There’s not an event that goes by that I don’t notice the background noise. Even though I’m professionally seeking a career in writing, my first art form was as a musician, and so that kind of artistic process informs any other endeavor I take on. I’d like to think that a keen attention to music/sound is what teaches me, as a writer, to notice details and to explore the stuff behind the Stuff. Music is the fine art of layering–timbres, texts, rhythms, repetition–and so my biggest hope for my written work is that I can achieve the same kind of harmony (lots of elements happening in unison, but appearing as one cohesive text). George Harrison was a master at conceptual guitar-work. He didn’t rip it up like Hendrix, but I’ll always prefer the dense, deceivingly simple textures of something like “And Your Bird Can Sing,” more than any kind of “Purple Haze.”
With this in mind, you won’t be surprised that I put quite a bit of time making a playlist for the labor/delivery room while my wife and I were in the hospital. In order to leave some room for surprise, I let shuffle do the track-ordering. I know it seems narcissistic to say that it became our perfect, calming, tear-jerking soundtrack, because we already liked the music to begin with, but the beauty of music is that, due to its layering, it interacts with emotions and settings like few other art forms.
It’s a little long, and I’ll try to resist commenting on each track (they really did take on a new life in the context of new life). Here’s the list that got us through that first night of contractions:
- Eluvium: The Motion Makes Me Last
- Julianna Barwick: “Bob in Your Gait”
- note: when this list was re-shuffled for the birth, this was the song to which our son was literally born.
- Caspian: “Vienna”
- Joan As PoliceWoman: “Real Life”
- Caspian: “Our Breath In Winter”
- Neko Case: “I Wish I Was the Moon”
- Caspain: “Sycamore”
- note: this 5-song conjoining of our post-rock friends in Caspian with two of our favorite songstresses created an atmosphere that somehow summed up every heightened emotion in those early morning hours. The fear, joy, numbness, anxiety, longing–it was all there.
- Karen O & the Kids: “Hideaway”
- A Lily: “A Song for Ron Mental & Sidney Bishop”
- Sufjan Stevens: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
- Bjork: “Hyper-Ballad”
- Sufjan Stevens: “Heirloom”
- American Dollar: “Starscapes (Ambient)”
- Sleigh Bells: “Rill Rill”
- Hem: “Half Acre”
- Tallest Man on Earth: “Wild Hunt”
- Sufjan Stevens: “To Be Alone with You”
- Sixpence None the Richer: “We Have Forgotten”
- note: the hipster-cred part of me didn’t want to admit this hold-over from the days when we listened to Christian music. But, really, this self-titled record (yes, the one with “Kiss Me”) is lush, rich, and transcends the thin veneer of shoddy mimicry common in 99% of Christian “rock.”
- Ólafur Arnalds: “Tunglið”
- Mogwai: “New Paths to Helicon, pt. II”
- Band of Horse: “First Song”
- Julianna Barwick: “Prizewinning”
- Sufjan Stevens: “Sister”
- Sigur Rós: “Hoppípolla”
- note: there’ll be no macho secrecy here. During the actual birth, when Alfie’s head was just starting to be visible, this song came on, and whatever semblance of “having it together” that I pretended to have was, utterly and irrevocably reduced to blurry-eyed blubbering.
- Kevin Drew: “Love vs. Porn”
- Sixpence None the Richer: “Sister Mother”