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Seven Songs Playlist : September 2016

a year of music 'n musings : chapter nine

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Maggie Sharpe

Here's a fact: Life is hard.

Here's another fact: Life being hard doesn't take away from the fact that life is also wholly and incorrigibly wonderful.

Here's one last fact for good measure: I'm a really, really fortunate person.

In my life, hardships have shown their bitter faces plenty of times, but ultimately happiness has reigned; through the years, blessings have popped up in all sorts of splendid and surprising ways. Some of 'em have been big, like having the opportunity to travel while growing up. Others have been not-so-big but have brought me joy nonetheless, like successfully keeping at least 50% of my houseplants alive.

Above them all, two of the biggest gifts in my life have been (1) music and (2) friendship.

"Come on, Laura. Everybody has friends. Everybody listens to music. Get a life."

You're right. And I'm glad that everybody has friends and listens to music! Friends and music are marvelous things! But I am, to put it simply, hecka serious about those things. To spare you the 500,000 words I could write about the nature of friendship and the vitality of music, just trust me when I say: music and friends are two things that have had a tremendous and noticeable gravity in my life. They have both taught me valuable lessons of grace and patience and forgiveness; of trial and error; of perseverance and beauty and joy. I can tend to be a bit of a sarcasm monster in my normal life, so let me make it clear that I'm speaking honestly here: I wouldn't be who I am without friends and music. They've walked with me (and even carried me) through the wonky, swampy periods of life, and they've celebrated with me in the beautiful ones.

Recently, one of my best buds in the whole wide world wrote a beautiful piece on daily gratitude, which led me to reflect a bit on my own life and re-play some of the moments that I'm oh so thankful for--and, in an unsurprising turn of events, I realized that I associate most of these moments in time with certain songs.

So here you have it: seven memories of seven defining experiences.


A note: the pictures in these blogs are usually of the featured bands, but because of the personal nature of this particular Seven Songs installment, this time around I'm showcasing some of the people who have lived through these experiences with me. Much love.

1. Dance Yrself Clean | LCD Soundsystem

I grew up in Los Angeles which, thanks to a lackluster public transportation system, meant that I had virtually no freedom to roam while growing up. But then, by the magic of the earth faithfully continuing her frantic spin: I turned 16. And I was handed my Dad's car keys. And the whole world opened.

Since my best friend lived in San Pedro, an hour south of me, her house became my ultimate refuge; her family became my second kin. I made the pilgrimage there every single weekend. We filled our days with coffee-drinking and 80s-movie-watching and Chinese-takeout-eating and heart-to-heart-having and college-application-writing... and then, after 48-ish hours of bliss (and one last episode of whatever was playing on HGTV), I faithfully sighed as I glanced at the clock, already knowing it was far too late, and began the rounds of ritual goodbyes. At one in the morning, I padded down the sidewalk to my car, Diet Dr. Pepper in hand (because her mom insisted it would keep me from falling asleep at the wheel) and joyful memories in tow.

Then came the rolling of the windows; the crack of the soda pop (performed dramatically, like I was a hot girl in a beer commercial); the flip of the turn signal; the open freeway. Often the only driver on the road, I flooded the 405 freeway with the sounds of a scratched-up mixtape, which opened with Dance Yrself Clean.

2. Our Deal | Best Coast

One afternoon during the summer after my freshman year of college, I sat in my best friend's apartment. She slid happily around the kitchen in her socks, washing glasses from the night before and snacking on leftover tortilla chips and pineapple salsa--but I sat alone in her room, door closed, thumbing the yellow sheets on her unmade bed. Her stand-alone mirror was unfortunately placed so that I could observe my facial reactions as the conversation unfolded.

"So that's it," I said to my boyfriend over the phone.

I meant it as a question, but received no response. Maybe my intonation was off. In my defense, I didn't have much experience with the whole "breaking-up-over-the-phone" thing. But I think the silence implied something along the lines of: "Yeah, that's it."

After splashing some water on my face, I emerged from the room newly single and uncharacteristically angry. Without missing a beat, my friend said: "You don't need him. You need donuts and the ocean."

We spent the summer splish-splashing, sangria-sipping, and dancing around in our socks to girl-power bands like Best Coast. And it was splendid.

3. Moon River | Audrey Hepburn

Last September, some friends and I wound our way up a green California mountain to attend a retreat. Though the weekend was full of festivities and fellowship, the drive there was an intimate affair. Once the end of the freeway was in sight, the classic "road trim jams" playlist had offered its final anthem, and the supply of peanut butter cups had been exhausted, we began the climb.

As we rounded each gentle curve of the mountain pass, the sun stretched his fat, warm fingers out closer and closer to us. We traded in our rousing singalongs for old jazz standards; we spoke of pains and hopes and loves; we found seconds of silence to admire the stupid beauty of the world through the dusty windshield.

As the weekend rolled on, a friend and I escaped from the busyness and climbed to the roof of one of the old wooden cabins. The sky spat down misty rain, so we ducked under the overhang and settled in to sing some [admittedly less beautifully performed] jazz standards of our own--Moon River included.

4. West Coast | FIDLAR

After a rewarding but emotionally tumultuous first year of college, my roommate and I took a simple vow: to relentlessly pursue happiness. We made an effort not only to treat ourselves well (which meant taking more showers, reading more books, and drinking more water), but also to fall in love with the world. We woke up early on Saturdays to go kayaking (and convinced our friends to join by jumping on their beds until they had to get up); she joined a dance team; I took on new writing projects.

I was convinced that our pledge would be a challenge; that self-prescribed self-love was too tall an order. But once we pushed past the barriers of sloth and self-consciousness, it was FUN. Like, really, really fun. We danced around the room in our underwear. We made paper snowflakes and threw a Christmas party. We took silly pictures with our friends. We climbed rocks and befriended wild sea lions. Happiness was fun.

That year held a lot of hard stuff--surgeries; mental breakdowns; broken hearts; broken bodies--but our new lifestyle made every day feel somewhat like summer. And on the hard days, I would blast West Coast on my walk to class, groove in the sunlight, and remember how cool life is.

5. The Book Of Love | The Magnetic Fields

I've done my fair share of judging people who become overly emotionally invested in TV shows, but in an effort to be real, let me tell you: when I watched [what should have been] the season finale of Scrubs and The Book Of Love accompanied the final montage, I was embarrassingly moved.

"As my mind drifted to faces I've seen here before," JD so eloquently and dorkily shared in his final voiceover, "I was taken to memories of family, of coworkers, of lost loves, even of those who have left us. And as I rounded that corner, they all came at me as a wave of shared experience. And even though it felt warm and safe, I knew it had to end. It's never good to live in the past too long. As for the future, it didn't seem so scary anymore. It could be whatever I want it to be. And who's to say this isn't what happens? Who can tell me that my fantasies won't come true... just this once?"

I've watched Scrubs two or three times now, with my most recent go-through concluding in perfect time with my last year of university. As the credits began to roll on the final episode, I found myself playing out hundreds of possible futures in my mind. It seems dramatic, but I hypothesized about who my friends would marry and debated whether their kids would think of me as the cool aunt or just as their mom's weird friend; I imagined getting my first book published and wondered who I would might want to call first to share the news; I placed mental bets on what city I might settle in.

Shortly after the actors' names stopped scrolling and my laptop screen went dark, I received a serendipitous text from a friend. "Isn't it crazy that no matter what we imagine, only one future is going to unfold?" he said.

"Wild," I replied. "Absolutely wild."

The rest of the day, I padded through my life taking special care to note all the glorious and lovely and hard and wonderful things.

6. Bill Murray | Phantogram

A month ago, I got on a plane to Hong Kong. I had gone on long journeys before (and even done so alone), but for some reason, that day's exact potion of anxiety and excitement and airplane food got my guts all twisted up and gave me a textbook-worthy case of The Feels.

"It's only four months," I kept telling myself. The plane rose, and my eyes traced the labyrinthine streets of Los Angeles, searching for familiar neighborhoods, as if by some miracle I might actually be able to see past the sea of red roofs. "It's only four months."

Don't get me wrong: I trusted that my friendships would survive the distance. With technology, a little dedication goes a long way. But I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was leaving something behind. You see, I had always pictured leaving for Hong Kong as a new chapter in my life--an intermission of sorts. The chapter between college and graduation, separate from everything else. But so many things had just only begun to blossom: new friendships; new projects; new dreams.

As streets became sky and sky became clouds and clouds became pure blue atmosphere, I tried desperately to guess the future; to imagine the reunion hugs and coffee catch-ups; to predict what life would be like when I finally returned. I knew that when I came back, it would be like stepping into an alternate universe--everything the same, but somehow different.

I tucked in my headphones and tried to settle my spine into the back of the chair, taking comfort in the songs of transition that flooded my ears. "Life is always moving forwards," I reminded myself.

7. Ends of the Earth | Lord Huron

This past weekend, some new friends and I traveled to Saikung (a small oceanside town in Hong Kong) to go cliff-jumping. After an hour-long metro ride, two buses, a 45-minute hike, and several "Wait... is this the right trail?" moments, we arrived at what can only be described as paradise.

After splashing and giggling and naming ourselves Kings & Queens Of The Waterfall, we scaled back down the rocks and boarded a tiny speed boat to venture back home. As we gained speed and catapulted over waves and the wakes of other boats, our grins outgrew our faces. The sun grew weary and sank below the mountainous islands; in the distance, the cityscape emerged, like stars fallen from the sky onto the terrain.

It was the exact same feeling I used to have after spending the day fishing on the lake in Canada with my dad--the salty air; the hair slapping my face; the promise of warmth and joyous reflection after arriving on land once again.

As the darkness settled in around us, I kept singing Lord Huron to myself: there's a world that was meant for our eyes to see.


Follow this playlist on Spotify here.

Find Laura’s other monthly playlists (January-August) here.

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