It’s no surprise that I am a huge music fan. In high school I used to sneak off campus to spend my lunch money on 7″ singles at the local record store, and my Sundays were kept absolutely sacred so that I could listen to all three hours of American Top 40 from beginning to end. I had a huge stack of notebooks in which I carefully kept track of each song in the top 40, its position in the previous week’s chart, and how far it had climbed or fallen that week.
That was around the time I began making mix tapes for friends. I just loved music so much and loved the opportunity to share the songs I loved on a cassette tape that I had meticulously curated just for a friend or crush.
When I finally came out (to myself and slowly to the rest of the world) my new found ability to have crushes (on CUTE GUYS OMG!!!) added depth (read: angst and the broiling heat of despair) to the process of making these cassettes. I would spend hours in front of my tape deck, turntable, and CD player chain smoking, drinking coffee, and creating the perfect mix tape to express my unfaltering love and devotion to the object of my obsession. God, I wish I could revisit some of those long lost playlists.
As cassette tapes became less and less popular, my love for making mix tapes faded away as well. It was sad, but eventually, nobody had tape players anymore, and burning CDs just didn’t have the same charm. I tried. I really did, but I just couldn’t fall in love with making CDs. Now they are passé as well, anyway.
Last Summer when I was on tour, I spent a lot of my road tripping energy on discovering new music, and putting together the perfect driving playlist (here’s last summer’s list on Apple Music and Spotify if you want to check it out) and realized that my old tape making obsession could be engaged through this practice, because Spotify, Apple Music, and the like make it so easy to share these playlists I created. After last summer’s playlist, I kept going on making them for each season and it has become a really great practice to document the music I was listening to during each season.
I entered the Summer of 2018 with a brand new relationship. A romantic one. The first dating thing I have been open to for literally 20 years — my last long term relationship ended in 1998. So, because last summer was a particularly emotionally awake one for me, the playlist that resulted came out especially great. I figured this would be a good time to try to share these more widely, so here’s a groovy blog post to break down the list and talk about why some of these songs are here.
So, in lieu of the details about the resulting self-doubt, excitement, fear, cuddles, confusion, and more that come from being a middle aged gay guy who is suddenly allowing his heart to open to romance for the first time in two decades, Here’s a list of songs to tell part of the tale. Check it out below and if y’all like reading and listening to this, let me know!
SUMMER 2018 PLAYLIST
New York Morning – Lang Lang
My sweet roommate Anneliese turned me on to this sweeping cover of Elbow’s ode to NYC and its history. Perfect for walking around the city with earbuds on and pretending I’m in the music video. I love songs about New York.
Tear It Out My Heart – Walker Lukens
I met Walker a number of years ago when we were both invited to a friend’s getaway in the Catskills. I started following his music then and continue to be spellbound by his ability to evolve and grow with each new release. This tune is the perfect blend of his funky, gritty, soulful style. If you want to learn more about him, check out my podcast episodes 163 and 232. He was a great guest on both!
Just Friends – Chromeo
It’s a shame that I didn’t know about Chromeo before my friend Aaron introduced them to me at The New York State Fair this summer. We were working in the kitchen together at the Strong Hearts Cafe booth. Holy shit, that week needs its own blog post, so I’ll leave it at that!
Let Me Go (12″ Extended Version) – Heaven 17
This track was a staple at Number’s Nightclub, and even in the 80s my fragile little heart still wanted to dance. I had a massive crush on one of the DJs there and when he played this song it was my chance to express the well of my devotion to this guy I had never met. Seems I might still be holding on to a bit of this energy today. Great.
Detroit – Morgan Geist
No big story on this one. Apple Music suggested it to me over the summer, and I think it’s a really well produced song.
No Tears Left to Cry – Ariana Grande
Listen, opening one’s heart after keeping it walled off for a long-ass time is a scary, messy procedure. I needed a song to inspire me into battle with those nay-saying demons that wanted me to give it up this summer. My sweetheart suggested this one and he was just right.
Old School Hip – Mr. Hip
Fellow vegan artist, Mr. Hip released an EP this summer, and it’s brilliant. He’s got a full length coming out soon AND he was a guest on my podcast episode 241.
Love is the Message – MFSB
One of the things I loved about watching Pose on FX this summer with my sweet was shouting out the names of the songs that showed up in the series. I felt it was important AF for him to know the extent of my genius as a music historian. Sadly, I got this one wrong a few times. The bass line was giving me Malcolm McLaren’s “Deep in Vogue,” but I was way off. I hadn’t heard this song ever before, and I love it. So glad to have it on my radar. (I’m intentionally not mentioning how much I also loved holding hands on my beau’s couch while watching Pose because I’m trying not to overshare so much.)
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing – Stevie Wonder
Y’all. My brain likes to make up shit to worry about. Stevie helps.
Do Whatever the Heck You Want – Rae Spoon
Rae Spoon’s anthem to, well, doing whatever the heck you want is an absolute treasure. I’ve been a big fan of Rae since we shared a bill together at Dixon Place in NYC. Check them out on my podcast episode 205.
Royal Blue – You Drive
Another “I just really like this song and wanted to include it” song.
Pleasure Victim – Berlin
Sexy and kinda creepy love song. I like it. A classic.
A Question of Lust – Depeche Mode
Sometimes a song just starts rolling around in my head all day. This was one of those and, holy cow, what a classic tune.
Fade into You – Andrew Belle
I was REAAAAAAL suspicious of this cover of the Mazzy Star classic. It’s fantastic, though. I really love his take on this song.
Angela – William Fitzsimmons
Fitzsimmons’ music is the perfect accompaniment to those days when I am walking around thinking everything is ruined and I will never find love. This album came out just in time. Beautiful song.
Ghosts – Laura Marling
My dear friend Angy turned me on to this song when she included it on a birthday mix for me. Another “perfect timing” tune to discover in this season of heartfelt adventures and risks.
All My Days – Alexi Murdoch
Another one from Angy’s playlist. She and I made mix tapes for one another back in the 80s. Now we make playlists for each other! She still gets me.
Love Will Come To You – Indigo Girls
This song captures hope as well as it captures that feeling of being an outsider. “…to see that shiny toy I’d been hoping for/The one I never can afford.” That line hit me so hard one day as I was walking in the East Village I had sit down and cry it out. I don’t know whether the tears were hopeful or hopeless. Maybe it was both. The real cool thing though is the way people just walk on by when you’re losing your shit on the street in NYC. Am I a real New Yorker now?
Spell – Patti Smith
I’ve been thinking a bunch lately about life, beauty, and human realness. This song really makes that point for me. The idea that literally everything around us is sacred. Everything inside us too.
Life, Life – Ryuichi Sakamoto
From Sakamoto’s latest album. Even though I am a near lifelong fan of his work, this album didn’t really grab me until I saw the new documentary about him, Coda. I re-listened on the subway home with a new love for his work and what he is trying to do. Learning about his process and what inspires him was an tremendous gift that will change my own work I am sure. I love this guy. I love this track. It’s so perfect that the great David Sylvian appears here too. Magnificent track.
re:member – Ólafur Arnalds
Ólafur Arnalds’ music is a huge influence on what I have been doing for the last few years. I love the way this track from his newest album is infused with a pronounced sense of hope. His work has always walked the line precisely between darkness and light, but it’s cool to hear him lean a little more toward the light sometimes.
Zebra – Kiasmos & Högni
Okay, Ólafur is on this track too, he is half of Kiasmos. This is my favorite kind of dance music. It’s that light/dark thing again. With dancing.
Folds Like Origami – Kainalu
I’ve been on a bunch of OKCupid dates in my day, but something told me that there was something special about the handsome and tall guy I would be meeting on May 2nd. So, on May 1st, I texted my trusty barber that I needed an emergency appointment to prepare for said date. He agreed to see me after hours, and this track was playing in the shop that night. By the way, Mildred New York is the shop and you should be going there. Ask for Paul.
Kong – Neneh Cherry
A new album from Neneh Cherry. I don’t think there’s really anything else to say here.
Jaws of Love – Jaws of Love
My good ol’ friend Adrian turned me on to this song. A line I posted on Facebook from the above referenced Indigo Girls song inspired him to tell me about this. I think this blog post just imploded from referencing itself too many times.
A Little Work – Fergie
Another hopeful anthem suggested by my sweetheart in a late night text convo. Awwww. This is a good one.
Beautifully Broken – Plumb
My friend Michael of The Vegan Mos told me about this song and it is just right. Absolutely perfect reminder that I am not the only human being scrambling around trying to get it right. I really love this tune.
Horses in the Room – Everything But The Girl
In my opinion, this is EBTG at their best. A simple and heartfelt song about being fragile and frightened but letting one’s heart open up anyway. “Come in, come in, whoever you are, I will know you…”
TWTGA – Bing & Ruth
I don’t really have words for this piece of music. Absolutely gorgeous.
It’s Such a Good Feeling – Fred Rogers
The documentary about Mister Rogers was the talk of the summer, and for good reason. I saw it twice and hope to carry his spirit of loving folks for exactly who they are in each moment with me for the rest of my life. What a gift to us that guy was.