April 18, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Most of us have had the experience of walking down the street and looking into a shop window, seeing a reflection and having it magically become . . . YOU! It’s jarring, the same way finding yourself in a group photograph provides a flash of recognition. From that point on, the picture becomes fundamentally different—it’s a photo of you among a hundred people instead of a group portrait. That frisson of excitement, for me at least, is a shock to the subconscious, as if they reminded me that I exist outside of my own mind.

Tarot cards do the same thing, at least for me.

I like Tarot cards. No, I don’t think they predict the future or provide any mystical insight—and I rarely if ever involve anyone else in the process of reading them. Instead, they mirror my subconscious, giving me a different view of how my mind works, sort of like the three-sided tailor’s mirror that lets you see how a suit fits on you—or what either of your ears really looks like. Feeling my emotional reaction as I turn over each Tarot card offers insight to the deeper me, just like my response to music.

Over the journey across the Sea of Now, I’ve found my musical tastes and desires changing. While living in the Land of Before, I’d listen to particular songs or certain Bands. For instance, I might put on “It Makes No Difference,” then remember how much I like The Band, and set my phone to shuffle every Band recording from 1968 to 1975. Since the onset of self-quarantining, though, I’ve wanted to listen to albums with the tracks playing each song in the order it was first released. Whether this is a momentary quirk or the sign of some major change, I don’t know.

I’m thoroughly enjoying listening to music in this way. Usually, I’m painting while listening, or cooking or doing dishes. (I do long for my misspent youth, when I could put on, say, Brain Salad Surgery, and simply listen to it.) As a soundtrack to my day, though, listening to this music in this prescribed way has made everything a little easier to take.

In no particular order, here are 10 or so albums I’ve especially enjoyed during this period of anxiety and dimness.  The dates are when these records first entered my life, not necessarily their release date:

Bruce Cockburn. Inner City Front (1982)

Elvis Costello. King of America (1987)

Paul Simon.  Hearts and Bones (1982)

Lou Reed. Growing Up in Public (1980)

Tonio K. Yugoslavia (2000)

Bob Dylan. Street Legal (1977)

Dar Williams. End of the Summer (2000)

Ani DiFranco. Living in Clip (2000)

David Bowie. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1977)

Todd Snider. Songs for the Daily Planet (1998)

Marianne Faithful. Broken English (1987)

Looking over the list, there are only a few commonalities. They’re not necessarily the best song collections by any of these artists, and they are almost certainly not the best selling either. In fact, other than Broken English, I don’t think any of these albums is likely to be the favorite of many fans. Instead, they’re songs that touched me in some way at a tender spot in my life. Since today is one of the tenderest spots in our nation’s history, maybe they’ll do the same for you. Whether they do or not, they’re still worth a listen. At least to me.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith