After seven semesters on The Oracle staff, one would think I’d be well-suited for the arrival of my semesterly column. In that case, however, one would be very wrong. I’ve tackled various topics in column’s past: The scattered thoughts that were occupying my brain at a given moment; the perils of wishing away time in favor of growing up; the mistreatment of women at the Grammy awards. (Side note, since that column was published, three women have won Album of the Year in a row. I’d like to think I am directly responsible).
The one constant of my columns for The Oracle, however, is that I’m not so great at taking my own advice. My lack of a real, licensed therapist has led to me channeling whatever is weighing on my conscience — good or bad — into this 1,000-word platform. “Slow down, you crazy child,” said Billy Joel, then said me, in my column “Vienna Waits for You: Musings on Life, Time and 20.”
In reality, not even a global pandemic that quite literally stopped the world could slow me down. My mind still functions like that one video of Nicki Minaj mumbling incoherent nonsense while performing on the Today Show, and at the end of every month I’m somehow still shocked to learn that another 30ish days have passed.
Still, the message of that song sticks with me. (“Vienna,” not “Starships,” though the latter is very, very important.) In fact, as I navigate through young adulthood — especially during a pandemic — I find myself relying on music more and more to provide a roadmap for me. I’m not great at decision making; the lengths of that trait extend from what to eat for lunch, all the way to how to behave in any given social setting.
In the last year, I’ve clung to “People’s Parties” by the greatest singer-songwriter of all time, Joni Mitchell. “And me in my frightened silence/Thinking I don’t understand,” she sings, in the context of an A-list party full of passport smiles and lampshade crowns. It’s a feeling shared by anyone who doesn’t thrive in these settings; A more wise, less full-of-itself precursor to something like “Here” by Alessia Cara.
I’m sure anyone with an ounce of compassion for the world can apply “I feel like I’m sleeping/Can you wake me?” to their mental state for the last year. It’s hard to keep motivated when the world has been on hiatus. I won’t say my reality has felt like a dream — or a nightmare — since last March, but as Joni so expertly puts it, “I’m just living on nerves and feelings/With a weak and a lazy mind.”
Another song I’ve been selfishly applying to my own experience lately is one that’s hard for me to admit. In casual conversation — Twitter, mostly — I’ve denounced Phoebe Bridgers over and over. After boycotting her music due to her annoying fans, I gave in and listened to Punisher last week; Currently, I am embarking on an apology tour, hoping to do penance for every ill word I’ve spoken against Phoebe. (Her fans are still, unfortunately, very annoying.)
I’ve claimed “Graceland Too” as my light at the end of the tunnel COVID-anthem. “No longer a danger to herself or others,” Phoebe writes. The first verse ends, “She walked outside without an excuse.” It’s a quite literal interpretation, but imagine the day! Leaving your house without justification; Something as simple as dining out at a restaurant not being a decision that calls morals into question. Ironically, at any given moment right now there are people hopping on a flight to party in Miami. This song is not for them; “Dance Monkey” is for them. Clowns.
“Turns up the music so thoughts don’t intrude,” is a great short-term fix for long-term issues. “She knows she lived through it to get to this moment,” does make me emotional, imagining the euphoric joy that will inevitably be commonplace once the world is spinning on its axis again. From my first post-COVID concert to something as simple as going to the movies, I — like everyone else — am longing for the day I can retrospectively pat myself on the back for making it through this.
But for now, I continue to dwell on the nights that turn into days, that turn to grey, as discussed in “I Know Alone” by HAIM. Both in a literal and metaphorical sense, me and “alone” have become pretty close — for obvious reasons. The hook of this song is dark: “Some things never change/They never fade/It’s never over.”
It’s a complete 180 from the optimism I just exuded; but it’s comforting, in a way. Because in an ironic twist, the message of the song is that I’m not alone. Feelings of loneliness are universal, regardless of the state of the world. (Though heightened, of course, during forced separation.)
But solace can be found in hearing that someone else is experiencing days like “counting cell towers on the road.” It radiates connectedness, building a community of sad, lonely people who are maybe not that alone after all.
This is not to say that I’ve spent the last 365ish days consuming only poetic, wise takes on life that offer guidance and peace of mind. My most played song of 2020 was “Levitating” by Dua Lipa which, thank god, straight people are finally catching on to. (A year late, like most things, but I still applaud you guys.) I have a sweet spot for buoyant pop, like Poster Girl by Zara Larsson or Heaven & Hell by Ava Max. Chloe X Halle released one of the best albums of last year, Ungodly Hour, and of course, Taylor Swift is still a vital cog in the machine that is my mental health.
Like Joni said, “Songs are like tattoos.” They’re always with you. So as we accept our current reality of waiting for someone to jab us in the arm with our ticket to our old lives — or something like them — I recommend queuing up your therapy songs to reflect, aspire or just wallow in self-pity. You’ve earned it.