My shower curtain has a blown-up picture of Jeff Goldblum sitting with a monkey in a vaguely tropical setting. When you pull back the curtain, the ledges and shelves in the shower area are full of plants—ferns, mostly, with a few dangling vines spilling over the edge, groping for the steam from the faucet. It’s like stepping into Jurassic Park. The top window looks out onto my neighbor’s red-shingled roof. Standing under the cool water as the sun beats in is a microcosm of what summer ought to be; sky blues, grass greens, hot light, warm breeze. It’s lovely.
I’m glad I am writing this down, because tomorrow I will have blissfully forgotten the temporary pleasure of summer showers. Warmth is leaving Chicago more quickly than water down a drain. Especially our drain, which is a bit slow. When I opened the shower window today, an orange leaf lazily drifted in on the breeze, and the breeze was cool, and the breeze was good. I turned the water from six o’clock to eleven and allowed the steam to fill my chamber, hot and cozy and in sharp opposition to the cool air streaming in the open window.
This is what I truly love. This is the feeling that evokes specific memories as clearly as flipping through a photobook. That staccato chill chiming through the hazy monotone of summer. You feel the heat more when cold is present. You can categorize the sensations, the moments, more clearly with this autumn juxtaposition than with the broad strokes of summer sunshine and winter snow. And, like everything found in nature and the broader sprawl of the cosmos, these fading summer days have a musical analogue.
Willingly entering into melancholy is an exercise that I have been perfecting for the last five years. It’s a common practice to try and set your emotional clock using music. Athletes have their tracklist of pump-up jams, designed to stir righteous anger; roadtrippers turn to sunny music evoking beaches and open highways; churches aim for the soul with structured, sentimental, spiritual highs, in reaction to stifling graveyard lows. But where is the soundtrack for the everyday melancholy of life? Of the moments when one feels untethered from any referent? Lonely in spite of friends and family, aimless in spite of work, hopeless in the face of a bright future? The temptation is to put on music that inspires the opposite emotions. Cheery music. But I posit this; as humans with a wide range of emotions, we do ourselves a disservice to embrace some and avoid others. Music is a safe place to experience those darker sentiments, so when we come across life events that push us toward despair—death, love lost, dissolution of friendship, global tragedy—we have a framework in place to accept those feelings, synthesize them, and grow.
The next time you feel sad for no reason, lean into it. You will have plenty of concrete reasons to be sad in this long life of yours, and some will use that as an excuse to minimize mental suffering in peacetime; I say you should start training.
- Song to the Siren - This Mortal Coil
- Sad Waters - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Machine Gun - Slowdive
- Lonely Richard - Amen Dunes
- Three White Horses - Andrew Bird
- Wait - M83
- Calgary - Bon Iver
- Ceremony - New Order
- I’m On Fire - Bruce Springsteen
- Into The Black - Chromatics
- Young & Tragic - Dead Man’s Bones
- Starlings of the Slipstream - Pavement
- Stutter - Yuck
- Quicksand (demo version) - David Bowie