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The music that's gotten me through this year | The Human Connection Project - Issue #2

The Human Connection Project
The music that's gotten me through this year | The Human Connection Project - Issue #2
By Olivia Anne Gennaro • Issue #2 • View online
before I do a deep dive of any particular music (or musical), I thought I’d discuss what music has meant to me this year…and well, maybe I do go in-depth on one particular artist I’ll be seeing this week…

"Hum along till the feeling's gone forever"
Music has intersected with my life three times this week. First, my copy of James Acaster’s Perfect Sound Whatever came in. I knew Acaster first as an offbeat comedian (you may have seen his Netflix specials, or his chaotic run on Taskmaster, both recommended), and really connected earlier this year to his newest special Cold Lasagna Hate Myself 1999, which is partly about how 2017 was the worst year of his life, mentally and emotionally (and also how his famously memed performance on The Great British Bake-Off was mostly due to him trying to conceal another breakdown). Turns out, he has a whole book about how he coped with 2017 by falling back in love with music, specifically from 2016, which grew into a mild obsession where he sought out as much music released during the year as he could, bought his favorites (over 500 albums), and argues that 2016 was “the greatest year for music at all times.” There is now a podcast where he discusses a particular 2016 album with a guest (usually a comedian)–a format similar to what I’d originally envisioned for The Human Connection Project. And with the year I’ve had and my pivot to writing more nonfiction–especially personal essay and cultural commentary–it seemed like something worth reading. I’m not particularly far yet, but I love the way he describes music, and I realized that I too have had my own music obsessions this year to cope.
Second, I made my first collage from my recent art supplies purchase (I have rarely done any visual art since elementary school), using mostly old Rolling Stone magazines I had (yes, that’s Joni Mitchell). I found the process rather calming because it forced me to get out of my head. At times, music has helped me with that–there was a time at work where I could only listen to Phoebe Bridgers and some of Bo Burnham’s new Inside songs through my earbuds at my desk, because nothing else could envelop me atmospherically quite the same way. (And yes, I realize the irony there in finding comfort in rather dark music.)
Lastly, this week I’m going to see Phoebe Bridgers in concert (!! - those presale ticket codes really help). I think it will be the first concert I’m going to alone, and certainly one from a new/current traditional recording artist artist…like Acaster describes in his book, I too ignored recently released music for a long time–except for me, that started when I was very young so for a long time I only listened to music from my parents’ generation. Seriously, I’ve gone with one or both of my parents to see Steely Dan (my first concert at 13), Chicago, Kansas, and a Pink Floyd cover band. In college I got very into R.E.M., but sadly they broke up in 2011.
Even though the concert will be outdoors with likely some social distancing measures, and no one I know will be there (as far as I’m aware, at least), I’m looking forward to feeling kinship with the other concer-goers. I’ve had quite a bit of loneliness this year, one particular bout triggered by the realization that while there are a lot of local music venues and concerts around me, they are all county, blues, or classic rock–genres either I don’t like (country), often have some spiritual bent (my relationship to religion can perhaps be best described by Bridgers’ song “Chinese Satellite”), and/or I do enjoy but attracts older crowds. I longed to be surrounded by fellow young people, united through the common thread of music surrounding us.
Phoebe Bridgers is perhaps known as a “sad” indie artist, with her core fans being queer femmes (Bridgers herself is bisexual) with some sort of relationship to depression or, at least, the macabre. After all, her first major hits were songs about an emotionally abusive relationship (“Motion Sickness”) and an existential reflection on attending the funeral of someone just a little older than you (“Funeral”). Her 2020 album that she is touring for, Punisher, has also been considered rock, particularly for its main singles “Kyoto” (a disassociative experience in Japan angry at an absent alcoholic father) and “I Know the End” (the actual apocalypse, culminating in horns and screams). But ultimately throughout these songs she continues to live, however mundanely; there is melancholy, but not total despair. In fact, there’s a little arc in Punisher I’ve found: in “Chinese Satellite” she sings, You know I’d hate to be alone” and “I want to go home,“ but in the final track of "I Know the End” she sings in the midst of a disappearing world, “Either way, I’m not alone / I’ll find a new place to be from.” (Yes, the relationship between the spiritual and actual aliens is blurred.) The first is despair and loneliness, the second is acceptance and connection.
I find immense comfort in that intensity, so much so I would put on one of her albums or a playlist of her music during my insomnia back in January. Her music has the same sonic, produced atmosphere you get with Pink Floyd, with the quiet confessions of Joni Mitchell. The background vocals shine, and led her to collaborate with Conor Oberst (as Better Oblivion Community Center) and Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus (as boygenius)–both albums I recommend.
A reflection on “Chinese Satellite” was the first proper post on the Human Connection Project Instagram.
A reflection on “Chinese Satellite” was the first proper post on the Human Connection Project Instagram.
A playlist for you
A couple of months ago for the sake of simplicity and also as part of my record-keeping for this year, I dumped all the music I listened to frequently and/or discovered this year into a 2021 playlist on Spotify, roughly in the order they entered my usual rotation. It currently runs for 16 hours and 32 minutes with 278 songs, so I’m not going to share that monstrosity (plus, it’s mine). Looking back through it is like flipping through an old planner. There are my various musical obsessions that led me to pace around my apartment, pretending I was introducing the show to my friends and explaining to friends just how brilliant its construction was. There’s the brief upbeat pop segment (combined with Little Shop of Horrors) from when I was feeling better but couldn’t sit still. There are songs I listened to for relaxation, songs I’ve tried to play on the piano, songs that got me up in the morning, songs
I have been forced to slow down–physically, but also mentally–in my life lately, and some music has been able to help with that…and other songs have not. I finally got medicine that worked to calm my racing thoughts, but the stress around that time caused the worst flare-up yet of a nerve/muscle issue I’ve had in my back and neck. This has been VERY frustrating because while mentally I’m motivated and present, my body physically has to take its time. So, here’s a more curated playlist of music (listed below if you don’t have Spotify) I’ve found calming thanks to some flowing piano and (mostly) even pace–even if their actual subject matter is not the most uplifting. In fact, they’re rather melancholy, but I find that calming in its own way, reassuring me I’m not alone.
Calm 2021 Playlist
  • “Motion Sickness” and “Chinese Satellite” by Phoebe Bridgers
  • “I Didn’t Know What I Was In For” by Better Oblivion Community Center (Phoebe Bridgers/Conor Oberst)
  • “Maybe” and “So Anyway” from Next to Normal (Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey)
  • “Portrait of a Girl” and “No Voice” from Bare (Damon Intrabartolo/Jon Hartmere)
  • “The Forest” from Octet (Dave Malloy)
  • “Don’t Wanna Know” and “That Funny Feeling” from Inside (Bo Burnham)
  • “Up” from Sing Street (John Carney/Gary Clark/others)
  • “Oh My Heart” by R.E.M.
  • “Falling” by Harry Styles
  • “Flowers” and “Road to Hell (reprise)” from Hadestown (Anais Mitchell)
  • “A Case of You” and “Blue” by Joni Mitchell
  • “The Wall in My Head” from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Dan Gillespie/Tom MacRae)
  • “Ramblings of a Lunatic” by Bears in Trees
  • “Existentialism on Prom Night” by Straylight Run
  • “New York” by St. Vincent
  • “I’d Rather Be Sailing” and “I Feel So Much Spring” from A New Brain (William Finn)
  • Corner of the Sky” and “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man” from Pippin (Stephen Schwartz)
  • “Hitchhiking Across America” by William Finn
  • “Happy to Be Here” by Julien Baker
  • “dark times” by Ben Platt
  • “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” by Talking Heads (Live)
  • “Bite the Hand” by boygenius
  • “Nobody” by Mitski
  • “Answer Me” from The Band’s Visit (David Yazbeck)
Recommended Reading
James Acaster and the Healing Powers of Music for Mental Health
What's making me smile
I made the mistake of putting my microwavable heating pad through the wash several months ago, and I finally replaced it with a Warmie. I think the photo speaks for itself.
Meanwhile on the Insta...
I loved the message President Jimmy Carter has on the Voyage spacecraft’s golden record, a message out to the universe.
Sneak peak
more lyrics stuck in my head
more lyrics stuck in my head
Connect and support
Thank you for reading!
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Olivia Anne Gennaro

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