Bright Hip Hop Horns in a Garbage Heap

Despite how many times I’ve heard it, the opening 30 seconds of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing” are always unrecognizable. They roll in like the opening theme of a late 90s HBO sitcom. There’s that piano. The straight up macking as he rattles of countries and bad translations. And then, here’s Stevie, telling us to let it roll. Put it aside.

March 2018: Bright Hip Hop Horns in a Garbage Heap

  • “Hours (El-P Remix)” — TV On The Radio
  • “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” — Stevie Wonder
  • “Nameless, Faceless” — Courtney Barnett
  • “All for U” — RJD2
  • “R.E.D.” — A Tribe Called Red (f/Yasiin Bey, Narcy, Black Bear)
  • “Fly That Knot” — Talib Kweli (f/MF Doom)
  • “Cannonball” — The Breeders
  • “Bobby” — (Sandy) Alex G
  • “Aching Heart” — Jen Wood
  • “Coal Miner’s Daughter” — Loretta Lynn
  • “Sigur 1 (Untitled)” — Sigur Rós
  • “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” — The Anniversary
  • “Your Deep Rest” — The Hotelier
  • “Avantcore” — Busdriver
  • “A Self Called Nowhere” — They Might Be Giants
  • “Gold Dust Woman” — Fleetwood Mac
  • “Caravan” — Wes Montgomery

The confidence is overwhelming and infectious, and then it’s deep in my head for the rest of the day, or at least until I come across a television showing the news. Suddenly, some famous Motown guy telling me to stop worrying feels a little basic — as if Stevie’s dropping platitudes when instead he should be freaking the hell out.

With this kind of contradiction, I find escape difficult. Because we are deeply entrenched in some real garbage on a national level, the prospect of finding solace in old episodes of Top Chef or 70s-era concert bootlegs feels a bit … escapist. Not in the good way, but in the “burrowing your head and crying” way. We try to look away, though, but it’s there. It’s a kind of guilt, this balance: how much strife do we pull into our entertainment before we feel okay chilling out?

Sometimes, we just overcompensate. We understand that the escapism of whatever it is that you do to escape from things — make mixtape playlists, in my case — is necessary to keeping the anger swelling; to shift focus lest we burn out, our minds requiring a bit of blue sky every once in a while. So we allow our lives to be punctuated by bright hip hop horns and rolling bass. We get excited when someone like Courtney Barnett spits a rendition of a Margaret Atwood quote

I want to walk through the park in the dark
Men are scared that women will laugh at them
I want to walk through the park in the dark
Women are scared that men will kill them

…in a way that feels strong and powerful, like even though this song is fun and great it’s also throwing a few middle fingers up at the patriarchy.

Multitudes and all that, I guess. Creating a landscape in which only the good stuff comes through is not just boring: it’s harmful to our staying power. Yet despite that, pushing the sunshine away feels even more harmful. We see how treacherous a life ruled by evil zealots can be even with a little snack every once in a while, so why would we purposefully do away with the joy?

So we roll. We push through. We fill playlists full of songs that make us happy, and some that have been stuck in our head, and we hum the opening lines of something like “Cannonball,” and just like the song — equally energetic and incomprehensible — we greet the collection with confusion, wondering which parts are commentary and which parts are just there to keep your feet moving. And then we bury our head in the music and fight through another day.

This was lovingly handwritten on March 5th, 2018