It is a new year, a new space to inhabit, a new arena in which to make declarations of redemption, togetherness, and love.
It is difficult, in the current moment, fraught with horrific acts of insurrection and violence, and with the certain suffering and loss that will continue to take place as we navigate COVID-19 and await the vaccine, not to write a manifesto with hot takes and a call to arms. There is definitely a place for that manifesto in the world-wide web, but it is not here.
Here, I want to create a space where we can try to catch the loose strands of hope and braid them together into something we can hold onto. I want for us to stay connected to the dream-world, not so that we can just check out, but so that we may fantasize about how different our reality could be this year, once the vaccine begins to make its way across the globe, and once balance and harmony once again become a priority among us. I want this to be a space where we can dream about the ways in which to show solidarity with each other, and where I can just express how fond I am of you. May this space always be free of anger, bitterness, and hate. May it be a clean breath of air. May it be a home for our feelings of hope. May it be love.
There isn't much I can add to the beautiful, mystic simplicity of the first song on this playlist, "May This Be Love" by Jimi Hendrix:
Nothing can harm me at all
My worries seem so very small
With my waterfall
I can see
My rainbow calling me
Through the misty breeze
Of my waterfall
Some people say
Daydreaming's for all the, huh
With nothing else to do
So let them laugh, laugh at me
So just as long as I have you
To see me through
I have nothing to lose
Long as I have you
Don't ever change your ways
Fall with me for a million days
Oh, my waterfall
I consider the experience of listening to this song to be like a full chakra meditation, soothing energy flowing from the crown down through the heart into the sacrum like cleansing water. It is the kind of song that feels like floating, that releases the mind from a prison of fears.
While, at the moment, our worries might not be very small, we are told over and over to practice "self-care," not to let the weight of the world tear us down. In this song, I feel a place where my overactive mind can go, to the "waterfall" "through the misty breeze" where I have been given permission to daydream. It is the spectral space of the imagination, induced by Hendrix's masterful guitar peals and hypnotic lyrics.
What if we can access through our dream-world a place where we truly "have nothing to lose" as long as we have each other? How different would the world look if we made this kind of dreaming a daily practice, what if we explored the imagination in an effort to grow our empathy and understanding of one another's humanity in the non-dream? And let us not forget, the connection between the dream and the non-dream is the waking.
In "Crying, Laughing, Loving Lying," Labi Siffre postulates that "Loving, loving never did me no good no how, that's why I can't love you now." But almost immediately the singer recants, professing "Lying, lying never did nobody no good no how, so why am I lying now?" a push-pull tension from lyric to lyric that is infused with deep emotionality from the guitar's anesthetic layers of sound. The song delivers us from the lie that is the refutal of love, and soothes the pain of it all erstwhile.
As an openly gay, black folk musician in the 70s, Siffre knew the impact of lies vs. truth-telling, and for honest questioning when the truth isn't, (as it so often isn't) clear, asking in his song "Another Year":
Another year has gone
And here's another one
What are we going to do
Will it be something new?
Will it be good?
Will it be good for me and you?
And of course, Labi invokes the age-old proverb, that "Only time will tell." But as time continues to usher us forward, my hope for all of us is to find ourselves saying:
And I hardly even knew I was laughing all over my face
'Cause you were laughing and you brightened the place
Now here we are, we've come this far
We've come this far. That's something we can pause and acknowledge with all of our messy feelings, and though things seem bleak as ever, there is so much hope on the air, as structures of power shift and begin at the very least to offer us something new.
But dreaming can go in all directions, and on this playlist, it is Françoise Hardy who serenades us with sweet nostalgia, singing "dreams are like distant clouds" that offer us the gift of sight through "different eyes." She reframes the Presley classic "Loving You" with tender vocals that make me really believe that I will be the object of her love my "whole life through." At least I can imagine it, that other life I could have lived, and do live, in the psychedelic arena of her most earnest and lulling alto. Françoise's voice builds a dreamscape in which I can feel the convergence of the past and the future, as the clouds "direct the way which we then follow."
Our Spring 2021 Host Publications Chapbook Prize Winner, lily someson spoke with us on the podcast, and something she said has really stayed with me—she spoke about how her relationship to the poems in her chapbook mistaken for loud comets
has changed over time, how they are now full of nostalgia for a simpler time, and when she reads them now, they are like entering a room in the past where the worries of the present don't exist yet. This is a lovely idea about what poetry and music can do, they can transport us, soothe us, bring us back to ourselves in a past form we thought was lost, but is only relocated, accessible within the poem, within the song, within the dream.
Of course, sometimes it is necessary and even feels nice to be firmly rooted in the present moment, even when it is one of discord. In Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand The Rain," this soul icon doesn't mind airing out her vexation, something we evidently love, as this is a song that is the very definition of an instant classic, making Peebles a star in the Southern soul orbit. The song's mantra "I can't stand the rain" feels so relatable at the beginning of this year, as we continue to deal with new gusts from the same tempests of 2020. It's good to recognize that nothing will ever be the same again. And Ann Peebles tells us it's ok to rage against it, to rage against the rain. (To see a truly glittering performance of this song, and for the most *incredible* 70s vibes,
check out this 1974 performance
Rachel of the band Unthanks describes Molly Drake's music as "hopeful and defiant, melancholic and searching" in an article
that she wrote for The Guardian
. I can't think of an emotional register that feels more like what I've been feeling as we kicked off 2021. I can't describe the beautiful feeling I get when I hear Molly Drake sing these words in her song "The First Day":
This is the birthday of a brand new start
Change of direction, change of heart
When I think of today I feel tempted to say
Destiny, do your worst
Molly was the mother of singer-songwriter Nick Drake, but the discovery of her stirring talent didn't take place until in 2013, 20 years after her death and almost 40 years after her son's suicide. As a poet and a musician, Molly was never published and never performed in public—her words were for herself and her family, the DIY recordings only exist because of her husband Rodney's interest in reel-to-reels in the 1950s. Knowing this about her songs makes the crackly, warm tones of the piano and her old-fashioned voice come together in my imagination by the fireside, in a cozy home, surrounded by family. My daydreams are full of images like this, where I can be with the ones I love, even those who have departed prematurely, as Nick Drake departed from his mother's life so tragically. Molly was no stranger to deep wounds of the heart, and her songs, while playful and even sweet at times, are full of a lurid awareness, in which "I remember firelight / And you remember smoke," "I remember oranges / And you remember dust" yet somehow still, "we can be grateful for the gift of memory."
Another artist here who knows the dark and rewarding relationship with memory is Yoko Ono, one of my all-time favorite witches. He words in "Nobody Sees Me Like You Do" encapsulate everything I want this playlist to embody, all the feelings of fatigue, anxiety, and disappointment mixed in with hope and the everlasting love that sees and is seen by her lover, even long after death:
I see your face looking into the space,
All tired and worried.
Why does it have to be like this, you and I,
I wanted us to be happy
No one can see me like you do
No one can see you like I do
Dreams mixed in with yearnings, the desire for quiet and the quietness of real love, which doesn't need to prove anything to anyone:
I wanna quit moving,
I wanna quit running,
I wanna relax and be tender
I wanna see us together again,
Rocking away in our walnut chairs
For this love to be real, we can't ignore the realities around us, or disregard the history that has led us into this arena together. Our love must not be afraid to speak, to act, and even to change. But we must not be afraid to dream. To dream of tranquility, and love. Love that wants only the best for all people.