It feels like I launched a mix-tape column for this paper 100 years ago – and from a different country, too. But it was only 2016. And, in a way, I was writing that column from a different country. At that time, I was falling on songs to buffer the assault of all the toxic, election-related nasties that were alive in the air, everywhere I seemed to turn then. Some of you back then suggested or offered great songs to add to the ones I wrote about and in the process turned me onto new artists and songs.
So, it’s been a while, and all it took was last Friday’s 7.0 earthquake for me to again fall hard on music, and to recognize the serious, legit coping skill it becomes for me in crisis or periods of transition. For that reason – consider yourself warned: This is an earnest playlist. We’re still a little too close to the source for me to throw that Jerry Lee Lewis song or Swift’s “Shake It Off” into the mix, for example. Also, I often rally harder for bands and songs maybe a little far-flung from the mainstream - more than I do for artists or albums you think might seem obvious choices while building, in this case, an “after the quake”-themed mix tape.
River – Joni Mitchell
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
Actually, I already had Joni Mitchell’s haunting, Christmas-time classic in mind just prior to the quake. A couple personal matters (I'm so hard to handle/I'm selfish and I'm sad), and a disconcerting amount of snow to date (it don’t snow here) already placed the song in slow rotation at home. By Saturday night, however, I had full on cabin fever and felt a swiftly escalating need for my kids and I to do do do something, anything, whatever and what all, aftershocks be damned. Rather: I actually could’ve slept for a week. By Saturday night I was running on whatever comes next after fumes. My kids, however, were amped beyond tolerability. We needed out. My teenager proposed ice-skating. In past winters of minimal or pitiful snowfall, ice skating has been the difference between going full-on bonkers and making something resembling relative peace with crap winter conditions.
Ice skating sounded divine, actually. Until it occurred to us that maybe the lakes were in no condition for skaters. And how could we know? I asked around, checked social media and websites. Some friends warned it might not be advisable yet, that we should at least check in daylight.
Anyway, I stepped outside, and it was blowing hard and there was some rain, too. The back yard was an ice-rink, meanwhile. But a pretty bumpy one.
I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
We take so much for granted.
Anyway. We got in the car and went to the movies.
Under Pressure – Queen
Love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night…
This is ourselves under pressure
We skipped maybe-risky skating conditions and went and saw Bohemian Rhapsody instead. Insofar as it plays as a kind-of Cliff Notes version of Queen and Freddie Mercury’s history, it proved an entertaining-enough distraction. And yet, my hands-down favorite part of the film was, by far, when a very obvious aftershock rippled through the theater, rocking the building for a moment and sending a collective groan and whimper through the packed house. The audience sounded a little like a chorus from a Queen song.
The movie spends a lot of time on the legendary songs you know and came to love ages ago, with the exception, it seems, of their wonderful collaboration with Bowie. No matter, though: After the quake the song is in hot rotation at home as we still make sense of our swaying house and bewildered feelings every time the sudden, latest rumble outside is a garbage truck thundering through Spenard, a plane taking off at Ted Stevens, or another quake rolling through the city. And we know we’re not alone wondering that. That a lot of us are feeling some version of that on some level.
Killing the Blues – John Prine (or, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss)
Somebody said they saw me swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud – killing the blues
Working a show at the PAC over the weekend, Think I enjoyed seeing and hearing everyone congregate in the lobby during intermission as much as I did the entertainment in the theater. There was a nearly sacred warmth in that space then, in the way people welcomed and regarded each other and engaged and shared stories of how they coped and were keeping afloat since Friday morning. And for all the bottles of wine that Instagram and TV reveal crashed to the floor in stores and homes between Anchorage and the Valley, there still seemed no shortage of ways people found to kill their blues, and to attend to all their tasks with heart and intention. I adore Prine’s original version of the song, but the Plant/Krauss version is audio Xanax and that’s the one I’m playing over and over this week.
Here Comes My Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
When she puts her arms around me
I can somehow rise above it
The images of where you were and who you were with when it all happened is probably so burned into your memory that you’ll forever be able to reflect on every detail of that day for your grandchildren even as you fail to remember your grandchild’s name. But, aside from where you were and all the quaking and rolling, I’m curious to know - while everything rumbled or maybe right afterwards - who immediately came to mind for you? Who occupied your thoughts in those moments, if anyone? Who did you first need to immediately reach out to or call when it was over? Who did you hope or desperately want to see come through the door when you finally arrived home? Or who did you rush to see or pick up or track down? Into whose arms did you run?
Whoever it was, I hope you reached out to him or her, and then – if you were able, if he or she was proximal – I hope you held this person (or people) close for a time.
The enduring mystery of Tom Petty’s genius now includes for me that while for hours after the quake I couldn’t tolerate many albums or songs by many of my enduring favorites, Tom Petty seemed a carefree, pitch-perfect exception to my otherwise reliably distressed, melancholy, and/or lyrically-introspective stalwarts.
The delight that explodes at the launch of the song’s chorus sounds like the joy of being alive. I could feel it on my skin all weekend, every time the album returned to the track.
In Lawrence Kasdan’s 1991 film, Grand Canyon, set in Los Angeles, Kevin Kline’s Mack and Mary McDonnell’s Claire are standing in their kitchen arguing about whether the cut on Mack’s finger warrants an ER visit when their house starts shaking violently. They both shout “Earthquake!” and race outside to their front yard and wait it out. Once outside, the ground still moving, they both suddenly start laughing. It’s as if, moments after a juvenile quarrel - and trying hard not to address the elephant of their troubled marriage haunting them – in one sudden instant what’s most important and necessary flashed in front of their faces. They got shook. And then they woke.
In “Here Comes My Girl” Petty launches into that chorus like a man reborn. He sees the light and it’s walking towards him. Maybe you had a moment like that on Friday. I hope so.
Everything’s Different Now – The Innocence Mission
We’re coming away, everything’s changed
Everything’s different now
Everything, even the sun
How to pick just one song by my Pennsylvania favorites? No songwriter writes from inside the tensions between distress and peace of heart, love and fear like songwriter and lead singer, Karen Peris.
On Saturday morning, I woke up to find a friend had texted me the band’s NPR Tiny Desk concert of a few days earlier. It was a calming and gentle way to start the day.
At St. Mary’s Episcopal church on Sunday, Rev. Dawn Allen-Heron shared that stepping outside their downtown condo after the shaking had subsided, everything suddenly seemed a little different. And she wasn’t referring to any obvious disarray or broken glass. She said the trees looked brighter – all the colors of the season seemed a little more pronounced. At the nearby City Market, she shared, there wasn’t mass chaos or hysteria in the store, but rather it seemed as though everyone’s personal bubbles had shrunk a bit. Carts edged a little closer to each other. You exchanged smiles, checked in with strangers. You slowed down.
There’s no earthquake in the band’s 1995 song, but the way “everything’s different now” sounds similar to Dawn’s experience of things Friday. The colors, the light, the sky, the town, and the people: Something had changed. Even if for just a moment or two.
These are just a few songs to kick a mix-tape into gear. Stay tuned for more to follow next week. In the meantime, do you have songs or artists that you fall on during a challenging time? Send me or The Press the songs that help you bear up and make it through. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week.