Every Crisis Needs a Playlist

File:The Scream - Edvard Munch.jpg

A difficult season at work has led me to consider how I handle stress and crisis. Prayer, family, friendship/community, and exercise come to mind (exercise usually stays in the mind only). Music can also be a source of consolation…which brought to mind this quote from an interview with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy:

I guess I don’t think there’s any reason to feel guilty about having joy in your life, regardless of how bad things are in the world. Even the most dismal and hopeless-sounding Wilco music, to my ears, has always maintained a level of hope and consolation. I think art is a consolation regardless of its content. It has the power to move and make you feel like you’re not alone. And ultimately that’s what everybody wants to know.

The logical conclusion: everybody in a crisis needs a playlist. So all in good fun, here’s my 30 song playlist for the week:

1. Sam Phillips, Love and Kisses  

Perfect album opener that reminds us that every crisis demands a sense of irony and absurdity… ‘God will grant us all our wishes / Martinis and bikinis for our friends.’

2. U2, Invisible

A crisis playlist should always include a) one song released at the time of the crisis; b) calls for solidarity to withstand said crisis. U2’s new release and long career fulfill both criteria:  ‘There is no them, there’s only us.’

3. Crowded House, Don’t Dream It’s Over

Its title explains its inclusion. Bonus points for being the near-perfect pop song whose note of hope is tempered by recognition of the daunting obstacles: ‘Try to catch the deluge in the paper cup.’

4. The Clash, Should I Stay or Should I Go

Angst. Decisions. Communication. A good beat. The crisis in action. ‘So you got to let me know / Should I stay or should I go?’

5. Arcade Fire, Wasted Hours

A song about childhood nostalgia, but in a crisis it can serve as an assessment of how you’ve invested your time and energy on the road to this moment: ‘Wasted hours that you make new / And turn into / A life that we can live.’

6. The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony

Key ingredient for a crisis playlist: Essence of Bittersweet, that strange brew of hope, beauty, struggle, and disappointment. ‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life

7. Andrew Bird, Desperation Breeds

Andrew Bird’s lament of ecological destruction reminds us that desperation has a cumulative effect: We keep breeding desperation / In this era of thieves / Who keep stealing respiration / From the tenderest of trees

8. Cat Power, The Greatest

Cat Power helps you assess your current situation in light of previous hopes and aspirations… Once I wanted to be the greatest / No wind or waterfall could stall me / And then came the rush of the flood / The stars at night turned deep to dust

9. Aimee Mann, Save Me

Aimee Mann is essential for Eeyores in crisis…no one is better at wrapping pleas of deliverance in wet blankets:  ‘Cause I can tell / You know what it’s like / The long farewell / Of the hunger strike / But can you save me / Come on and save me’

10. Over the Rhine, All My Favorite People

You and your peeps got problems? Welcome to the human race. Hold me: All my favorite people are broken / Believe me, my heart should know / Some prayers are better left unspoken / I just want to hold you and let the rest go

11. The Avett Brothers, The Once and Future Carpenter

Hope. Community. Direction. All needed to weather a crisis. Bonus points for including local artists on crisis playlist, btw…. ‘Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me / And when I lose my direction I’ll look up to the sky.’

12. The Band, The Weight

Every crisis contains a distinct cast of characters (as in Crazy Chester, Luke, and Anna Lee) and a unique series of burdens. But at the end of the day…Put the load right on me.

13. Big Star, The Ballad of el Goodo

An anthem of resilience and self-determination in response to the draft and the Vietnam war? Perhaps. Hey, that’s a crisis! Hold on…  ‘Just if we can / Just, ah, hold on / Hold on / Hold on / Hold on.’

14. The Beach Boys, God Only Knows

Brian Wilson at his finest–transcendent, hopeful, with more than a dash of angst and uncertainty. Affirmation laced with the potential for loss: ‘I may not always love you / But long as there are stars above you / You never need to doubt it / I’ll make you so sure about it / God only knows what I’d be without you.’

15. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come

This classic, so apt in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, reminds us that however a crisis resolves, things will be different from then on: It’s been a long time coming / But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

16. Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone

This Mavis Staples- Jeff Tweedy collaboration conveys the consolation of community in the face of brokenness and adversity:‘A broken home, a broken heart / Isolated and afraid / Open up this is a raid / I wanna get it through to you / You’re not alone.’

17. Ryan Adams, I Love You But I Don’t Know What to Say

I like happy, mellow Ryan. Love and support communicated even when words fail… I promise you that I will keep you safe from harm / Love you all the rest of my days / When the night is silent and we seem so far away / Oh I love you but I don’t know what to say

18. The Swell Season, I Have Loved You Wrong

I miss the Swell Season. A plea for forgiveness in the face of relational dissolution, but… But this estranged organ in my chest / Still beats for you

19. Norah Jones, Peace

A Horace Silver classic gets the Norah treatment with pleasing results. Whatever one endures, at the end of the day… Peace is for everyone.

20. Emmylou Harris, Every Grain of Sand

Emmylou’s Dylan cover about finding order in personal chaos (‘in the hour of my deepest need’) surpasses the original: In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand / In every leaf that trembles and, in every grain of sand.

21. P.J. Harvey, We Float

Polly Jean reminding us to not get overwhelmed in the moment:  We just kinda lost our way / We were looking to be free / But one day / We’ll float / Take life as it comes

22. Sigur Rós, Ég anda

I mean, any band that makes up their own language and calls it “Hopelandic” has to be tonic in times of crisis. Allegedly, the last line of the song is the only one not in Hopelandic and translates, “I breath, fortunately”. So that’s good…

23. The Housemartins, I’ll Be Your Shelter

Gospel stomper by one-time, self-proclaimed Christian Marxists from Hull (not a typo). Crisis management 101: And when the tempest is raging / I want you to know got a friend that’s true  / Just like a shelter, in a time of storm / I’ll see you through, that’s what I’ll do

24-26. The Beatles, Golden Slumber/Carry That Weight/The End

Abbey Road really is the best, most complete Beatles album. So there. The inclusion of this medley is a case study of self-explanatory awesomeness. Once there was a way / To get back home / Sleep, pretty darling / Do not cry / And I will sing a lullaby

27. The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” ranks #2 on the Rolling Stone Top 500 songs of all time. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the far superior song about a somewhat similar theme, ranks #100. That’s wrong. Anyway, the surprising denouement of crisis may mean: You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes you just might find / You just might find / You get what you need

28. Johnny Cash, Greystone Chapel

Love the story of Cash surprising inmate Glen Sherley by playing his song during the legendary At Folsom Prison performance. A song about a place of finding refuge amidst “a field of darkness”:  Now there’s Greystone chapel here at Folsom / It has a touch of God’s hand on every stone / It’s a flower of light in a field of darkness / And it’s givin’ me the strength to carry on

29. Bob Dylan, Highlands

Bob Dylan wrote a 16 minute 33 second song because Bob Dylan. Navigating turmoil sometimes means a detour to the Highlands: Well my heart’s in the Highlands wherever I roam / That’s where I’ll be when I get called home / The wind, it whispers to the buckeyed trees in rhyme / Well my heart’s in the Highland / I can only get there one step at a time

30. Radiohead, Motion Picture Soundtrack

A classic Radiohead juxtaposition of seeming lyrical despair defied by musical beauty (see Jeff Tweedy quote at beginning of this post). Inclusion is primarily due to the wordless hidden track at the end, which somehow conveys hope.

Picture: Edvard Munch, “The Scream” (Public Domain).

One thought on “Every Crisis Needs a Playlist

  1. I would add Sia’s “Breathe Me” (mostly because of its use in Six Feet Under). The ultimate in crashing repetition that just breaks you down until you’re sobbing and know that nothing will ever be the same but that’s sort of okay.

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