The Oxford dictionary defines music as: "vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion." In times like these people are feeling a lot of complex, meta-emotions and are struggling to figure out how to correctly express them. Cue: Music.
If you've spent any time on social media recently, I'm sure you've noticed the growing presence of music. People are taking part in 30 Day Song challenges on Instagram, posting a different song to correspond with daily prompts. Musicians are posting videos of new original songs and covers of classics; hosting live concerts and taking requests from their virtual audiences. Children and adults alike are using this time as an opportunity to learn how to play an instrument. Art therapists are picking up guitars and taking to their keyboards to make Telehealth house calls. Across the world people are turning to music, relying on its ability articulate what can't be said with words alone.
There is something so powerful and universal in the language of music. People take immense joy in making it and sharing it with one another. To quote August Rush, music is "...harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars." This thought process led me to a rather exciting idea. I asked my friends and family that I'm missing so terribly what music they were listening to. I curated the first 13 songs on this playlist. The following 20 were suggested to me by friends old and new, colleagues from work I've only seen in Zoom meetings, and family members that I was supposed to see at a now canceled family reunion scheduled for this summer.
When I asked folks what songs were getting a lot of traction on their quarantine playlists, I was overwhelmed by the response. Some of my friends sent me recommendations for artists or entire albums that they've been cycling through. What I've presented here is a very condensed list, because if I'd included everything we would have been here rocking out together for 3 or 4 days straight. This kind of response to my request for music recommendations was incredibly moving and sparked a lot of wonderful conversations. I was permitted to dive into the music, reflect on what it meant to me, and what it means to the people I love who opened up and shared these little bits of their souls with me.
Allow me to walk you through some of the heavy hitters.
1.) "Baby Don't Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts" by Lake Street Dive: A bubbly and brassy tune where the singer begs someone, anyone, to help her distract herself from the chaos buzzing inside her head. I opened with this song, because I think we're all feeling some version of this emotion right now. For my part, there's a lot of uncertainty in work... and life in general... And it's stirring up a lot of anxiety for me. However, because the situation is largely out of my control, I find myself standing in this singer's shoes, pleading for a connection of any kind to help save me from the scariness of not knowing what comes next.
2.) "The Bones" by Maren Morris feat. Hozier: I discovered this song maybe three weeks in to quarantine. At first I just thought that I was vibing with it because of the catchiness and the rockin' hooks. However, when you analyze the lyrics, things get a little more interesting... "When the bones are good, the rest don't matter/ Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter/ Let it rain 'cause you and I remain the same/ When there ain't a crack in the foundation/ Baby, I know any storm we're facing/ Will blow right over while we stay put/ The house don't fall when the bones are good..." This song is all about resilience in the face of hardship. The relationship in the song is built strong enough to not only face life's difficulties, but overcome them as well. Wether we're seeing examples of this in our partners, parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, communities at large, or even in ourselves, chances are that we're realizing that we can handle way more than we ever thought we could.
3.) "No Plan" by Hozier: I probably could have put the entirety of Wasteland, Baby! on this playlist. If I had answered my own call for music recommendations I would have put forward this whole album. I've had it on constant rotation lately. When discussing the album in the past Hozier has said, "I suppose the album kind of flits between unbridled optimism and hopefulness and then complete despair, and nihilism, and acceptance, and also just a... get the hell on with it. To the end of the world. Just... let's have it." That is completely where my head and heart have been living these last couple of months; and I think the constant flitting between hopefulness and hopelessness is fitting for life during a global pandemic. If you'd like to listen to Wasteland, Baby! I'll make it easy for you:
Boom. Get into it.
Now, let's talk about "No Plan", the song from the aforementioned album that I specifically selected for this playlist. When Hozier talks about writing this song, he mentions listening to a lecture given by astrophysicist Katie Mack. Her research was so influential in fact, that she's actually name checked on this track. In this lecture she outlines the top most likely ways the universe could end, paying special attention to the "heat death". This theory suggests that at the rate that the universe is expanding, eventually everything will drift further and further away from each other until everything in the cosmos is isolated. Then eventually the stars will burn out, and everything will go cold and fade to black... "As Mack explained, there will be darkness again." I know what you're thinking. "Wow. That is super sad," and you're right. However perspective is key. When Hozier describes the big picture of "No Plan" he says, "This song is a squeeze of the hand, saying, ‘Whatever your neuroses and your problems are, don’t even worry about it. There will be darkness again.’” Comfort. This song is a hand to hold. It's a reassuring voice reminding us how astoundingly lucky we are to be alive right now, encouraging us to stop wasting our precious lives on things that are holding us back and weighing us down.
4.) "Waterloo" from Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: The first of the tracks suggested to me by one of my dear friends. I placed this song right after "No Plan" on the playlist because the emotional whiplash of jumping from that track to this one is jarring and familiar at the same time. If you're like me, you're experiencing a lot of rollercoaster ups and downs. One minute you're in the fetal position and can't get out of bed, the next you're fixing breakfast and dancing in the kitchen. The person who inspired this selection told me "Mamma Mia 2 is my go to "stop being sad" album". It had been a while since I listened, so I combed through the album again and rediscovered my love for "Waterloo". The song is fun, sweet, carefree and listening to it all but forces you to smile. Try clinging to your melancholy while listening to this song. I dare you. It can't be done. And right now unbridled joy feels like a brave and rebellious act, which makes this song massively important.
5.) "My Least Favorite Life" by Lera Lynn: This song is haunting in a gorgeous and scary accurate way. I didn't know that it existed until a friend recommended it to me and from the moment that I heard it I couldn't get it out of my head. This song made me say, "Wow. I have been weighed down by this and I didn't even realize I was carrying it around in my chest until I heard Lera sing about it." Just check these lyrics out: "This is my least favorite life/ The one where I am out of my mind/ The one where you're just out of reach/ The one where I stand, and you fly." Wow. This tune effortlessly encapsulates the feelings of helplessness, being trapped and isolated and yearning for a connection that's just out of reach. I don't know about you guys, but I've been feeling like everyone is somehow managing to cope with this whole "global pandemic" thing better than I have; and this song seamlessly and beautifully gives voice to that fear while reminding me that of course that's not the case.
6.) "This Year" by The Mountain Goats: Another recommendation from a friend and... oh man. This song could not be more perfect. The music is brash and rebellious, and, coupled with the pointed lyrics, everyone has a clear sense of just how frustrated and upset the singer is. He feels trapped, stuck, angry and frightened in his current situation; which are all emotions that are swirling around my head and heart constantly, especially now. However, throughout the song we get the ferocious refrain of "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me". Again, we're introduced to the idea of hope as a rebellious act. This person allows himself to feel the restrictions of his circumstance. He laments, he grieves, he gets mad. And he still looks the odds in the eye and vows to rise above the pain as an act of defiance. For all the turmoil in this song, it closes on an unbelievably hopeful note, proclaiming: "There will be feasting and dancing/ In Jerusalem next year/ I am going to make it through this year/ If it kills me/ I am going to make it though this year/ If it kills me". This piece instructs all of us to acknowledge the fear and frustration that we're going through, while encouraging us to look forward and anticipate better days to come.
I could go on about these pieces forever, but I think you get the gist. The songs on this playlist run the emotional gambit, covering everything from fear and frustration to hope and resilience. I find that no matter what headspace I come to this playlist in, I can listen to it and say "Oh my god I recognize that feeling. Thank god somebody gets it, I thought I was completely alone." These songs, especially the recommendations, remind me that I'm not alone. In fact, I'm in pretty good company. The artists who wrote these pieces and the people responsible for helping me wrangle them up to make this list are all here to comfort and support you. It's okay to scream into the void. It's also okay to have a dance party in your kitchen.
Music has this remarkable power. We may listen to it, but in the end we feel like we're the ones who've been heard. I made this playlist to feel closer to my friends and family. I love music and I love sharing it with the people I love, and listening to this playlist continually makes me feel like I'm listening with the people I care about most. I've also realized that I put this playlist together as a love letter to anyone who listens to it. I hear you. You're not alone. We'll get through this together. Now turn the volume up.