Last year, I set a little project for myself. I’d gotten back to listening to music in earnest, and since depression and lack of practice kept me from writing an adequate record of my year, I decided to remember in aural impressions instead.
And so started my 2017 playlist.
I didn’t set hard rules for what went on the list. It was a project driven by gut feel: a song would latch onto me, providing a soundtrack to important circumstances or feelings, and after enough days — and plays — I’d think, Yes. This should be on the list.
It’s funny: looking back, some of the songs don’t resonate as much as they did when they first entered the list. Listening to the playlist as it developed, I was tempted to strike out some tracks. Towards the end of the year, I was skipping some of the earlier titles regularly. They didn’t mean much to me anymore.
I resisted the impulse to prune the playlist, though. In retrospect, it was the right call — to have gone through with edits would have reeked too much of a personal retcon. This playlist was always more of an impressionistic collection, the product of various moments rather than any deliberate curation. It might have been the lyrics, the rhythms, a searing riff; whatever landed a song its spot on the list, it said something about the kind of life I had at that instance, the kind of person I was at that moment. The particular sentiments might no longer ring true now, but they did, once.
In Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion mulls over the merits of keeping a notebook. Her thoughts on the notebook’s power as a tool for self-creation could easily apply to other attempts at personal record-keeping, like my playlist:
I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
Many of us grapple with a persistent urge to mold ourselves to fit an ideal. In the age of curated social media profiles and personal brands, that urge has gotten stronger. But even if we’re not presenting these bits of ourselves to anybody else, the need to reshape the past to fit our current picture of ourselves lingers. If you change over time, are you still yourself? Often, the desire to reconcile our history with our present stretches beyond mere vanity. But as Didion says, there’s value in letting that history be, in revisiting it as it is. Any changes will have to reside in the future.
So here’s last year’s playlist, outgrown tracks and all.