The Year In Mixtape
I went to DC in January, one of the weeks it snowed. I hadn’t seen snow in a long time; I didn’t have the shoes for it. Before I left, I wrote a love letter to a man I knew I was losing. I wanted a breakup song. I sat in the gray airport and watched the gray seagulls on the gray sky and the ground and the treetops were all a kind of white that looked gray. I stayed at the airport for a long time even though I didn’t need to, because I had no one to visit and nowhere to go. I felt sad and I wanted to feel sad. I wallowed. I stayed in a hotel with three beds and two TVs, but it was just me, so I bought macaroni and cheese from the Whole Foods down the street and told the guy at the front desk of the hotel as I passed back through that I was going up to my room to eat salad. I wanted to lie to someone.
I was falling in love with someone new and he was different because he had all kinds of records I’d never heard of and he made huge pots of food and wore dresses to parties and drank more than I could drink and said he didn’t ever fall in love. I imagined that he made this song for me and the fantasy of it — it all felt like a very silly fantasy, if I was serious with myself — became an obsession I played for myself when I rode the bus.
March: Lady Lamb – “Spat Out Spit”
The boy from February bought me a pair of tickets to go to the Lady Lamb concert which would be a month later at a little venue on Freret that I’d been to once before for a magazine launch. The magazine launch had featured ice creams in dishes and a saxophonist dressed in gold sequins and lots of shy girls in perfectly starched dresses hanging on the back walls like fruit flies. I hadn’t liked the magazine launch, but for the concert I was optimistic. I listened to the record — it was mediocre — with intention. I wanted to know all the words so I could scream them at the stage.
April: SOAK – “B A Nobody”
There were a few very warm days in New Orleans in April. I watched the music video for this song and couldn’t believe that the singer looked like that — like a teenage boy from a 2002 Dashboard Confessional audience. The video is shot in black and white, and the girl, SOAK, carries a big helium balloon across a stark landscape. Because of the black-and-white, the balloon looks black, but I imagined that in real life it was red. In April I listened to this song under the oak trees on the bayou with my eyes closed and imagined kissing the girl, SOAK, on the lips. Then I thought she was probably too young for that to be legal, and what was wrong with me? I looked it up, though. She’s nineteen. It’s fine.
The boy from February had his birthday in May, and so did I. On both birthdays we listened to the Hop Along record on the tinny speakers in our phones. A few days earlier, I'd destroyed the portable speaker I'd wanted to hear this album on. I left it outside in a thunderstorm on a bird-watching camping trip. The storm rolled in at 3:30 a.m., and we woke up a full inch underwater in the tent, shin-deep outside, with nothing tall enough nearby to persuade us that we weren’t going to die.
Breakups last longer than you think they will, and new love keeps coming even after you have stopped giving it permission. June in New Orleans really does begin to get too hot. This was the song for all of that.
July: Janelle Monae – “Yoga”
July was my last month in New Orleans, and I wanted, maybe desperately, to enjoy everything. I forgot what it was to be sad. A girl in my summer camp advanced bookbinding class loved this song and some days I took her back to the air conditioned classroom during lunch and closed all the blinds and we turned this up loud and danced on the very expensive table. The table had been so expensive that I’d been told to cover it with a layer of cardboard, a layer of cloth, one of paper, one of plastic, and then one more cloth one so it wouldn’t look ugly. This was the month when it felt somewhat important to dance on something I was not supposed to dance on.
August: Miguel – “Coffee”
We moved to Chicago in August after traveling for a whole month. This was the month I started using the pronoun “we” for the first time in my life, and I started to feel comfortable with it, because we were sharing a rent, and a bed, and two cats, and all the food inside a refrigerator. This song, officially released in August, had made it onto two mix tapes the February boy made me, and now I was including him in a “we.” We went for tacos. We invited people over to play board games. We bought plane tickets home for the holidays.
September: Sports – “Saturday”
After I found Sports I couldn’t listen to anything else for the entire month. They were there for the change in the weather; they stretched out the shortening days. There were these trees on our street that turned the color of rubber raincoats. The trees looked absurd. I got off my bike once and stood under one of those weird trees and listened to this whole album, wondering if I’d seen trees like this before, or if it had been just been such a long time I had forgotten.
October: Andra Day – “Rise Up” and Bully – “Trying”
I felt stupid for being depressed in October, since everything had been going so well — the Art Institute had just the right smell, like salt and baking soda singed in a skillet; I’d found a job at the school paper; our neighborhood had two libraries and a grocery store and a place that only sold pie. But I got depressed anyway and spent days lying on my back in the bathroom because the ground is coldest there and I needed to be cold. I woke up crying and went to sleep crying and hated myself for it. I needed anthems. I wanted to fight.
November: Widowspeak – “All Yours”
I stopped wanting to go out; it was too dark. We got cats. I thought something would get in the way and the cats wouldn’t work out — we would be deemed unfit; the cats would all be taken the day we went to get cats; there would be no way to get the cats home; the cats would escape their carrier and poop on the bus. You have to anticipate that everything will go wrong when you want something badly enough. The cats pulled tea bags out of our cups of tea and put them in piles under the bed. They ate our headphones. I have never been more charmed by anything alive.
December: Julien Baker – “Go Home”
My sister came to visit. We decorated a Christmas tree and drank glasses of wine at the Green Mill and went with George to the Waste Shed to buy other people’s unwanted glass ornaments for a dollar. I wanted to hear the saddest music in the world; the season wanted it. I found this and put on the noise-canceling headphones and, walking across the interstate from the Field Museum (where I’d spent a day with the bodies of long-dead birds) into the city knit, I experienced what might be described — what ought to be described, because when else does one use these words together — as perfect euphoria.
For those who want the Spotify Playlist: