I started to build a playlist about an hour ago that is meant to encapsulate the next couple of weeks that I will spend in Sydney (I cannot type the words "last couple of weeks that I will spend in Sydney," because I already know that I am coming back).
It has been a trip. Mentally, physically, emotionally, academically, musically, socially, philosophically. A trip. I have made playlists to chronicle the experience and to understand it in someone else's words. Looking at my playlists, the ones which I can discern at a glace (e.g. through their transparent titles) are from my time here in Australia number nine – including the mix that I am in the process of making.
Nine playlists for 19 weeks is close to a playlist every fortnight. Realize also that I spent a good month listening primarily to The Last Five Years Soundtrack, and probably another month listening to the Temper Trap album. I have been bouncing from radio station to music venue, and craving music that I have not listened to since I was fifteen alongside music that you couldn't have forced me to listen to three months ago (even some noise rock has filtered in there). I have worked on an intensive project that required me to take stock of my own impressions and relations to musical events, alongside those of other people.
Music therapy is my therapy, and mixing is my way of looking at the world and ordering it for myself so that I can grasp it in some way.
So here I am, attempting to order the future – to settle the next few weeks of my journey in musical parameters.
I find myself picking strong acts that champion women and offer heroines, over and over: Le Tigre, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Regina Spektor, Amanda Palmer, the Dresden Dolls, 4 Non Blondes, the White Stripes.
The music itself has a lot of variety, but there are some strong themes. With only nine songs so far, I am ordering them based on energy/tempo as well as trying to space out overlapping artists.
There is a strong theme of tongue in cheek frivolity, which is my current favorite M.O. Glitter and glam rock are attractive genres that provide similarly attractive philosophies, and perhaps I am taking some of this penchant for dark humor/glamor from Australian life as well.
Here are the tracks and my reasons for choosing them (at least the ones which I will consciously acknowledge):
1. "Oasis" by Amanda Palmer
This track is a throw by throw account of a teenage girl who is raped at a party and has an abortion. It was produced by Ben Folds. It has a "ba ba ba, ooh ooh ooh" chorus and jangly piano. The video shows the glittery Amanda getting a coathanger abortion, surrounded by fundamentalist Christians. Amanda wrote a really wonderful blog post about this track, and why exactly it is important to her. But here is why it is important to me: it speaks to the dark truth that rape and abortion are common aspects of female (yes, teenage female) life, and as with any of the darkest aspects of life, they are things that you can deal with through laughter and wit. Importantly, humor is akin and shares a bed with strength. It doesn't mean that people can't deal with dark aspects of their life in many ways, but it does mean that humor is and should be as valid as any other.
2. "Heads Will Roll" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I heard this in a nightclub in Sydney, and I always find Karen O's post-mortem rock lyrics hilarious. The music is insanely catchy and easy to dance to, but how many people listen to this account of death by glitter and think about it as such? Karen O channels her brand of female sexuality in an interesting way, and I find myself more and more drawn to her work as a more financially/personally empowered incarnation of the Runaways that explores an open collaboration between male and female musicians. That is the thought behind it, but in terms of my enjoyment of the song...well, that is all wound up in that subtle alchemy of songwriting.
3. "Your Honor" by Regina Spektor
This has been one of my favorite Regina songs for awhile. It strikes me as amusing lyrically and aesthetically. I love the harshness of the song, until the small section which is just piano and soft/sweet vocals. Then she bangs it out again, and makes her point with a cutting line: "Mary had a little lamb, her fleece was white as snow. You've got me and I'm just a common 'ho. But I know what I am and I know what I ain't. And don't get cut, 'cause I still won't be no saint."
4. "Hotel Yorba" by the White Stripes
Female instrumentalists are often looked, but on this song Meg White is where it's at. Without her maniacal drumming, this song would not be hard-hitting in any way. Her percussion is the exclamatory punctuation for Jack's rather tender lyrics. The combination is snarky and sweet, and I am hooked.
5. "They want us to make a song out of the sound of women swallowing their own tongues" by Le Tigre
This is a mash-up of recorded sounds of women stumbling over themselves, and I will forever remember it as an introduction to feminism that is a commentary on female self-empowerment and representation as much as on what other people should be doing for women. Just the other day my Dad said to me: "Remember that you were inspired by Le Tigre and the Donnas." And I was, that is true. But more than anything, I think I started to see a little of myself and what I was thinking in other women. That has continued, and been most obvious in the music I love. It probably started somewhere close to hearing this song.
6. "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes
The vocals on this song are shattering...I just love them. They are soulful and shredding. The lyrics are strong. Also, Linda Perry is from Springfield, MA (represent the Pioneer Valley!). Continuing the Carol King tradition of powerful female songwriters and producers, Linda Perry knows what's up. I can't forgive her for James Blunt, but this song makes some headway.
7. "My Alcoholic Friends" by the Dresden Dolls
Per my former comment on Le Tigre, I have recently begun to wish that I had been more open to the Dresden Dolls when I was around that age. I knew about them, I even owned and loved "Coin-operated Boy". But, despite my best attempts, I didn't really get it. Perhaps it took a period of coming to terms with my own darkness, in order to be able to face and laugh at and enjoy theirs. The humor and the heaviness are united so fully in the music, and the wordplay is tops. I can't get this song out of my head.
8. "I Want To Sing" by Regina Spektor
The lyrics are perfect. I cannot get enough of this song. It should be crooned in late-night bars like the one in Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. "This too shall pass, this too shall pass."