Friday, January 4, 2013

A Folk Music Playlist For a Dreary Winter

Apart from my visit with my family in Nebraska after Christmas, the onset of winter has me down.  The death of a close friend, bone-chilling weather, and the complete disfunction of our political system have me down.  Add to that the fact that we have now entered the worst time of the year.  After New Year's all the holiday fun is over, and there's really nothing to look forward to until the the trees start to bud and the flowers bloom.  Last year my newfound appreciation of hockey gave me something to enjoy during the pitiless months of January, February, and March, but thanks to Gary Bettman I don't even get that solace right now.  At least I am no longer a devout Catholic, since my Lenten sacrifices used to make the dreariness of late winter even more intense.

I experienced the most intense winters of my life during my time in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The skies stayed gray for about four months, the air freezing, and snow was almost a daily experience.  During my first Michigan winter, I discovered a love of folk music that I never knew I had before, and that genre worked like a warm blanket for my soul.

Richard and Linda Thompson, "End of the Rainbow"
I've listened to this song a lot since the Newtown massacre.  I know of no other song that so baldly lays out the cruelty of life.  Since it's an adult talking to a child, it also keys into a dark feeling of mine that I was irresponsible to bring new life into this horror of a world.  At the end of the day, I was being selfish.

Joan Baez, "There But for Fortune"
I know the vocal stylings of Moany Joany aren't for everyone, but I am always moved by this cover of a song by the great Phil Ochs.  It seems that fewer and fewer people these days look at the suffering of their fellow human beings, and tell themselves "there but for the grace of God go I."  In fact, the Republican party, supposedly so in tune with God, seems devoted to the proposition that the wretched of earth brought their own fate upon themselves.

Gordon Lightfoot, "If You Could Read My Mind"
I'd always disdained Gord a little, but my interest in folk led me to appreciate him.  I listened to this song intensely when I first moved to Michigan and my relationship with my girlfriend of four years was breaking up.  There's perhaps no better song about the sadness of a relationship gone stale.  Or at least that's how I hear it.

Tim Buckley, "Morning Glory"
The meaning of this song eludes me somewhat, I but I've interpreted it as a parable of the unknowability of others.  We are all windowless monads, in Leibniz's terminology, and not capable of truly putting ourselves in the shoes of others.  In the meantime, we can only do our best to empathize with our fellow human travelers in the rocky journey of life.  Even if the meaning is obscure, Tim Buckley's voice is as sublime as it gets.

Leonard Cohen, "The Stranger Song"
Leave it to a Canadian to have made the perfect album for staying inside on a bitterly cold day (The Songs of Leonard Cohen.)  This is my favorite track, especially the line about "reaching for the sky just to surrender."

Nick Drake, "Pink Moon"
The eponymous album this song comes from is one of my favorites for personal meditation.  I use it to get the girls to go to sleep at night, I just hope I'm not turning them into depressives.  This song is like a musical space heater for the cold rooms of my heart despite its blue moods.

Ian and Sylvia, "Four Strong Winds"
This winter I am missing my friends, they seem so hard to find in my new location.  Perhaps I'm just too damn old to make new friends anymore.  There are those that I miss living in faraway places, and sadly one who lives no more.  This song used to get me misty-eyed thinking about my grad school comrades, now it has taken on a special meaning.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Good grief, this is less a playlist than a recipe for total misery. Great tunes, though. That Thompson tune is miserable even by his standards. I generally go easy on stuff like that, not all at once. I also need to live in a relatively sunny clime.