If my life were a giant playlist I’d put on some earphones, have it on repeat and walk through some dark woods all day. I’d take deep breaths of clean, moist air and allow the music to dictate the pace of my steps, avoiding rotting logs and side-stepping large rocks that stick out of the damp soil.
But my life is hardly a playlist, though scrolling through Spotify today I noticed the closest thing to it: my top songs of 2016.
I clicked it absentmindedly, thinking that it would just be another one of those things you press on the Youtube sidebar and end up being thoroughly unimpressed by (most things on the internet are like that anyway) but it turned out to be very informative. 2016 seems to be compressed into a few thoughts by the end of December, but as the songs just kept coming, I realised just how much I had listened to over the year. Surely I couldn’t have had so much time. There were songs that I never knew I listened to so much, just the vague memory of it pings back like a distant light that you can barely make out. I sit there thinking about the year.
When we think back about time we look for firm anchors and incidences and then begin to explore how we felt about these events then, versus how we feel about them now. Listening to the playlist had an opposite effect, it brought back feelings, or the memory of feelings, from which I had to trace back to the events or the time period in which those feelings were attached to. The song doesn’t pause for you, but continues and gives you more clues. Suck it and See by the Arctic Monkeys played, and I thought about the times I would listen to AM on repeat as I studied, something I don’t quite do anymore. Then there was Petit Biscuit, which accompanied me through late nights, whether we were drinking or I was struggling to write something, anything. And so the playlist goes on. I don’t listen to those songs as much as I used to.
How nice would it be to live life like it were a playlist. Not just a static playlist, but one that keeps changing according to what you fancy, one that evolves constantly, kicking out the older songs and adding in new songs as you go. There’s no feeling like getting to know a song better. On the first listen you’re not so sure if you like it so much but as it goes along it gets better, you get more attuned to what it’s trying to say. And before long you get the song, and the song gets you. Even the self invented language of Sigur Ros has you closing your eyes and nodding along. And then it becomes a melody you hum in elevators or on the last kilometre of a run. It follows you. But then as soon as you begin to love the song something strange happens: the song starts to fade. That vehicle of emotion picks you up less and less, drops you off a few stops too early, sometimes a few stops too late. As time goes on the song ceases to be what it meant at the start. It loses its lustre, and even before you can begin to question why, you are transfixed on a different melody, one you’d swear to keep close to you. But the cycle, it repeats. You’ll lose your affinity with that song. And we’re okay with that.
We’re okay with that, which is the most remarkable thing. Songs come and go but do not break our heart. I wish we could be like this about the comings and goings in our lives as well.
But we can’t, which makes sense because songs are pure, but life experiences that they remind us of are not. Experiences taint if not anything, and as the playlist goes on, as you begin to link the songs to the emotions to the experience, you realise just how songs mean nothing if not for your experiences. Songs are like clothing, no? Synthetic and meaningless if not for the wearer under it. And they come and go like the seasons, just giving themselves the time to nestle on your chest and when it is their time to leave they leave, silently closing the door behind them.
Until the day you decide to put on some earphones and take a long walk through the woods. The sound of nature is cut out, only the sight of its shy demeanour exists alongside the sound of 2016, that cuts through the air like falling ice. And then you see him hiding behind a tree as you listen to his favourite song. And you suddenly wished he didn’t have to kill himself like that. And then as the song changes you see her sitting by the stream, and you regret not having talked to her about everything before it all went wrong. And at the end of the path you see him: yourself. He is looking up in the trees as if searching for a bird, with a little notebook in his hand. His posture is upright, full of hope. You walk up to him. You want to ask him just what it was that gave him so much to look forward to back then. That maybe, if I knew that one secret to my past happiness, that I could put my earphones away and step out of the woods.
But then the song switches, and when I look up again he is gone.