some choices if you’re looking for new music. This list usually covers several styles. Most of it this week is new music, although the first song is definitely an older song, and one of my favorites growing up. RIP Meat Loaf.
Albums of the Week
Best New Album of the Week: Kota the Friend – Lyrics to GO, Vol. 3
Released on January 14th, Lyrics to GO, Vol. 3 is the first album I’ve heard from Kota the Friend, despite being his seventh album since 2018. His storytelling, beats, and flow are captivating from the start, especially if you like more mellow, spoken-word style hip hop. I got into R.A.P. Ferreira last year, who has a similar style, and that led me to discovering Kota the Friend over the last few weeks with this new release.
Obscure Album Find of the Week: GRiZ – Rainbow Brain
I hadn’t listened to GRiZ prior to this week. I stumbled onto the electronic artist and his funk-inspired sound from the album Rainbow Brain, which was released in July 2021. What was I so busy listening to in July that I missed it? Well, John Mayer released Sob Rock a week earlier, for one.
Most Played Album of the Week: Run the Jewels – RTJ3
My favorite album by Run the Jewels, and the only one I didn’t have on vinyl. That changed this week when I grabbed a repress of this record on gold vinyl, which doesn’t actually get released until the end of March. Impatient as I am, I listened to this album for two days straight to curb the anticipation. If you’re into 90s grunge rock artists, or 90s hip hop, you’ll love Run the Jewels. “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters” is the perfect intro song if you’re a Rage Against the Machine fan.
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This Week on First Pitch
TUESDAY: This Week on Pirates Prospects
WEDNESDAY: Site Updates
THURSDAY: The MCU Multiverse Explained
FRIDAY: No Hitters
SATURDAY: John Mayer