Some time ago, on a flight across the country, I decided to listen — I mean really listen — to a full album by the band Cloud Cult. This was new for me. I grew up listening to classical music, and in doing so, I fear I trained myself to ignore the lyrics of songs almost completely. So paying attention to actual words is quite hard.
Cloud Cult was on my mind. Last.fm kept telling me that they were one of my favorite bands (by number of plays), but I couldn’t tell you much about them, or their music. I had just finished listening to Krista Tipett interviewing their lead for On Being. Clearly they were more important than the silly band with weird songs that I thought they were. So I closed my eyes, queued up a new (to me) album, and simply paid attention.
And then … woah. This song hit me like a bag of bricks.
“There’s a room full of people in your head, and every single one of them claims your name.”
There’s a party going on in your head, yes, but also parties. A parliament. And this parliament is composed of factions, each led by a different personality.
This rhymes with a concept from Jay Smooth. The Little Hater. The little hater is the voice in your head, trashing everything you do. The little hater is the leader of opposition in the parliament of you. (Never the majority leader, because then that’d mean he’d have to take responsibility for actions).
Eventually, the plane landed. The album ended. Tears crossed my cheeks. I staggered out of the airport and met my partner. I had a decision to make — should I leave my job? What sort of thing could I do next?
If there was a parliament full of personalities in my head, we decided, maybe what I needed to do was build a coalition of the personalities I wanted to embody, and do what they wanted.
We walked to a park, and I sat down on a rock, facing a pond. I decided that there were a few values/personalities to embody:
The one who believes they will not fail
The one who is an artist, unconcerned with material things
The one who wants to always be on the side of good
The one who weighs the options and coolly does the “correct” thing
For each, I embodied them, the way an actor would, or an avatar. My posture changed. My voice changed. And each personality graded different courses of action, gave advice, etc.
The last one was perhaps the most interesting. I originally thought of it as “the person who worries” or “the person who wants to make sure I’m safe”. But a trick I learned (from Gayle Karen Young at StartingBloc) was to take these personalities and add the modifier “mature”. What does the “mature worrier” look like? To me, it was a sort of Ari Emmanuel character. Brisk, even brusque. Weighing risk and reward. Hardheaded and ambitious, calculating and cool. And his take on the situation frankly surprised me.
That’s the day I realized I needed to leave Facebook (thought it took a while longer to pull the trigger). And that’s how I try to make decisions going forward.
Anyway, the point of this all was originally to suggest you listen to Cloud Cult. Cloud Cult is great! And while Room Full of People In Your Head is a great song, I’d have to say it’s not even their best. This is. Relatedly, Jay Smooth and Gayle Young are american treasures. Find Jay here. And Gayle is here.
I’m running a little behind, so I just finished September’s a few days ago. It has a gorgeous picture of her (at an outdoors wedding we were honored to attend!) and features a mix of new-to-her songs by artists we know, and a few new-to-me songs from bands I found recently in my travels.
This month, I made Sarah a mixtape of “iconic songs by iconic bands”. No searching for great music from obscure-to-me artists. Just a list of songs that are purely delightful and have stood the test of time.
Everyone Hides by Wilco Chicago by Sufjan Stevens Your Rocky Spine by Great Lake Swimmers Bodysnatchers by Radiohead Montezuma by Fleet Foxes No Sleep Till Brooklyn by Beastie Boys Piazza, New York Catcher by Belle & Sebastian Hercules Theme by Hercules & Love Affair Thinkin Bout You by Frank Ocean Fineshrine by Purity Ring Black Sheep by Metric Someone Great by LCD Soundsystem Brianstorm by Arctic Monkeys Your Hand In Mine by Explosions In The Sky No One Said It Would Be Easy by Cloud Cult Comfy In Nautica by Panda Bear Brennisteinn by Sigur Rós I Am Trying to Break Your Heart by Wilco
As you know, I’m dating Sarah. Sarah is very good. When we started dating, however, I noticed that she had a small flaw: not only did she not like the same music as me, she didn’t even know that my favorite bands existed. When she listened to music, which wasn’t often, it was mainly show tunes from her favorite musicals.
Now, musicals are great. I enjoy them, and have been known to go to a few on some occasion. It’s delightful that Sarah likes them — it gives her something with which to bond with my sister Shelly, who works in Broadway. But — what about The Mountain Goats? What about Wilco? What, not to put a fine point about it, about LCD Soundsystem?
So I made her a mixtape. A song each from some of my favorite bands. Bookended by two songs from a particularly good band. The format, and the habit, stuck. That was back in April 2018.
I’ve made a mixtape per month since then. It’s pretty fun! The challenge of making an aesthetically coherent album each month, always with new music, and all but the first and last song by a different artist, is real. I’ve explored arabic, hebrew, persian, afro-punk, chillwave, jug bands, and other forms of music I wasn’t normally listening to normally. I’ve started keeping an ear out for new things I haven’t heard before, and chatting up strangers to learn their tastes. It’s fun! Each month has a pretty different sound.