You'd think I'd have a different take on the season that defines Minnesotans more than any other. I, like many of you, grew up with it. I walked the 8 blocks to Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Elementary School every day, played hockey outdoors for several years before we ever saw an indoor rink, built snow forts, bombed cars with snowballs.
But as I'm getting older, I have and less patience for Old Man Winter. Why does anyone live here anymore? I mean, really, who would choose to live in a place where, for a good chunk of the year, you can't even leave your house without first putting on 20 pounds of outdoor gear? Just a simple run to Kwik Trip takes twice as long because of the prep time!
Anyway, enough about what don't like. Let's talk about what I do like. Winter, I believe, is good for creativity. And there's nothing I like more than creativity.
The latest in my Playlist Playground series comes to us from one of stars of the local literary scene, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, author of the recent critically acclaimed young adult fiction title, "Beautiful Music For Ugly Children." I gave her a theme that spoke to both my hatred for the coming cold, and my love the HBO series (and George R. R. Martin books) "A Game of Thrones": Winter is Coming (in the books and series, "winter is coming" is an often-uttered cautionary phrase, as winters in that world last for years.)
As expected, Cronn-Mills was more than up to the challenge. I think you'll really like what she came up with. I know I did.
Winter is coming, and not just in the Game of Thrones way. The angle of the sun tells me this truth, and the leaves and the temperature agree. I actively have to fight against hating this time of year. What’s to like besides the pretty colors? It’s a torturously slow decline, with too little sun and too much cold, and it’s hard to remember the promise of light and growth again because that stuff seems so far away. I do like thick socks, and I love playing in the snow, and yes, I like the holidays (and my birthday!). I just don’t like the death it takes to get there.
These songs are helping me slide into the upcoming darkness with some grace. Sort of.
1. “Reflektor,” Arcade Fire
This song makes me think of ice and sliding, which is coming up for us. Even so, there’s a desire to rally against the slippery dark while things are shattering around them. In the video, the lady in the box feels winter-ish to me, too—she’s iced in. Disclaimer: I know people both love and hate Arcade Fire, and the reviews of their new album have been mixed. I don’t know enough about them to feel one way or the other. I just like the song, and it’s new. New is good. The rest of my list should prove to you I need some new music.
2. “Fixing a Hole,” The Beatles
You have to patch holes in the fall, and you can hear the encroaching lack of daylight in this song, despite its cheerier chorus. And this video of a solo performance by Macca is pretty great (back when it didn’t look so bad that he dyed his hair, plus there’s Linda in the background, with the maracas).
3. “Ramble On,” Led Zeppelin
The song starts with autumn leaves — perfect fall-into-winter song, right (too easy!)? But even so, it fits my mindset, because it’s my reminder to not be crabby. We really only have two choices once this time of year comes around: we can drag our heels in the soggy muck, or we can ramble on. I always want to be a heel-dragger, but the song doesn’t let me.
4. “Hurt,” Johnny Cash
I don’t know about you, but this song & video slay me in the very best way. Here is a man in the winter of his life, reflecting on some damaged, awful parts of himself (of the world, of humanity as a whole), and you can’t help but feel for him. Then those majestic chords start pounding like a winter storm, and you want him to just stab you now, because you can’t take the pain this man is laying down, AND THEN IT JUST STOPS. Kind of like life. And autumn. Boom. It’s winter. (For the record, I don’t know the Nine Inch Nails’ version. Maybe it’s better, but I doubt it.)
(Editor's note: The Nine Inch Nails version is NOT better, with all due respect to Mr. Reznor, who in fact has said the song he wrote now belongs to Johnny Cash.)
5. “One Part Be My Lover,” Bonnie Raitt
This song covers the autumn of a relationship, and the whistle-y parts of the song (musically astute, yes? “whistle-y parts”) make me think of breaking up and walking away, kicking leaves and tucking yourself into a warm coat as you go. And I remember listening to this song one autumn long ago and reflecting on its truth.
6. "Hearts and Bones,” Paul Simon
This song is a solemn discussion about loss, lightly floating on a guitar melody. Paul Simon is also in the autumn of his life in this video, but it doesn’t diminish his power. BONUS: it segues into “Mystery Train” at about 6 minutes, one of the best songs ever. Trains are four-season for me, so it doesn’t really relate to my topic, but I couldn’t resist.
7. “Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi Trio
When fall turns to winter, of course Christmas is coming, and it’s never too early to start listening to the best Christmas music ever written. There is no finer holiday groove than the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas.
8. “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk
This is my summer song, and summer songs die hard for me, so I included it here. I need a bastion against the darkness, and it reminds me that it will be warm again someday. This summer I heard it everywhere from Mankato to Malmo, Sweden. Roller disco (and excellent dancing from Soul Train, watch the video) for the win!