Notes on a Playlist: modern mixtape from a friend

Whether it’s a Zoom icebreaker or a friendship deal breaker, it always comes back to one inescapable question: What kind of music do you listen to? I stumble on this query every time I encounter it. As someone who was homeschooled for 11 years and thus grew up very sheltered, I have always felt like I missed out on that formative stage where everyone figures out their music taste. My exposure to music was extremely limited, consisting solely of what my dad put on my iPod Shuffle: the entire Beatles discography, a very vibrant Irish/Scottish folk album and a whole lot of classical (his subtle way of hinting that he wanted me to follow in his pianist footsteps). Oh, and don’t forget the how-to-learn-Spanish audio recordings.

After a cross-country move from California to Virginia and a shift from homeschool to public schoo, I gradually familiarized myself with the essentials. New friends shared their favorite music—or, more often, introduced me to all of the iconic artists I somehow didn’t know. It took a while. I vividly remember my first friend in middle school asking me if I liked Queen. I answered, “Of course, I love her!” That was not the right answer. 

I’ve come to realize that my relationship with music is very different from most people’s. While music is a strong emotional outlet and form of escapism for so many, especially in my generation, I grew up rarely listening to it. My downloaded songs were really only meant for long drives and road trips, and the closest I ever got to listening to music at home was the radio set to the classical and opera stations in my Nana’s apartment. The facts were the facts: I came to public school with a severe music deficiency.

It’s taken a while, but I’ve made it (sort of) thanks to the help of my dearest friends who let me into their hearts by sharing with me the music that means so much to them. I discussed this never-ending feeling of catch-up with one of my closest friends, Laura, during quarantine, and she made me a playlist, titled “Glenna’s Vibe Request.” I was ecstatic. A 64-song playlist that not only exposed me to new music, but also allowed me to feel closer to her. A modern mixtape from a friend.

The playlist checks all of the nonexistent boxes I have for music. Laura describes it as “The Four Seasons as presented through the pastoral lens,” which gives major cottagecore vibes. The music’s dreamy aesthetic, coupled with the soft, calming classical pieces she used to introduce each “season,” instantly made the playlist my go-to for breaks during quarantine. I started taking walks to get away from my loud and extremely crowded home, as well as to just process the newfound dread and overwhelm that consumed my life. My senior year of high school was taken from me, and that didn’t just mean canceled competitions and concerts. The academic year came to an anticlimactic close, and I missed out on the last few months with my best friends before we went our separate ways to colleges in three different states. A bittersweet ending.

And so I escaped. I finally understood my peers. I walked and walked and walked, listening to the familiar classical music and Beatles songs, but also the unfamiliar Simon & Garfunkel and Vampire Weekend. I let my emotions run wild to the original theme from “Pride and Prejudice,” and lost myself in Weezer’s “Island In The Sun.” Nostalgia rang with “The Garden/All in the Golden Afternoon” from “Alice In Wonderland,” and a new sentiment grew from The Velvet Underground’s “After Hours.” I took Yusuf/Cat Steven’s “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” to heart and wore my heart on my sleeve, embracing the deep vulnerability music offered to me.

I am forever grateful to everyone who helped me on my journey of musical discovery by giving me access to the deep recesses of their personal Spotify accounts. I can now confidently label my music taste as indie and bedroom pop (with the exception of punk rock band The Regrettes) and even name-drop my favorite artists as Hozier, Clairo and Mxmtoon. Because of COVID, I couldn’t be with Laura in person, but the intimacy of a personalized playlist was enough to retain the deep connection across physical distance.

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