On the importance of playlists

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Last month I got scammed and promptly cancelled my debit card, and since then Spotify has been sending me a lot of threatening emails saying, “You better update your payment information, or we’re gonna take away your Student Premium membership.”

I put it off for as long as possible, because nothing is less exciting than making a $4.99 intangible purchase. But today they followed through on their word, and I woke up to find I could only listen to my playlists on shuffle, and what’s more, I’d have to sit through some obnoxious ad between each unorderly song. It felt so wrong. I’d put my heart and soul into those playlists, and hearing them so discombobulated left a bad taste in my mouth. Suddenly, $4.99 didn’t seem like such a high price to pay, and I promptly entered my new card information.

Back on track, I started my “late summer/early fall, 2021” playlist from the beginning. But then there was another problem—it is now mid-fall, and all of these songs were transporting me back in time to where I was two months ago. The person I was, the things I was dealing with back then, are already irrelevant; at the same time, there’s not enough distance between two-months-ago-Camille and present-Camille for me to feel comfortable reminiscing just yet. “Late summer/early fall, 2021” is in playlist purgatory. It’s time for me to create “mid-fall/early winter, 2021,” and, if I’m feeling nostalgic (which I often am), I might put on “how to celebrate Halloween in a tropical rainforest,” i.e., the playlist I made this time last year while working on a farm in Hawaii.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy listening to a good album from start to finish. There are no surprises in this situation—you’ve got one general tone, one voice, one story. Of course, whatever story the artist is telling through the album as a complete work ends up being your story as well. There are plenty of albums that I claim to be a perfect encapsulation of some very specific era of my life; there are also albums that I enjoy specifically because they seem to recount a story that I simply cannot relate to at all, but that I appreciate as a work of art, or a form of escapism. (Take Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die as an example: I don’t think there’s a single word in a single song off that album that has anything to do with Camille, present or past, but it’s sure fun to imagine an alternate universe in which I’m wearing heart-shaped sunglasses, riding shot-gun in some hot-in-a-slimy-way, deeply troubled man’s white Pontiac.)

A playlist is personal in a completely different way than an album could ever be. It’s a collage, taking a piece of art out of its original context and repurposing it, and once everything’s been put in precisely the right order, I am able to capture, in a way that no other medium could, almost exactly how I’m feeling, exactly what’s transpiring in my world at any given time.

This is the part where I could definitely end up sounding like one of those headphones-on-world-out kind of people, or the kind of guy who wears a tiny beanie who constantly invalidates your taste in music. Let me assure you, I actually align more with the girl-from-Portland-who-wears-overalls-and-Blundstones stereotype.

Four years ago I made an early August playlist when we had a few weeks of cooler temperatures in Oregon. I was home for the summer, going into my sophomore year, and biking to my high school best friend’s house most days because I wanted to drink, and I wouldn’t be so irresponsible as to drive, but I didn’t want to spend the night. So, I’d bike back home at 2 AM and listen to my droning collection of songs by sad indie men like Alex G, Ruby Haunt, and Hovvdy.

That fall, I crafted the perfect autumnal compilation. The first 12 folksy, ‘60s songs I’ll forever associate with such privileged activities as buying too many seasonally flavored food items from Trader Joe’s, or driving out to the pumpkin patch on Sauvie’s Island with a picturesque little red and white barn, and a caramel apple cart. As for the following 12, I purposefully included a tonal shift to better suit activities like walking around the neighborhood where I grew up after dark, while it’s raining a little and I’m thinking about my mom, who was one year passed at the time, feeling so aimless in the midst of that 2018 gap-semester I took before transferring to Lawrence. No surprise, the second half is riddled with Grouper and Elliott Smith.

At some point during quarantine, when I was really missing the college life, I created a playlist as an ode to the parties that used to happen in the Sage Loft back in Fall 2019 and Winter 2020. There was always so much dancing at these parties, because there’s something about those few songs they put on every time without fail that would always get people moving. I would listen to my mock-playlist and dance by myself to “Take A Chance,” “Blue Monday” and “Like a Virgin,” dreaming of the day when I could once again do so in good company.

I’m looking forward to compiling “mid-fall/early-winter, 2021” and allowing it to be the soundtrack to the rest of my Fall Term. It will be based on how I’m feeling now, right now, and how I felt last week, and how I think I’ll be feeling throughout November, and I know it’s going to help me process what has and whatever will have happened during this bit of my life for years to come. I’ve been begging my friends to make their own playlists based on the same prompt so that we can exchange them, granting each other access to an intimate little place in our respective hearts.