Obsessive compulsive listening

This is what I do when I'm feeling particularly crazy: Listen to the same songs on repeat. The same damn sad, crazy-making songs. Sometimes I make entire playlists.

Two years ago it was the title track from Arcade Fire's Suburbs record:

"I would rather be alone than pretend I feel alright."

Just over and over again in the car.

Last month it was an Elliott Smith CD, also in the car. You know, 'bottle up and explode' strikes a certain chord when you're feeling angsty and anxious.

A decade ago when I was in grad school it was, for a while, Aimee Mann's Lost in Space. The entire damn album, all the time.

Well, not all the time. But once or twice a week I'd make the drive to Oakland in the mid or late afternoon. I'd usually be running late and probably driving too fast and listening to Sahara Hotnights or Franz Ferdinand or Joan Jett or Jawbreaker or anything else to keep my energy high, primed for a long afternoon-into-evening of class.

Then at the end of the night--usually around 9pm--I'd head home alone, trying to digest everything I'd learned and observed and talked about in classes and workshops. The energy level would be quieting by this point, trending down. And although I'd still feel residual bits of it pulsating through my veins,  I also felt very, very alone.

I mostly loved graduate school, but being a commuter student made it difficult. I couldn't participate in a lot of the extra-curricular activities--anything from readings to just getting drinks after class. That was isolating. But it also gave me a lot of time to think (for better or worse). This was before smartphones so I'd often keep a digital voice recorder in the front seat and record story ideas, scenes, dialogue, etc.

But mostly I just rolled down the windows and blasted the music.

It's approximately 80 miles between Oakland and Sacramento and on a clear weeknight with little traffic it's a straight shot that takes your car out of the city's urban core into the Bay Area's suburbs and exurbs and finally spills you into s stretch made up of rolling hills and farmland. On cloudless nights, the sky is cut through with glittering stars and if you look to the left you can find the Big Dipper.

Lost in Space, which came out the year I started grad school, makes for the perfect soundtrack on such nights. Those two-and-a-half years I made the commute, that CD never left my car and many nights I'd hit play repeatedly on one particular song, "It's Not," as I tried to work through things in my head:

"I keep going round and round on the same old circuit
a wire travels underground to a vacant lot
where something I can't see interrupts the current
and shrinks the picture down to a tiny dot
and from behind the scene it can look so perfect
but it's not.
So here I'm sitting in my car at the same old stop light
I keep waiting for a change, but I don't know what.
So red turns into green turning into yellow
but I'm just frozen here in the same old spot
and all I have to do is press the pedal
but I'm not."

OK, I get it. I'm flying down the freeway and the song is about being static--stuck. But trust me, it works when you're feeling all sorts of feelings--sad, confused, exhausted, stressed, mixed up, angry, maybe even happy or just bristling with unburned energy, whatever--not to mention musically OCD and maybe it's just that one song that will get you through.

Or at least get you home.



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