I Made You A Mixtape
Here's a recap of what I've been listening to this year, month by wonky-ass month. I would've made a bona fide playlist out of these, but several of them aren't actually songs, and they're schizoid in tone and genre-- faithful to my actual state of mind.
Note- At one point these were all embedded Youtube videos, but I learned they won't let you do that if it's copyrighted music. So now they're all links :/
I can't be the only one who drifted closer to their birth-religion over the course of the year. During the first exhilarating weeks of COVID, I put this song on in the shower each morning, a private chapel in the steam.
I first discovered the Gospel while wandering through San Francisco in the winter of 2015, squatting in an abandoned restaurant in the Mission with a starchild I met in a coffee shop. We were putting on an art show there, painting next to the rusting grease-traps, and spent a week of all-nighters finishing our pieces to the playlist from which this song comes.
"He Turned the Water Into Wine" was my favorite, in part because of the stomp-and-clap rhythm, but also because of its almost apocalyptic sense of the spread of something world-changing, going viral one mouth at a time. "He said go and tell no man/ But they shouted it through the land..."
Plenty of things "hit different" now, but few things hit better than the validation of Thom Yorke's entire discography.
The bridge into unintelligible cooing at 2:38 has always been my favorite part. It is this sound, from their loftiest and most cursed album, that is the theme song of Jeff Bezos's April, a month in which he netted $14B.
By month three, my Coronavirus strategy had been more or less set in place: I would retreat into the world of computers. I'd picked up a web design gig from a well-coiffed friend and was grinding through the final awful hours of the deadline in early May, waking up involuntarily at 3am most mornings, mind racing.
Shortly after the job was done, the stress-marathon finally came to claim me, and I headed to the ER with sharp heart-pains and a numb left arm.
"Looks like we're having another 'chest pain' day," a smirking nurse said to her coworker as I waited outside.
My heart scans came back fine.
"Got a history of depression? Anxiety?" the doctor asked. There were two nurses in the room with him. "That's probably why your chest hurts."
Anyway, entering the void, this song made a lot of sense.
With my first computer gig done, I was flush with money and redesigning Infection House, whipping through my Wordpress admin with the latest in no-code page building technology. Determined to outwork anyone and everyone, I stayed up late all month with the Carter 2, smoking my wife's weed while she slept.
After June got into full swing, it was of course in bad taste to keep jamming to gangster songs from the comfort of my tech bro lifestyle. But lord, what a great piece of music-- the sound of a simpler time.
My wife and I were in a July 4th traffic jam on our way back from the grocery, inhaling the exhaust of revving MAGA trucks, proud to be outside and unafraid during the lull in COVID. I was a bit outnumbered to play "War Within a Breath," and the cozy bourgeois vibes of Dylan were better suited to the year's lifestyle anyway. So we cranked it up. And despite marching for most of the month and getting cursed at by our fair share of conservatives, it was the most righteous I'd felt all year.
Like Dylan, I am a mostly apolitical person, only joining the frey during inspiring or opportune times. The song's advice-- to not speak too soon, for what is first will soon be last-- helped soothe me as the spring's mania gave way to the dull, stupefied feeling I've been carrying around ever since.
My wife describes this man as the reason she didn't go to college, which I've always respected very deeply. We fell asleep to him every night, and I tingled at the gentle tonguing of his Pali as he read the Dhammapada. Looking back it was clearly a gateway drug to the harder forms of ASMR yet to come.
It started as a whimper, an ongoing hiccup in the chest. By the time my wife made it through the office door my head was in my hands, snotwater pouring out of every hole on my face, torso heaving.
When she made it to my side I removed a single, waxy earbud and spun my chair away from the dual screen monitor, Levon Helm still wailing from behind his drumset. My forehead sunk into her chest, my whole being receding, an ebb tide into oblivion.
It has been a long year.
A week later, I tried writing an email to one of the many friends I've fallen out of touch with. I used to spend entire afternoons writing and rewriting my replies. Now every sentence was a chore.
"Spent a couple days weeping uncontrollably to a song about the civil war," I said. "Living and dying for worthless causes... the human condition." It was a long while before I heard anything back.
Since then, it has been a monthly tradition to cry to a new country song. This one's less baroque, more easy listening-- a little misting, a moment's pause. The song ends with the narrator running from a pack of bloodhounds having freshly escaped a Nashville jail.
"The only breed of dog I've had since 1990 have been Bloodhounds," a guy on YouTube writes in the comment section. "They will trail you til they literally drop. Running won't get you anywhere once they are on your scent." A lot like mid-pandemic depression.
I've mostly given up on music at this point. If the establishment scientists are to be believed, it's probably why I've been so bummed.
"God, he's just so nasty," I think to myself as the man in my ears slurps and crackles through his cheese-dipped fried chicken. I'm trying to get myself back in the tingle-zone, my tolerance rising. I can't open a VSCode terminal these days without first ensuring that there's someone making creepy noises in my headphones.
I actually get the famed meridian response of ASMR videos about 10% of the time I watch them now. It has simply grown comfortable, to share space in my mind with a strange, over-intimate Other. Each smack of the lips is a prayer, each fizzling, spitty gulp of Sprite a wish: pull me from my body, Lord. Free me from this creature that I am.