World War Z

I wasn’t supposed to like World War Z. That book was one of my favorites from last summer, and after the disastrous production process for the film (reshoots, rewriting the ending after filming had wrapped, directors and writers leaving the project), I was sure the movie would be a fiasco that couldn’t overcome all those obstacles. Besides, I rarely like films based on books I loved.

But I liked this film.

Disclaimer: If you’re reading this, and you don’t understand our culture’s obsession with zombies, then let me try to explain as someone who both follows Jesus and is fascinated by popular culture’s portrayal of zombies. Current portrayals of zombies generally blame the outbreak (or the “zombie apocalypse”) on an incurable, fast-spreading virus. Zombie origins, however, are much more spiritual in nature: demon possession that re-animates a corpse. An argument can (and should) be made that these two ideas be separated. As a follower of Christ, I believe that good and evil are at battle on this earth, and stories of zombiis (particularly in voodoo culture) are a result of a fallen world and a rejection of Christ’s salvation. In popular culture, however, zombies have lost most of that spiritual aspect. Zombie stories, as a subgenre of dystopian literature, tend to arise in the midst of global chaos, and zombies become a way to mirror real-life societal problems. Max Brooks, in his book World War Z, definitely made this social commentary the focus of his story. Now: moving on…

[Note: spoilers to follow.]

In full disclosure, the music from the movie is from Muse’s album The 2nd Law. That album is dystopian from start to finish. I was completely overwhelmed when the movie began with the final track from Muse’s album, “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.” The song is melodic, powerful, and builds from simplicity to a flourish. The original album version of the song contains no lyrics, just voiceover discussing the law of entropy and headlines about global economic collapse. In the film, those voiceovers were replaced with news reports of the zombie outbreak. It’s perfect. I was shocked to hear Muse, first of all (how did I miss that one of my favorite bands would be featured?), and I was overcome–Muse frequently delivers an emotional gutpunch (in a good way, you know?). I was instantly riveted and emotionally involved in the story.

It’s entirely possible that just hearing Muse had me predisposed to like the movie. But let’s move beyond that because I, once again, have a lot to say.

First of all, there’s no way the movie could have followed the book. For a thorough adaptation, we would need at least a lengthy miniseries, if not a full-fledged TV show to follow all the subplots of the book, from patient 0 to the recovery efforts of the war. Instead, this film minimized the locations, the battle fronts, and the commentary for the sake of brevity. The result was a less complex vision of global catastrophe. We see a few examples of the chaos in America when the zombies overtake Philadelphia and Newark; a potential patient 0 at a military base in South Korea; the efforts in Israel to keep the plague out by constructing walls isolating the city; and a zombie outbreak on an airplane. I wish we could have seen how more of the world was affected. In the book, every culture, every band of survivors experiments with a different theory about how to defeat the zombies, and a feature-length film just cannot maintain that kind of complexity. (I think the movie Contagion tried that, and I felt that the film didn’t work as well as it should–there was quantity in showing the disease spread, but not enough quality to gain a full understanding of how it affected each society.)

One of the problems of the film is that it just couldn’t reveal all the social commentary portrayed in the book. However, the commentary is still there, just subtle and simpler.

The most obvious commentary that zombies reveal is the tension between isolation and community. Writers of zombie stories make the argument, generally, that community should win every time. Survivors should band together. Those who try to survive on their own are unable to fight off a zombie horde. This film makes that argument clear from the beginning. When Gerry (aka Brad Pitt) and his family fight their way into an apartment building in Newark, NJ, to await help, they meet a family who takes them in for the night. The next morning, Gerry is preparing his family to meet the coming helicopter, and he tries to convince the other family to come with them. Gerry rationalizes that his people (the UN) will be able to protect these civilians and that holing up in their home will result in tragedy. This immediately comes true: by the time Gerry, his wife, and kids have made it to the roof, they’re already fighting zombies, including the father of the family they had left moments before. The only survivor from the family is the young boy Thomas, who argued against his father that they should go and fight together. Surviving when his family turns so quickly seems to be Thomas’ reward for choosing community over isolation. He makes it all the way to the end of the movie.

Even the zombies know to choose community (in a loose sense of the word) over isolation. When Gerry arrives in Jerusalem, he examines the walls that have been built around the city. So far, the residents within the walls have remained safe while the zombie horde has been contained outside the walls. Gerry even marvels that the city is allowing survivors to come within the walls of the city (when so many other settlements have tried to keep people out, hoping to remain disease-free). Gerry is told that every person who comes within the walls is one less zombie to have to fight. Then, the unthinkable happens. As the people inside are celebrating their survival, the zombie horde grows more desperate, and they form massive piles to scale the walls of the city. The walls are breached, and within moments, the city is turned. One zombie alone will never cause widespread chaos; however, the evolutionary track of the zombies means they know how to work together to spread the disease to healthy hosts.

Moving beyond the commentary, this movie’s portrayal of zombies is interesting. For a PG-13 rating, the film cut back on the gore (which I sort of appreciated). These are not the slow-moving walkers from The Walking Dead, with bones protruding and skin dripping. These aren’t even necessarily the rage-filled, blood-spewing zombies from 28 Days Later. They are superfast, and their skin almost looks mummified. The big reveal is that the zombies overlook humans with terminal diseases in favor of healthy hosts. This, of course, becomes a way to survive: become terminally ill (but curable) as camouflage. It’s an interesting premise, somewhat similar to Glenn and Rick in The Walking Dead, who spread zombie guts on themselves to trick the zombies. Intelligence wins out over basic, primal instincts, right?

The ending of the film has gotten a lot of criticism, especially considering Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard were brought in after filming wrapped to re-write the ending. After the camouflage is discovered, Gerry knows his job is done; he can return to his family, who have been moved to a refugee camp in Nova Scotia. The film ends with his reunion with his wife and kids (and Thomas, who has apparently been adopted into the family) with a voiceover about how the war is far from over. This isn’t the end, he tell us; instead, battles are still raging worldwide, and no one is sure how long it will be until the world is safe again. But the film ends with hope: vaccines containing the camouflage are delivered, and they know now that there’s a way to survive. Hope over despair is usually a good ending for a post-apocalyptic story, even if the ending is a bit rushed and ambiguous.

Ultimately, I appreciated this movie. It was suspenseful in all the right places, horrifying without being gory and gross. The key, however, to liking the movie is in understanding that it is not the book, despite the identical titles. Whereas the book portrays a years-long global battle that reveals government incompetence and the dangers of isolation, the film shows a zombie outbreak that takes place over the course of a few days and focuses on small, simpler themes. If you’ve read the book, please don’t make the mistake of looking for a strict adaptation. Just appreciate the film as its own story.

What My 28th Year Sounds Like

I’ll turn 28 on Monday, which means it’s time for another birthday playlist. This will be the third year I’ve made an official playlist to celebrate my birthday, and I’ve honestly been thinking for months about what theme I should have. For my 26th birthday, I chose a song for every letter of the alphabet. Last year, I chose 27 songs that reminded me of literature I love. This year, I realized that I chose songs I wanted to be on the playlist and tried to find a theme to match. So instead of a strict theme, what I created is a chronology of the songs I’ve loved listening to this year.

Most of these songs are on albums released within the past year, and most of my favorite bands appear as usual (Arcade Fire, Muse, Mumford & Sons, and The Gaslight Anthem all make an appearance, with some new favorites). And the list is in chronological order, from the songs I obsessed over on my last birthday to the duo I’m currently obsessed with right now.

So…for the third straight year, here’s my birthday playlist (and here’s the link to the complete YouTube playlist). This is what the 28th year of my life sounded like:

1) “Abraham’s Daughter,” Arcade Fire, from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Two days before my birthday last year, I drove to Shelby, NC, where some scenes from The Hunger Games were filmed. I spent the first part of the summer listening to this album on repeat. This song was the sole reason I bought the album in the first place, and it’s my favorite track.

2) “Kingdom Come,” The Civil Wars, from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

My first introduction to The Civil Wars (who’ll make another appearance). I listened to this song on repeat almost as much as the previous song. This song captured the tone of the film so very well.

3) “Man On Fire,” Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, from Here

Before I bought this album, all I knew about ES&MZ was that they had toured with Mumford & Sons, which was enough to convince me of their worth. I actually downloaded the album after a great review in Entertainment Weekly, and I listened to it for weeks last summer. This was the first single from the album.

4) “Poison & Wine,” The Civil Wars, from Barton Hollow

Well, I also listened to a lot of this band in addition to Edward Sharpe. This song is my favorite from the album; it’s haunting and sad and beautiful.

5) “Dear Believer,” Edward Shape & the Magnetic Zeros, from Here

I loved “Man on Fire” first, but I love this song even more. I remember the moment I really listened to the lyrics for the first time. I stopped what I was doing, started the song over, and realized this is one of the most honest songs about faith I’ve ever heard. The repeated line “Maybe reaching for heaven is what I’m on earth to do” is golden.

6) “Survival,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

This was the theme song for the London 2012 Olympics, and the first we heard from their new album. We Muse fans had been waiting for years!

7) “Extreme Ways (Bourne’s Legacy),” Moby, from The Bourne Legacy soundtrack

With Jeremy Renner taking over the Bourne franchise from Matt Damon, we also got a new remix of Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” a song that I never grow tired of. In fact, this is my alarm clock every morning, too. Also, I love Jeremy Renner. Any song that makes me think about him is obviously a song I will love.

8) “In My Heart,” Moby, from 18

As much as I love “Extreme Ways,” though, this is my favorite Moby song, and sometimes, I wonder if this isn’t my favorite song of all-time, ever. The world just seems right when I listen to this song, and I spent many long nights grading while listening to this song on repeat. It keeps me sane and hopeful.

9) “Octopus,” Bloc Party, from Four

Another album I’d been waiting a long time for. Bloc Party had not released an album in four years and had even parted ways for awhile. I didn’t connect with this album quite like I had with previous albums, but I certainly like it, and it keeps me awake late at night, too.

10) “Madness,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

Even though “Survival” was a song that defined the summer, this album didn’t actually arrive until October. And, boy, was it worth the wait. Previous to the release, Muse received a lot of criticism for releasing a dubstep-influenced album. This is not the first album I would recommend to someone who has never listened to Muse, but for longtime fans, it’s very nearly perfect, I think. And “Madness” is one of the most addictive songs I’ve ever heard.

11) “I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons, from Babel

This was the album I’d been waiting for the most out of all of the excellent albums released last fall. And it’s glorious. At this stage in my life, Mumford & Sons is the voice in my head, the one that I need to hear constantly.

12) “Hopeless Wanderer,” Mumford & Sons, from Babel

The first song on the album on which I hit “repeat.” This song seems like the definition of my 20s.

13) “Handwritten,” The Gaslight Anthem, from Handwritten

I love The Gaslight Anthem because they love music, and they’re nostalgic and hopeful. Brian Fallon pours his whole heart onto the page, and this song is fantastic.

14) “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from The Heist

I could write pages on this song. But I’ll just say this–at the end of the fall semester, one of my students gave an excellent presentation on why people should shop at thrift stores. I hadn’t heard this song at the time, so I didn’t realize that my student (and his classmates) had referenced the song throughout the presentation. When I did hear it, I was sad that I’d missed months of listening to it because it’s incredible. On the surface, it’s fun and ridiculous, and underneath that, it’s a critique of hiphop culture that’s gutsy. I love these guys so much.

15) “Follow Me,” Muse, from The 2nd Law

My favorite track from the new album. It’s a soaring, anthemic song about love, and I cannot get enough of it.

16) “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers, from their self-titled album

I first heard this song because my friends Jane & Walter played it for their last dance at their wedding in November. I bought the album shortly thereafter, and when I competed in a pop-culture quiz bowl tournament in December, I was the only person in the tournament to answer this question correctly. Winning.

17) “Little Talks,” Of Monsters and Men, from My Head is an Animal

I heard this song once over Christmas break, but never heard the announcement about the band. After that first time, I couldn’t stop thinking about this song. And on the morning of New Year’s Day, as I was driving home around 3 a.m., I finally heard the song a second time. As soon as I got home, I searched for the lyrics, downloaded the album, and thought my heart might burst from how glorious this song is. This album is INCREDIBLE. I’m so happy to live in a world in which Of Monster and Men make such great music. This song, for me, will always feel like a new year.

18) “Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show, from O.C.M.S.

Darius Rucker released a cover of this song, and I saw a lot of people on Twitter complaining about how the original was so much better. After a suggestion from a former student, I listened to the song again for the first time in years and remembered how great it was. And then I just kept on listening.

19) “Stubborn Love,” The Lumineers, from their self-titled album

My favorite song from the album: “Keep your head up / Keep your love.”

20) “Lakehouse,” Of Monsters and Men, from My Head is an Animal

I was so obsessed with “Little Talks” that I didn’t realize the beauty in all the other songs on the album for awhile. This song was a sort-of sleeper agent. After several weeks, I was struck by how beautiful it is.

21) “Keepsake,” The Gaslight Anthem, from Handwritten

My favorite track from the new album. The guitars and drums match Brian Fallon’s voice so perfectly.

22) “We Did It When We Were Young,” The Gaslight Anthem, from American Slang

I saw TGA live in March, and after that show, I slid this 2010 album in my car’s stereo and didn’t take it out for weeks. This song is slow, melancholy, nostalgic, powerful.

23) “Don’t You Worry Child,” Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin, from Don’t You Worry Child EP

When I finally managed to listen to something besides TGA (sometime around mid-April), I realized Swedish dance music is awesome (and, once more, a great soundtrack for late-night grading).

24) “Radioactive,” Imagine Dragons, from Night Visions

I wish this song had existed when I was writing my thesis. Thematically, it’s perfectly dystopian. I also wish the rest of the album were as good as this song, but instead, they just sort of sound like a blend of Coldplay and OneRepublic with a big drum. (Disclaimer: I actually like both of those bands…I just don’t need a duplicate.)

25) “Sail,” AWOLNATION, from Megalithic Symphony

This song makes me want to run a marathon or punch someone in the face. It’s that good.

26) “Vipassana [Ryan Lewis Remix],” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from VS. Redux

I love hiphop. I never though I could love it this much, though. This is the first track from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ 2010 EP. This is a song about faith (not so much Christian faith, but faith nonetheless), and Macklemore’s lyrics are real and heartfelt. And he’s an incredible rapper. And he’s hot. (If you’ve read this far, you deserve my honest opinion, right?)

27) “Otherside (feat. Fences) [Ryan Lewis remix],” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from VS. Redux

Macklemore’s biggest hit previous to “Thrift Shop.” It’s a song about his addiction to drugs and alcohol and his decision to become sober. Crazy good stuff.

28) “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from The Heist

The video for this song premiered on YouTube in April. This is the song that convinced me to download The Heist, which then convinced me to download everything else that Macklemore has ever done, with or without Ryan Lewis. I sing this aloud in my car. I hear this song in my dreams. I talk about this whole album with anyone who will listen to me. I have a feeling this will be the song that defines my summer, the album I listen to on repeat for many more months. If this is the theme of my next year, it will be a good one indeed. 

ONWARD TO 29!

27: The Second Annual Birthday Playlist

Two years ago, when I turned 25, I posted a playlist I’d made of songs inspired by My List of Things to Do Before I Die. Last year, I made an official birthday playlist–26 years of life, 26 letters of the alphabet, and a favorite song for each letter. I had so much fun making that playlist that I decided to make it an annual tradition.

This year, on Sunday, I’ll be 27, a number that has no immediately recognizable connections to music. I, thus, decided to make a themed list with 27 songs. Should I make a list of songs associated with 27 places I’ve been? A top song from each year of my life? 27 rules of grammar (which sounds like so much fun!)?

All of those are great ideas, but none really fit where I am right now. At 27, I have just graduated with my Master’s in English, having finished a thesis on some of the greatest books I’ve ever read and having won an award for excellence in writing. The theme of my playlist erupted naturally out of my top passion in life: literature.

I set out to create a list of 27 songs with literary references. Many are songs that I love because of the direct literary references or because they remind me of great works of literature. Quite a few are on the alphabet playlist from last year. And, of course, my favorite bands–Switchfoot, Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire, The Gaslight Anthem, and Bloc Party–are heavily featured because of the literary quality of their music.

I give you, then, 27 songs about literature:

[Note: All the links are to YouTube videos of the songs, some official, some fanmade. I also created a complete playlist on YouTube, mostly for my own use, but here’s the link to that.]

1. “Great Expectations,” The Gaslight Anthem

“And I never had a good time / I sat by my bedside with papers and poetry about Estella.” This is the opening track from TGA’s fantastic album The ’59 Sound. The title and the mention of Estella are both in reference to my favorite Dickens novel, making this a natural choice for the opening to my 27 playlist. Even the music video evokes imagery of Miss Havisham’s house.

2. “Doublespeak,” Thrice

After compiling my playlist, I realized that I was a few songs short of my goal of 27, so I Googled “songs with literary references,” and this is my favorite of the few that I added from those lists that I found. “Doublespeak,” of course, is a reference to Orwell’s 1984, one of the  great British dystopian novels.

3. “1984,” David Bowie

Another one of my recent finds. I had no idea that Bowie had originally planned an entire concept album based on 1984. This song and several others are the results of that intention, but apparently, that didn’t work out.

4. “Oscar Wilde,” Company of Thieves

I took a class last summer on Irish lit, and while playing my iPod on shuffle driving home from class one night, this song played. Perfect for my playlist!

5. “Resistance,” Muse

Easily one of my favorites on this entire playlist. This song mentions the “Thought Police,” another reference to 1984. However, this song has a much stronger literary connection for me. Muse’s album Uprising came out in September 2009. Around that time, I read Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequel The Ask and the Answer for the first time. Just after finishing the second book, I was driving home listening to “Resistance,” thinking about Todd and Viola and the incredible world Ness had created when it occurred to me that this song was the perfect soundtrack for those books. Ness himself has said on his blog that Uprising as a whole could be the soundtrack for his books, and I certainly agree. I listened to this song many, many times while writing about The Knife of Never Letting Go for my thesis. Actually, I listened to a lot of Muse in general while writing my thesis…

6. “The Heart is Scarlett,” The Winter Sounds

There’s only one video of The Winter Sounds performing this song, and it doesn’t do this incredible song justice. I’m not sure if “Scarlett” is an actual reference to Gone with the Wind, but what I love about TWS anyway is that this song is from their album Church of the Haunted South. The first time I heard TWS playing, I met Patrick, the leader singer, and asked if the title was an intentional reference to Flannery O’Connor, who called the South a “Christ-haunted landscape.” I’ve written a few essays about that idea over the years, and I love it, so this song makes it onto the list because of the connotations of Southern literature.

7. “Afternoons and Coffeespoons,” Crash Test Dummies

Another one of my recently discovered songs. I love that it’s in reference to T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which has one of my favorite lines in poetry: “I have measured my life in coffee spoons.” Echoes of Eliot are throughout this song, so it’s definitely worth a listen. Also, this video is from their appearance on Letterman in 94, so it’s a classic!

8. “One Headlight,” The Wallflowers

This one was also on the 26 list, but it’s one of my favorites, so here it is again! Also, this might be a stretch, but I included it because of the reference to Cinderella. It’s a fairy tale, so it totally counts as literature. And I get to listen to The Wallflowers even more.

9. “Ready to Start,” Arcade Fire

 Yet another song from the 26 list, and also, another reference to a fairy tale: “All the kids have always known / That the emperor wears no clothes.” Also, a darn good song.

10. “Ares,” Bloc Party

A mythological reference to the Greek god of war. This song is angry and alive and really fantastic to write to. Actually, along with Muse, I wrote much of my thesis to Bloc Party, particularly their album Intimacy, of which this is the first track. And I’m super excited because their first studio album in four years will be released this fall!

11. “The ’59 Sound,” The Gaslight Anthem

The second song from TGA to be featured on this playlist, this one also contains a reference to Dickens: “When we float out into the ether, into the Everlasting Arms / I hope we don’t hear Marley’s chains forged in life.” The words are so literary: the idea of ethereal angels dates back to the Victorian age, and of course, they reference A Christmas Carol. Love it!

12. “Sigh No More,” Mumford & Sons

Seriously, these guys are some of the most literary musicians I know of. The title of this song (and the album), as well as the opening lyrics to this track come from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Even though I’ve owned this album for two years and listened to it hundreds of times, this song still makes me a little giddy.

13. “Richard Cory,” Simon & Garfunkel

Inspired by the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem of the same name.

14. “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John

I do love Elton and his excessively large eyewear. This one, obviously, was chosen because of the reference to L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

 15. “Faust, Midas, and Myself,” Switchfoot

 My favorite track from Switchfoot’s 2006 album Oh! Gravity. They weave together the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil and the story of a man overwhelmed with greed to comment on what’s really important in life. This video is a live version from their 2009 Hello, Hurricane tour.

16. “Wandering Star,” Portishead

The first song I’ve included on this playlist with a biblical reference. Jude 12-13: “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of sea, foaming up their own change; wandering stars for whom is preserved the blackness of darkness forever.” I don’t want to be a wandering star, but I sure do love this song.

17. “Timshel,” Mumford & Sons

 Timshel is a Hebrew word, sometimes translated as “thou mayest,” that appears in the Genesis story of Cain and Abel, as well as in Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

18. “America,” Simon & Garfunkel

A few months ago, I started reading Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods while my friend Jenna drove us home from Williamsburg on a rainy Sunday. I read the first 200 pages of this book in the car and was immediately captivated by the story of Shadow, who is hired by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, and, thus, begins a journey into understanding the mythology of American culture. Although Gaiman includes a lot of musical references in the novel, I realized, on that slow, rainy day, that no song would better fit the way I felt at that moment than this song.  Thus, while there are no specific literary references, this song seems undeniably connected to one of my favorite novels.

19. “Daughter’s Lament,” Carolina Chocolate Drops

Okay, so maybe this one is cheating a bit since it comes straight from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond soundtrack, but it directly references a mockingjay and is so perfect for the whole series that I decided to include it in the mix.

20. “Never Let Me Go,” Judy Bridgewater

Judy Bridgewater doesn’t actually exist. But in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, the protagonist Kathy H. listens to this song on repeat on a cassette, and the song is a vital plot device. When the novel was adapted into film, this song was recorded for the soundtrack and is absolutely perfect, I think, especially as it so eerily contrasts the tone of this subtle, beautiful dystopian novel that is one of my favorites.

21. “The Cave,” Mumford & Sons

This song makes me think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature. I’ve written about it before here. Plus, this video wins bonus points for being recorded in a book store.

22. “City with No Children,” Arcade Fire

P.D. James’ book The Children of Men was adapted into the brilliant film Children of Men, marking a rare occasion when I love both the book and films versions of a text. This song, down to the title, is a perfect soundtrack for the book.

23. “The Prayer,” Bloc Party

If F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were contemporary, this would be the perfect soundtrack. The song has that same theme of being young and driven to acquire one all-encompassing desire, despite the consequences. The singer could be Jay Gatsby. (Also, the video is a little trippy.)

24. “Shankill Butchers,” The  Decembrists

In Irish lit last summer, I did a presentation on a poem called “Wounds” by Michael Longley. My professor, who is a huge Decembrists’ fan, referenced this song after my presentation because “Shankill” is referenced in this poem about war in Northern Ireland.

25. “Banana Co,” Radiohead

I didn’t know this song existed until yesterday, but I’m so glad it does. This song is a reference to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of my favorites. In the novel, members of the Buendia family work at a banana company, which is the source of revolution.

26. “We Used to Wait,” Arcade Fire

This song has a reference to Eliot, too! Eliot’s “Prufrock” opens with “Let us go then, you and I / While the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized on a table.” This song has a very similar reference: “Like a patient on a table / I want to walk again / Want to move through the pain.” Both texts question the fragility of life, of trying to hold on. These are–in all seriousness–two of my very favorite texts.

Note: this video shows the project The Wilderness Downtown that accompanies the Arcade Fire song. I love it!

27. “The War Inside,” Switchfoot

 All right, so this song doesn’t have a specific literary reference, but Jon does sing, “I feel like we’re livin’ in sci-fi,” and let’s face it, I have been living in science fiction for months with the writing of my thesis. Plus, this is my favorite song from their last album Vice Verses, and I love it, so it seemed appropriate to close the playlist this way.

 Happy 27 to me!

Baby Playlist

A few weeks ago, some other ladies and I hosted a baby shower for our friends Steffany and Steve, who are expecting a baby in July. The shower was a couples shower, held outside in an orchard, so the atmosphere was more like a summer barbecue. One of my primary responsibilities was to create a playlist for the party, and the results are something I’m pretty proud of. In fact, I’ve listened to the playlist on several occasions since the party! Of course, as befitting the occasion, the theme was “baby”:

(Links are to YouTube videos)

It’s a Boy,” The Who

“Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice

“Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Guns N’ Roses

“Born to Be Wild,” Steppenwolf

“Be My Baby,” The Ronettes

“Baby I Need Your Loving,” The Four Tops

“Hey Baby,” Bruce Channel

“There Goes My Baby,” The Drifters

“Baby Love,” The Supremes

“Sweet Baby James,” James Taylor

“Baby Driver,” Simon & Garfunkel

Timshel,” Mumford & Sons (The only one without a direct title reference; however, I chose this because of the line “You are the mother / The mother of your baby child / The one to whom you gave life” and because it’s such a beautiful song.)

“Always Be My Baby,” Mariah Carey

“…Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears

“Can’t Get Enough of You Baby,” Smash Mouth

“Baby,” Justin Bieber (Steff is a HUGE Bieber fan and was delighted when this song started to play!)

Baby, Baby,” Amy Grant

“Baby, I Love You,” Aretha Franklin

“Baby, What a Big Surprise,” Chicago

Your Hand in Mine

Before you start reading the rest of this post, pop your headphones on and click play on this YouTube video. Don’t watch it–there’s nothing to see except the name of the band and the song title, but let it play while you keep reading.

I spotted the first half of the rainbow as I pulled out of my parking space. Class was out an hour and a half early, and even after standing in the parking lot with my classmate Freddie talking about Ph.D. programs and the lack of African-American writers of and characters in science fiction, there was still plenty of daylight left. When I reached the one traffic light in Boiling Springs, waiting for the light to change, I saw the other side of the rainbow, beautiful after the violently windy storm that had raged just two hours before.

When I turned left and continued down the curvy road past old homes and farmland outside of town, I realized the rainbow had only been a prequel to the majestic show I was about to experience. Suddenly, I realized that the music playing on my iPod (The Gaslight Anthem–almost always the perfect summer drive soundtrack) was brashly inappropriate. Only one song would suffice: Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand in Mine.”

When I turned onto Highway 74, I was overwhelming grateful that living in Travelers Rest now enables me to travel west for my drive home at night. The highway stretched before me, framed by rolling hills and pine trees, straight toward the beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. And surrounding the hills and mountains and trees was the most spectacularly beautiful, majestic sunset I’ve ever witnessed. The bright yellow t-shirt I was wearing seemed blandly colorless in contrast to the rich oranges, pinks, and reds spread across the sky. I even passed a fire burning in a backyard that seemed powerless and tame against the sky. A bank of post-storm clouds chased the sunset across the sky, settling around the mountains.

I decided once that if I ever marry, I’d like to walk down the aisle to “Your Hand in Mine.” I cannot imagine a more lovely moment than a bride walking to her groom to the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in my life. Still, even this imagined possibility pales in comparison to the love I felt for and from my Heavenly Father tonight. As this song played on the highest volume, I lamented briefly that I was alone with no one to share this moment with. My chest had tightened and tears flowed down my face in the presence of the unexpectedly beautiful glory of the sunset over the mountains. I even reached down to pause my iPod so that I could call someone before stopping short, realizing that no one could possibly understand the moment I was experiencing. For who else in my whole world was traveling down a highway on a cool summer night after a storm with this exact vantage point of the sky and clouds and mountains and mist? Who could understand That Moment?

Only One. “Share this with Me,” my Father whispered.

So often, my heart succumbs to the empty loneliness of a dark night on the road. So often, my strenuous academic schedule, merged with the petty frustrations that plague everyday life, overwhelms my weary soul, making it seem as if life will always be this way, as if I will never find real rest, as if the loneliness is permanent. But tonight, the glorious creation of my Father–a vibrant, blazing sunset over these mountains I love so dearly–vanquished every doubt and worry and flooded my heart with incredible joy and peace.

I’m inside now, typing away in the soft glow of my computer screen and a string of Christmas lights, wishing the sunset weren’t over. I also know, however, that even that glorious sunset would lose its majestic in becoming ordinary, and I’m grateful for the ephemeral moments that I had tonight. I wish, too, that language were not so limited, that words actually existed to convey the beauty of my drive home tonight. This post, however, must suffice, but at least now, I have a soundtrack to remind me of a moment when God’s glory shone brightly across the sky, reminding me that I am powerfully loved by an awesome Creator.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.” -Psalm 121.1

On Intertextuality: Emerson, Meet Mumford

Ralph Waldo Emerson, founder of Transcendentalism and philosopher extraordinaire, occasionally amuses me. Take, for instance, this passage from Nature:

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small alteration in our local position, apprizes us of a dualism. We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air.

Okay, that’s not actually the amusing part yet. Be patient. I really love this concept that a change in perspective makes the world seem new. The amusing part comes at the end of the paragraph. Imagine, if you will, our austere and brilliant Emerson in this position:

Turn the eyes upside down, by looking at the landscape through your legs, and how agreeable is the picture, though you have seen it any time these twenty years!

Oh, my, gosh, can you imagine Emerson bending over to look over Walden Pond though his legs? Hilarious!

So, now that we’ve laughed at Emerson a bit, let’s move on to something even greater. I was listening to Mumford & Sons this week (as I do pretty much every day), and I thought about these lyrics from their song “The Cave”:

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land

Okay, so Mumford & Sons’ version involves a little bit of gymnastics rather than just bending at the waist, but I love that the idea of looking at the world in a different way appears in both of these texts.

I also appreciate the ideas presented about nature in the two: Emerson talks about freedom (emancipation) while Mumford talks about dependence. [Side note: after reading SPIN’s June cover story on Mumford & Sons in which Marcus Mumford talks about the importance of faith, I’m even more convinced that the biblical references throughout this album are very intentional.] At any rate, I think both Emerson and Mumford might agree that nature points to the existence of a Creator.

Now, for fun, watch this video of Mumford & Sons playing “The Cave” in a bookstore. Go on, you know you want to.

26: A Playlist for the Alphabet

Tomorrow is my 26th birthday. While last year seemed like such a milestone, this year, I’m not sure I’ll even celebrate. Maybe that’s because I’m busy and tired, or maybe it’s because most of the people I want to celebrate with are out-of-town or busy. Probably, though, it’s because 26 just doesn’t seem like a special number. (25 = 5 x 5. I like everything to be in multiples of 5, so last year, 25 just seemed like the absolute perfect number and the perfect age to be. Weird, huh?)

However, 26 is the number of letters in the English alphabet, so that’s kind of cool. To celebrate, I decided to make a new iTunes playlist–one of my favorite songs for each letter of the alphabet. You’d be surprised how difficult that was–do you know how many of my favorite songs start with the letter W? A lot. But here’s what I came up with:

A: “Awake My Soul,” Mumford & Sons.

My most-played track on iTunes. My current favorite song, period. Is it wrong to tell you that I cried when they played this live Tuesday night in Asheville? I don’t have words to explain how much I love this song. Watch this video and smile because not only is the song beautiful, but Mumford & Sons are also just SO DARN  CUTE. 🙂

B: “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” The Avett Brothers.

The song that made me love The Avett Brothers. Also a beautiful song.

C: “C’Mon, C’Mon,” Switchfoot.

Like so many Switchfoot songs, this one is about purpose and fighting for a life worth living. It’s from one of their EPs, and I actually only acquired it a few months ago.

D: “Drift Away,” Dobie Gray.

Old-school rock ‘n roll. Music about music. Wonderful. Also, this video is Dobie Gray singing the song in 1974.

E: “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” The Gaslight Anthem.

My favorite song from the fantastic album The ’59 Sound. I love this song because it’s slow and nostalgic and it still rocks. This is a song that makes me want to be young and idealistic and never really grow up.

F: “Fields of Gold,” Sting.

One of the songs I grew up hearing on the radio that I realized as I got older I really, really loved. But then again, how could you not love Sting?

G: “Gold Digger,” Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx.

No, this isn’t a joke. This actually is one of my favorite songs–so much so that it was easy to pick out a track for the letter G. I can sing all the words to the song. Harvin finds this fact to be the absolute most intriguing thing about me.

H: “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise,” The Avett Brothers.

Sometimes, this (along with “Awake My Soul”) is just what I need to give me the energy to walk out of the door and face a new day: “If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected / Decide what to be and go be it.” Also, the video is just wonderful.

I: “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” Death Cab for Cutie.

Now, for something completely different. Melancholy and a bit emo, but I love it anyway.

J: “Joy to the World,” Three Dog Night.

Do I really need to explain why this song is awesome?

K: “Kiss Me,” Sixpence None the Richer.

This song came out when I was 13 and obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who, at the time, was attending the prom without her vampire boyfriend Angel. 🙂 This song is everything a romance-minded 13-year-old girl could love, and I (not so secretly now) still love the song.

L: “Let Me Back In,” Explosions in the Sky.

From their newest album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. The first time I heard this, I was on the way to work (I had woken up early to download the album on the release day). And I realized when listening to this track that I was grinning like crazy because this song is so crazily-beautifully-wonderfully fun and hopeful that I could not control my smile.

M: “Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows.

I never get sick of this song. I can’t even explain why it’s so good; it just is. I love Counting Crows, but this is unarguably the greatest song they’ve ever written.

N: “Next to Me,” Civil Twilight.

This was also a difficult letter to choose, but in the end, I had to go with one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. This is one of Civil Twilight’s newest songs (from the re-released album that actually came out about a year and a half ago), and it’s my current favorite CT song.

O: “One Headlight,” The Wallflowers.

Oh, the 90s. Weren’t they great?

P: “Pinebox,” The Winter Sounds.

If you’ve never listened to The Winter Sounds, go look them up right now. They’re amazing. They’re also great live, and this is such a phenomenal song.

Q: “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” The Gaslight Anthem.

Not many songs start with the letter Q, but fortunately, there’s at least one great one. From The Gaslight Anthem’s last album, American Slang, released last summer. They grew up some after The ’59 Sound, and if that album made me want to stay young and idealistic, this album makes me realize that, even if being an adult brings changes, it’ll be okay anyway.

R: “Ready to Start,” Arcade Fire.

From The Suburbs, which rightfully won Album of the Year at the Grammys this year. Good heavens, this album is amazing from start to finish, and even though this song wasn’t my favorite in the beginning, I’ve found myself listening to it more and more lately as I’ve realized how brilliant it is. The song is edgy and even a bit defensive; it’s about recognizing that we often do things because of what other people we think, and it’s about being intentional in saying we’re not going to live our lives a certain way just because other people do to. Example: “All the kids have always known / That the emperor wears no clothes / But they bow down to him anyway / Because it’s better than being alone.”

After Arcade Fire accepted the Grammy, Win Butler set the trophy on an amp and proceeded to play this song as everyone started asking, “Who is Arcade Fire?!?”

S: “Stand By Me,” Ben E. King.

“When the night is young / And the land is dark / And the moon is the only light we’ll see . . . ” Come on, you know you love it, too.

T: “Teardrop (Live),” Civil Twilight.

I discovered the band Massive Attack because Civil Twilight almost always covers this wonderful song at their shows. The lyrics are a little different, and I prefer Civil Twilight’s version (probably because I just love them so freakin’ much.) Also, aren’t they adorable? Yes, yes, they are.

U: “Uprising,” Muse.

Epic. So epic.

V: “Virgin,” Manchester Orchestra.

This song makes me want to fight somebody. I get sort of twitchy and restless when I listen to it. That’s actually just what I expect of Manchester Orchestra. I don’t really know why that’s a good thing; it just is. Here’s the band performing on Letterman just a few weeks ago:

W: “We Used to Wait,” Arcade Fire.

Although a ton of great songs start with W, this was the obvious choice. I like to listen to this song on repeat while I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Expect a lengthy blog post about that soon. In the meantime, go to the website The Wilderness Downtown and be amazed.

X: “Xanadu,” Olivia Newton-John.

I almost cheated and chose Moby’s “Extreme Ways” for this, but then I decided not to break my self-imposed rules. I chose this one because Xanadu is a ridiculously awesome movie, just like the 80s.

Y: “Your Hand in Mine,” Explosions in the Sky.

My favorite Explosions song. So beautiful. [Note: This almost lost to my favorite Switchfoot song “Your Love is a Song.” But in the end, I decided this was even better to start closing out the playlist.]

Z: “Zephyrus,” Bloc Party.

I had one song that starts with Z in my entire iTunes library. Fortunately, it’s a great song by a great band.