My playlist of songs and moments of music I listened to a lot this year is both public on my YouTube channel and embedded below.
As in 2021, 2018, and 2017, my picks are loosely based on numbers: streaming service histories from spotify and apple, records left on the floor near my record player, times I looked up information about lyrics or the songwriters, or evidence of wear on cassettes or CDs.
Sometimes they are songs that came out the year I listened to them, sometimes they are just new to me, sometimes they’re old favorites that resonated for some reason in the given year. Sometimes a theme emerges; this year I can see a bit of renewed faith and happiness, along with the very beginnings of longing and happy feelings that you store in your fat as you get to know someone. It’s been a challenge this year but there have been some real gifts from the pain including a new special friend.*
I’ve settled on YouTube as a gathering tool to keep it simple (and also there’s a higher percentage on YT than the streaming services of weird stuff or live weird moments or videos where someone places the needle on the record and then we watch the record playing together – my favorite kind of YouTube video).
I started doing this in late 2017 as a marker during a depressive episode. I generally make playlists based on whim, and like to pretend that I’m programming a late night radio show while doing so. Enjoy.
New Order’s “Thieves Like Us” has now made it into multiple years, it ends up being played a lot as background music as I write, and I did a lot of work on my novel in the last few years. Planning on being finished with the novel in the first half of 2023 so we’ll see if this particular New Order song joins the playlists again next year.
Big Audio Dynamite has joined us multiple times, probably for a bit of the same reason, but there’s definitely the nostalgia wagon working here. All their 90s hits remind me of my early 20s, and seeing them at Market Days here in Chicago playing to a crowd that I remember thinking should have been so much bigger. I went with my childhood friend E and came out to a childhood friend for the first time. (“I might be bisexual,” I told her as we stood next to her friend’s silver jewelry vendor booth. I had already been sowing my oats with multiple genders for a while by then but there was some finality and reality in saying it out loud.)
One of my favorites that made the 2022 list (which as it turns out is a mixture of gospel, pop, a little country, and a little college radio) is the Clark Sisters’s “A Praying Spirit,” which you can hear on their 1978 album Count It All Joy. Their mom Dr. Mattie Moss Clark did the vocal arrangements and I could listen to the transitions in that chorus over and over all day. You don’t have to search far to find a DJ who has included some of the Clark Sisters 70s era output into a mix. I chose the original album version for my list, but this live version of “Nothing to Lose” could have also made the cut, it’s a slow and deliberately unwound presentation, which feels right these days (love watching the huge Florida A&M choir reacting to what they are hearing; kudos to my friend Lenée for including it in one of her lists in 2021).
*I could have included a few tracks from the Roches in 2022’s list but the Modern Lovers song “Hospital” edged “Hammond” out for number of plays. I heard it over the summer on a random hanging out in the yard night and I guess I played it more than a few times over the course of the next months with some irony. I did have a weeklong hospital stay in the spring, after my friends forced me to go to the doctor to check in. My body had been slowly shutting down in the winter, breathing issues, pangs, mobility hindered, but I did the thing where you assume it’s something you understand and pretend you’re controlling it. Then M and Z and several others said my color was off, and then even S, who I count on as someone to reliably talk to me about sports and dumb drivers and amazing noise shows we’ve seen in basements, stopped me in the yard and told me that I needed to go get it checked out because he’d be sorry if I wasn’t there anymore. I went to a doctor visit on a Thursday and on Friday the doctor’s office called and explained that my blood test results indicated a dangerously low hemoglobin count. They wanted me to go check into the ER that day, had set everything up for me to just show up at Northwestern Memorial, and I said “Oh, I don’t know if I can do that, I have work to do, but I’ll try to go on Saturday.” Then a few hours later my friend M burst into my door and told me that the doctor’s office had called her (she’s listed as my emergency contact as she both lives in my building and also will answer any phone call from any number at any time). M said they told her what they had told me and refused to leave my cluttered and dark apartment until we had a plan to go to the ER. Saturday morning R and M drove me to the hospital, where as predicted my count had gotten even worse, and within hours I had the first of several pints of donated blood being transfused into me. I’m still on the journey of working with my doctors to figure out the actual source of my health issues but the real issue here is that a consistent lingering vague feeling of general depression causes me to ignore major pain and punish myself for real or imagined problematic behavior by letting things pile up. But thanks to friends, family, medical professionals, and things I like (music, animals, magazines), I grabbed hold of something the moment I entered the hospital and renewed my ongoing work in addressing my core issues and paying attention to my body. Progress not perfection, better to be here than not. About a month after I returned home from the hospital, I was approached by and started hanging out with a new special friend who makes me happy to await the next and the next and the next times I get to go to a baseball game or eat a meal or read a newspaper next to them and the entire situation feels like a gift from the ancestors. there’s really no other explanation.
If you write about someone who is dangerously sick and depressed, you might want bigger, more dramatic moments to illustrate the time that they start to get out of those feelings and join the rest of us back in the day to day, but pretty much every time I’ve been there, the things that lifted me out were not big or dramatic. My 2017 playlist is a faithful document of such a time, with the last item on the list a commercial that had been playing on the regular in the fall of that year on Philly TV stations. The drum beat on the backing music would snap me out of my feelings every time I heard it and that was gradually enough to get me through to the next year, which led me back home to Chicago and eventually to all the riches of the world (aforementioned friends, family, and things I like). May you find your own (Furniture) Mecca in 2023.