Music has a way of flooding my life, song after song to create an endless soundtrack. Music for the morning drive to drop kids off at school; music to stay focused on studying and marking; music to fuel road trips; music to tackle the piles of chores that punctuate my days. Most times it’s a persistent earworm that prompts my selection of tunes, or my mood that tempts me toward a particular album or genre. Always, I am the one in control, The Chooser. Until Saturday night, when my house fell silent and the stars beckoned brilliantly. What choice was there but to answer the call?
Bundled head to toe in mismatched wool, I grabbed my trusty little MP3 player and headed out into the night. My player is a random jumble of songs, no rhyme or reason, set to shuffle. I might be lulled by Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1, then instantly shaken to the bone by The Odds; Whitehorse floats around and is contrasted by Of Monsters and Men or Louis Armstrong. My thumb is always ready, waiting to skip tunes that don’t quite jive with my current mindset. But that night, lying on my deck with my face gazing toward infinity, the only thought on my mind was “release.” I hit play and magic happened. Out rolled a playlist so perfect, so absolutely fitting for the right now, that I forgot myself. And that, my friends, is a rare treat for the soul. Sure, it may sound a little too close to New Age ravings, sprinkled with some extra crunchy granola, but it was a moment to savour.
From far away in the darkness, a tambourine crept closer, New Slang by The Shins stilling the air around me. Gentle voice, strumming guitar, and friendly bass spiralled together to smooth the path for songs to come. The Bells rang in next, unexpected (my thumb twitched in automatic reaction) yet reflecting the stars above with its twinkling refrain. This also happens to be a favourite of my kids, and their giggles and joy will forever be echoed in the rhythm. As the last chime sounded back into the night, Donovan Woods’ Portland, Maine began its tiptoe, soothing and solemn. Words of heartache and resignation swirled. At this point, my player must have sensed the answering twinges of my own heart, or some self-actualizing Fate was underfoot. Not that I believe in predetermination or the anthropomorphism of inanimate objects (heck, if that sentence wouldn’t win me a game of Scrabble, I don’t know what would!), but the tone of my playlist changed then.
In keeping with my resolve to follow the music, my thumb lay tucked inside my mitten while my ears took in Mumford and Sons’ Tompkins Square Park and We Never Met, another by Donovan Woods. Two songs with very different tones, yet their sentiments of lost love achingly similar. For reasons that don’t require explanation (most of us have experienced heartbreak, I’m sure, from one side or the other, if not both), the lyrics cut into me. Between gravelly cries of “No flame lasts forever,” and soulful assurance that “…it’ll get hard some day… I know it’s better this way,” I may or may not have shed a few tears. Try as I might, I can never quite get my heart off my sleeve. What a sap.
Doomed romances were blown aside by a sudden change of wind, however, as Milky Chance broke through with Stolen Dance. Yes, this tune could also be classed as lovelorn and longing, but it’s just too damn catchy to keep me down! Beat and bass bouncing through me, I couldn’t help it. I got up and I danced.
Under the anonymity of night, with only the stars to see me (and possibly a roving satellite or two…), I swayed and twirled, exuberantly uncoordinated. The playlist continued to pull me along its path, offering up some Neil Young, Jarabe de Palo, Elliot Smith, and weaving in still more Donovan Woods (I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing him, though!). Leonard Cohen’s Iodine exhaled its sensual sting and The Lumineers’ In the Light spun a jaunty trance.
My fingers and toes were frozen, even with the dancing, but the music was insistent that I stay for one more song, just one more! The sky agreed, sending a shooting star flashing across the black every now and then. I stayed, body melding with the wood at my back, until The Shins came around again. This time it was The Past and Pending, a song that I had thrown on my MP3 player a little while ago but hadn’t actually listened to yet. Gently nostalgic, with its repeating, “Lose yourself in lines dissecting,” it seemed only fitting that these should be the final notes of the evening. My eyes traced lines among constellations, unable to tear away from the depths above as muted brass and, in full-circle fashion, tambourine marked the end of a journey.
Amidst the chaotic soundtrack of daily life, and completely by chance, this perfect playlist had stolen me away. An hour without anxiety, without dwelling on tasks at hand or looming deadlines. An hour outside of my own body, which has never seemed to fit quite right. An hour to simply be, to let the music and poetry wash over me, and wish on falling stars. Call it mindfulness, call it meditation, call it eccentric, or what you will.
It was bliss.
Written by Sarah Goldman