A Private Public Playlist
All Things Must Pass by George Harrison
At the annual Halloween Ithaca Record Store Fair, I purchased a vinyl record of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. I don’t own a record player though, so I guess I’m trying to latch onto some outdated mode of life. To this day it sits on my desk at school, and when I’m home, it sits on my desk there.
“Sunrise doesn’t last all morning. The cloudburst doesn’t last all day.” As a song, there really isn’t much to “All Things Must Pass.” The best versions are simply George Harrison with an acoustic guitar. When I went into therapy, my therapist asked me what I would listen to when I needed to calm myself down. “All Things Must Pass” is that song.
Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield
Late in the autumn of my eighth year, I journeyed onto the big yellow school bus and went to school. On the radio was a song I had never heard before. It wasn’t The Beatles, which my mom played; it wasn’t AC/DC, which my dad played. It was something different.
“Unwritten” is a pretty positive song. “No one else can speak the words on your lips”; at home nobody did. I was the only one who knew about this gem. I learned all the words to this song sitting on that bus, for I didn’t have an iPod to distract myself yet. It was the first song I liked.
Believe by Cher
When I was in college, a friend of mine requested that we listen to “Believe” by Cher, the top song of 1999. He didn’t know that, in brighter days, I sat in a radio booth with three of my closest friends and belted this out. A stuffy room occupied by four teenagers could be a very special kind of hell. The booth had two different doors to get into it, yet we still got sound complaints from the balding music teacher across the hall. That room was heaven for us, just to have our radio session, and it was often enough to get me through my school week
I haven’t seen them in a while.
Kiss from a Rose by Seal
This song gets the award for strangest music video I’ve seen in some time. “Kiss from a Rose” is an emotional love song by Seal, yet the song was a tie in for 1994’s hit blockbuster Batman Returns. As such, the music video has a shirtless Seal belting out about being a lighthouse that loves a plant or something as nonsensical, and BAM, sudden Batman and Robin sighting.
There’s an interesting plurality at work here: love and Batman. Of course, Batman could never fall in love because he chooses to isolate himself. With some therapy, I really think Batman could become a productive member of society. Instead, he chooses to be powerfully self-destructive. The guy has unlimited money but stops himself from feeling any kind of happiness. All the while he refuses to acknowledge when something does bring him joy. I wonder if Batman ever looks back on the finer things, or if Seal ever actually saw Batman Returns.
Silly Love Songs by Paul McCartney
Fuck Valentine’s Day. In a calendar year, this is the single most isolating day of the year, and, next to my birthday, it’s the most difficult one to get through. It’s painful, and there’s an eternal elegy that rings in my ears.
It’s also the time of year that these so-called “Silly Love Songs” pop-up in pop-culture. This track is probably the second -laziest song Paul McCartney has ever written, for there’s really no story here other than Paul likes love songs and is in love with his wife Linda. At least it seems earnest.
Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles
The song is fantastic, but I must say it fails to capture what real loneliness is. I don’t know if Paul McCartney was a lonely man, but his public persona sure seems to be anything but. Someone who got loneliness was George Harrison, the quiet one.
“Eleanor Rigby” isn’t even the best lonely track on Revolver — “I Want to Tell You” is. That song sees George Harrison being unrequitedly in love but putting off doing anything about it. That’s much more in tune with 2010 than sitting around waiting to die. Of course, a fair bit of waiting to die also occurs.
McCartney does nail it with one throwaway line: “Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?” An unanswerable question, but Nathaniel Hawthorne once said that everyone had a black veil on. The masks don’t have to be for anyone; they just have to be put on to even get out the door in the morning.
Christmas Time is Here (Instrumental) by Vince Guaraldi Trio
There’s never been a time when A Charlie Brown Christmas wasn’t important. This song soothingly plays as Snoopy skates on the ice in town. He is joined by the whole Peanuts gang and they create an iconic scene. Even Charlie Brown, the ultimate malcontent, is happy on that ice. People are supposed to feel happy when they’re skating on thin ice with their friends.
Hand Covers Bruise by Trent Reznor
This one is heard in The Social Network. Of course, it’s just some electronic music. It could be worse, but not being a musician I really can’t care too much about songs without vocals. It’s okay studying music, but there are better options.
The song more aptly describes Facebook, which is an empty form of expressionless communication. After wading through a couple hundred advertisements, one will discover that every single person on Facebook is very happy. Anything else may reveal a little bit too much. Luckily, it seems that Facebook is now being used as AIM was used before I was sentient. “Hand Covers Bruise” is sad, ramps up tension, and is oddly hypnotic as it does so.
Old School by 2pac Shakur
For an appliance that presents so much, the internet tends to feel like a big marathon on TV Land where everything you could ever want to re-watch is on. It’s a nostalgia hub. On his magnum opus Me Against the World, 2pac raps about his childhood. The rhymes mix extremely well with a bass heavy beat to create something that feels old and contemporary. The chorus rings: “What more can I say? I wouldn’t be here today if the old school didn’t pave the way.”
No Diggity by Blackstreet
As I think kids are one wont to do, when I was a kid, I really wanted to be a grown-up. I saw how my dad could go anywhere he wanted; , and he even held the power to go to McDonald’s if he wanted to. He was the one that controlled what played on the radio. I wanted that, but as a kiddo I didn’t have it. At the time I would rather watch something like The Simpsons or Seinfeld than a children’s show because I thought it would get me closer to being an adult. It didn’t, but in 2015, I still periodically look up old clips of Spongebob Squarepants to feel happy.
Case and point on nostalgia is “No Diggity” by Blackstreet, featuring Dr. Dre. This was a song that got played out when I was the co-head of radio club. It’s a soulful track.
However, this song isn’t mine. It wasn’t popular when I was progressing. I shouldn’t like this song as much as I do, for it’s not what I’m supposed to be nostalgic for. It is manufactured, a nostalgia specter.
Dream On by Aerosmith
For the longest time I was not a concert fan; they were too loud. My first concert was Aerosmith at Fenway Park. Looking on it now, it was a terrible concert. At the time I was a bit scared, it was really loud, and I just couldn’t understand how people pay a ton of money to see these celebrities that are pretty far away. I didn’t feel happy at the concert, but it only got worse when I got in the car to go home from the concert. Everyone else had a great time, so of course I said I did too and that I was so happy to go to the concert. I wasn’t happy, whatever that means.
Quarter to Three by Bruce Springsteen
“Quarter to Three” is a cover that is sometimes performed live by The Boss. He acts like the song is over to soak in applause before launching into it again. It’s a bit loud and Bruce is entirely incoherent under the simultaneous drum solo, saxophone and organ, but as a live experience I can only imagine it’s incredible.
I got into Bruce Springsteen when, one sad afternoon, I decided that I should get into Bruce Springsteen. It just seemed to fit. I would later use the same reasoning to decide where to go to college; something just felt right about “Matthew Radulski: Bruce Springsteen fan.” Nebraska is my favorite album of his. It puts me in awe that Bruce, near the height of his popularity, would release an acoustic record about depression and suicide. It’s a hard listen.
Zelda’s Lullaby by Koji Kondo
I accidently deleted my sister’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time saved game data. I was three, and hadn’t yet learned to read. Reasonably, though, she was pissed. She was a kid herself at the time and was crying in my father’s arms while yelling at me. I also wanted to be in my father’s arms but couldn’t, so I had to cry alone.
In the game, “Zelda’s Lullaby” takes on the role of a family crest. The ocarina is warm in a familiar way, a familial way. It feels so full of life despite that playing it only requires three notes.
Tuesday’s Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd
My dad is a Republican, though he would never admit it. I love my parents, I really do, but the one thing I have a problem getting over is my father’s taste in music. He’s a big Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, which is disappointing for me. He was the one who introduced me to Kanye West, 2pac, and Dad-Rock. Car rides with him had objectively better music when I was a kid.
“Tuesday’s Gone” is a bit different though. It’s about loss and trying to move on. This is one of those diamonds I can latch onto when it comes on. Even as a kid I preferred this to the problematic “Sweet Home Alabama,” which is too sweet for me. “Tuesday’s Gone” is also a long song; it gives you time to sing along and really appreciate what’s going on.
Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite
This song came out before Kurt Cobain died, so the ’90s hadn’t really decided what they were going to be about yet. In 1990, the year where Deee-Lite got their one hit, there were 24 acts that had a number one hit. The key thing about this song is that it’s just fun; at some point dance music just became beats and boops and stopped being about having, well, fun and joy. It’s the only pop song I know that uses a slide whistle. “Groove is in the Heart” will make you feel happy, at least for 4 minutes.
“I’m so happy, cause today I found my friends, they’re in my head.”
Released just a few years after “Groove is in the Heart, “Lithium” is a tortured song that moves through many states of mind. Depending on one’s mental state, it could bring as much joy as Dee-Lite. Its strength comes from Kurt Cobain repeatedly saying “I’m not gonna crack.” The guitar is amped at this point, so there’s a battle of wills inside.
In his suicide note, Kurt Cobain quoted Neil Young: “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
Where Do We Go From Here? by Joss Whedon
I ask myself this question every. Single. Day. After a test, after a break, after finishing a book, hell, giving a friend advice. I can’t help but go back into Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’s stellar musical episode “Once More, With Feeling” for help.
Lately I’ve been relating to “Going Through the Motions,” the big opener. Buffy belts that she’s “going through the motions, walking through the part,” and that she “just [wants] to feel alive.” I finished Buffy a year ago, and I miss it. I miss the small joy that each new episode brought. People can overestimate how important something as small as a new episode of a TV show can be. Once it ends, because all things must pass…
“Where do we go from here?”
Runaway by Kanye West
There is a soundtrack to people’s despair. Panic attacks can attack slowly and all at once, and these are not mutually exclusive options for panic. What is an option is what we as humans choose to help as calm down.
The architect and healer of my panic one fateful spring night was Kanye West, far and away my favorite genius. “Runaway” is among his strongest songs, and it finds what’s behind depression. The façade, the monotony of a single piano note. Screaming and not being heard because of distortion. The song didn’t help me calm down, but it did help me weep uncontrollably in the middle of the street. Sometimes that’s enough.
“Where do we go from here?”
I Just Wasn’t Made of These Times by The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds may be the single best album released, and, save for a few garbage tracks, it manages to capture isolation in the midst of joy. The Beach Boys are at once the best band and the worst possible band to record Pet Sounds, so tracks like “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” feel like a mind-fuck. Here’s the band that did “Surfer Girl” and “Kokomo” years later creating a song about a man completely giving up on his friends, his environment, and himself. Not many songs can pull off a blunt chorus like “sometimes I feel very sad,” but somehow the Beach Boys of all people manage to do it.
Vienna by Billy Joel
My friend loaned me a copy of The Stranger when he was going through an incredibly hard time. At that point I hadn’t realized that I too needed to help myself. I didn’t know that I’d soon be going to therapy every Friday. I didn’t know how often I would start contemplating grim endings. I didn’t know that I could stop contemplating those endings. I didn’t know that Vienna was waiting.