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Lessons Learned: 2011

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I learned a lot this past year. For example, did you know that Nicolas Cage could have been Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings? Crazy. But for more substantial learnings about life, let's turn to this year's music, and what it told us along the way. 1. Surprise People. 2011 in music was a year of surprises and generally stepping out of one's comfort zone. Usually this was in the form of collaborations – Kanye West reached out to reigning indie king Bon Iver, and Jack White worked with Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and even the Insane Clown Posse just to screw with you. Sometimes it came out as wild ideas like The Flaming Lips producing a 24-hour song. Certainly, stepping out of your comfort zone doesn't always produce fantastic results, but sometimes the act itself is all the incentive you need. As the saying goes, the only reward of the easy path is that it's easy. 2. Two Great Tastes Don't Always Taste Great Together. Metallica and Lou Reed taught me that you can't just smash two things together and hope for the best. In the event that you do decide to smash two wildly disparate things together, avoid the hubris of talking it up in interviews. Do not, in any situation, tell people that this is the best you've ever been, especially if both of you happen to be legends in your respective field. I know I said surprise people – but do it in a way that is self-aware of the surprise, either with humor or humbleness. 3. If You're Amazing, You Will Last Forever In 2011, everything old is new again. It seems like every year, high quality box sets and reissues of classic material ramp up, and this was no exception. Whether it was The Smiths, U2's Achtung Baby or the mythological Beach Boys' Smile, there were enticing pieces of music history given new life in today's market. Maybe you lived through their heyday, or maybe it's all new to you. The lesson here is that the past doesn't quit, and that there will always be value in yesterday's best. 4. Know When, and How, to Quit. This year saw the end of Rilo Kiley, R.E.M. and LCD Soundsystem. Each had at least a healthy amount of success, especially R.E.M., so it's not like we didn't get to enjoy them while they were around. But things happen, and there's no shame in quitting. It's just a matter of how it ends. For Rilo Kiley, it was an ugly dissolution of relationships described as “deception, disloyalty and greed.” For LCD Soundsystem, it was a case of going out on top, and they did it in supreme fashion with a sold out Madison Square Garden. As the year ends, you'll be reflecting and evaluating how it went, and what emotion you want to attach to its passing. Here's hoping your year warrants more of a last hurrah than a quiet fade out.

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