Annotated Character Playlists
When I began writing The Bright Sessions, I created playlists for each of the characters. They were one of the tools I used to develop each character and, once I had my cast of actors, I shared these playlists with them. Each playlist is a combination of a few things: music that I think the character would listen to, music that fits the overall aesthetic of the character, and music that lyrically fits into the character's emotional life. Below, you'll find some of my thoughts and reasonings on certain songs and the overall structure and inspiration for each playlist.
Keystone Songs*: each playlist has a song that was the linchpin for the whole playlist - either a song upon which the entire mix was built, the final piece of the puzzle that brought the whole thing together, or a song that relates particularly strongly with a character. These songs will be marked with an asterisk (*).
Selected lyrics: words in italics indicate lyrics from that song that I find particularly relevant.
Dr. Joan Bright
Dr. Bright was an extremely tricky character to make a playlist for - this playlist took me the longest to craft out of the initial four. I knew she liked oldies, so The Beach Boys and The Beatles had to be on there but choosing the songs from those incredible catalogues was hard enough. All in all, this playlist leans heavily on the "music the character would listen to" side of things, though there are certain insights into her character scattered throughout.
1. "Wouldn't it Be Nice" - The Beach Boys
- I think of this as an "early life" song. Joan and Mark would lie on their living room carpet and play "Pet Sounds" over and over and over. Happy memories.
2. "For No One" - The Beatles
- This is definitely a "present life" song - this is indicative of how Joan feels when we meet her at the start of the podcast. The lyrics always make me deeply sad - they have a sort of optimistic loneliness to them that seemed fitting.
3. "Vienna" - Billy Joel
- but don't you know that only fools are satisfied
4. "All I Can See" - Brendan James
- One of Dr. Bright's defining characteristics is her hunger for knowledge and her curiosity about the world. This song represents the softer side of that hunger.
5. "Harbor" - Vienna Teng*
- Both this and the following song are Joan's protective instincts: the parent role she took on for Mark and the deep love and protectiveness she still feels for him, even though they are now both adults.
- I also think Vienna Teng is an artist that Joan would really enjoy.
6. "Can't Go Back Now" - The Weepies
- in the end the only steps that matter are the ones you take for yourself
7. "Fields of Gold" - Sting
- This is the one song that Joan loves because her parents loved it.
8. "Cradle and All" - Audra McDonald
- Definitely a song that connects to the larger arc in Joan's story, rather than a song that she would listen to.
9. "MLK" - U2
- Joan loves U2.
- I actually wanted to put The King's Singers version of this song on here, because I personally like it better, but Joan is not an a cappella person. Again, she loves U2.
When I started building this playlist, I was trying to accomplish an aesthetic. I wanted to find songs with sad lyrics because, at the start, Sam is in a very low place, but I didn't want the songs to sound too sad. I wasn't looking for the ballads that make you cry the moment you hear those opening chords (hi, Adele) but instead for the songs that you play on those snowy, dark days when you curl up by your window and look out at the world. Melancholy. That somewhat undefinable feeling of melancholy was my aim.
It should be noted that Sam is the character I voice and we have a great many similarities. As such, this playlist is more specific to my own personal tastes than any other.
1. "No One's Gonna Love You" - Band of Horses
- The tone of this song is so interesting to me - it has an upbeat tempo and...sort of sweet lyrics? It is about loving someone very deeply but starts with the lyric, it's looking like a limb torn off, so it isn't exactly an "up" kind of song.
2. "Say it To Me Now" - Glen Hansard
- I'll be honest with you guys: "Once" is one of my favorite movies of all-time, so it's a miracle there are only two songs total from it on these mixes. Glen Hansard has such a raw, gorgeous voice that I think speaks to the emotions that Sam so rarely lets herself feel.
3. "Everything'll Be Alright" - Joshua Radin
- This one's a bruiser. It's an optimistic lullaby but, gosh, Joshua Radin just always sounds so sad. This to me feels like someone plastering on a smile and telling themselves it's going to be okay, though they barely believe it.
4. "The Water" - Feist
5. "Lost Boy" - Ruth B.
- This is a song that has now become really famous, which is great for Ruth B., who deserves success. But I apologize if you're sick of hearing it, because it's a lovely song about lost childhood that I think fits Sam perfectly.
6. "To Build a Home" - The Cinematic Orchestra*
- Whoops, this playlist has three keystone songs. That doesn't usually happen, but they are all so perfect in very specific ways.
- This is maybe one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I've ever heard. One of my best friends from college, Jarrett, introduced it to me and I had a very visceral reaction when he first played it for me. There's something about it that gets into your gut and shakes things up. I've since payed it forward and introduced it to others, and everyone has the same reaction: they feel something very strongly. Sadness, hope, melancholy, something unnameable, maybe, but something. Those chords just grab onto your heart and squeeze.
- This is also a song about home. After I had built the whole playlist, I realized that aiming for a theme of melancholy had let me to an additional through-line - there are many songs on here about home and belonging, things which Sam desperately seeks.
7. "Kid" - Amos Lee*
- Don't know how you keep on getting up/from all those ghostly blow
- Amos Lee is a beautiful male siren and this song just- ugh, it makes me think of a kid sitting on a curb with scraped knees and Amos Lee sitting down next to them and patting them on the back and helping them be strong. Sam doesn't have Amos Lee knocking her chin and telling her everything is going to be fine, and so this song makes me very sad.
- I could honestly write out all the lyrics here, because they are relevant.
8. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" - Julie London*
- This is a very common jazz standard about which I have a potentially very controversial opinion: almost everyone does it wrong. I get that it's supposed to be a somewhat upbeat song about always loving someone but letting them go all the same. The original version included the line "our romance won't end on a sorrowful note" - I know that it probably wasn't intended to be a very sad song but, Mr. and Mr. Gershwin, I respectfully disagree.
- Once I heard Julie London's version, which evokes a final dance under the moonlight before your love is ripped from you, I couldn't think of this song as the cheerful goodbye it once seemed. It became about losing someone and having only the memory of them to cling to.
9. "Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy" - The King's Singers
- This album was a staple of my own childhood and I think I ended up imposing that on Sam. Even if you don't like a cappella music, this album is really worth listening to. It also has the above mentioned version of "MLK".
- I nearly put "Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father" on here, but it seemed too obvious. This song fits better with Sam's attitude of, "well, life is terrible and there's nothing I can do about it".
The key to Caleb's playlist was finding songs that expressed emotion in a simultaneously obvious and elegant way. Caleb is articulate and thoughtful, but he's also sorting through a lot of blunt emotion (especially at the beginning of his story) and this creates a lot of noise. As a result, there are a lot of loud guys with loud guitars on this mix. But when you listen closely, there's some very nuanced emotion going on underneath. This playlist is also an example of one of my favorite playlist types - the rise and fall. The very opening song is literally asking for calm, but instead begins the build that occurs over the next few songs, before reaching a height at track 6. There's a quick drop after this and the rest of the playlist simmers in a bittersweet, and then momentarily angry, place.
1. "Be Calm" - fun.
2. "Love Sucks" - Nathan Angelo
- This is an upbeat song about a really bummer feeling - I love that juxtaposition. Also, this is just a young, fun song.
3. "Like High School" - Matt Duke
- There are two Matt Duke songs on here because Duke is an artist that expertly combines the cerebral with the emotional. His lyrics are well-crafted and clever, but he sings with strong, blunt emotion at times.
4. "Bigger Than My Body" - John Mayer
- This is the quintessential high school song - that idea of feeling invincible, of feeling your whole life is waiting for you to conquer it.
- I'm bigger than my body/gives me credit for - this is such a Caleb lyric to me, trying to contain everything you are and everything you feel in your dumb human body.
5. "I've Got Atrophy on My Brain" - Matt Duke
6. "Stay Where I Can See You" - The Starting Line
- I recognize that a lot of my "high school" music is stuff that was out when I was in high school and that maybe that isn't realistic for a teen in 2016. But I just couldn't leave this playlist without at least some pop punk, especially The Starting Line, my favorite band when I was a teen.
- When you go away I get so low - I think this is how Caleb must feel when he's alone, no longer feeling anyone's emotions. That's not an element we've really explored yet, but I imagine that being alone often feels very hollow to him.
7. "Broken Heart" - Motion City Soundtrack
8. "Your Heart is an Empty Room" - Death Cab for Cutie*
- Your heart is an empty room/with walls of the deepest blue - I didn't realize how significant the blue + yellow = green metaphor would become among our listeners. It is one of the many things that has surprised and delighted me and it makes this song choice that much more meaningful.
- This is when the playlist begins to come back down and it speaks to that aforementioned hollow feeling. This is a song without a strictly defined emotional center, which is something I love about it.
9. "Comes and Goes (in Waves)" - Greg Laswell
- The title tells you pretty much everything you need to know about why I chose this song.
10. "Leave" - Glen Hansard
- Talk about visceral emotion - no one does it better than Hansard. His voice in this song tears a hole through me.
11. "Gravity" - John Mayer
- This is about an unseen force weighing you down. Pretty self-explanatory why that works for Caleb, I think.
- It's also just a really good song off of a really good album.
If Sam's playlist is being bundled up on your windowsill, looking out at the snowy world, feeling lonely and cold, Chloe's is waking up early in the morning when it's raining, making yourself a cup of tea, and sleepily watching the rain fall on the flowers in your garden. Then the clouds part and the sun comes out and you go out into the world and marvel at her beauty. The playlist moves like that - starting somewhat sleepy and quiet, then moving into something delicate and bright. This is music that feels like Chloe - like her very essence - and also music that I think she would listen to as she sits at her pottery wheel.
1. "Perth" - Bon Iver
- Bon Iver is all over these playlists - there's something so soft and evocative about his music that I think works for our more quietly sensitive characters (versus Caleb, a blustery sensitive character).
2. "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" - The Cary Brothers
3. "Skinny Love" - Bon Iver
4. "Say Hello" - Rose Thomas
- This is such a sweet song that really paints a picture for the listener. Chloe moves through her life like this - noticing people at train stations, wanting to talk to them, but instead settling for listening in on their thoughts.
- The male voice in this song is Sufjan Stevens, who sings the following song as well.
- I also just really love that little piece of talking at the end - it is almost aggressively friendly.
5. "Chicago" - Sufjan Stevens
- Stevens' music is lush and theatrical - there is a lot going on but all the pieces work together in harmony. That's how imagine Chloe's telepathy feels when it is functioning at its best.
6. "Breathe (2AM)" - Anna Nalick
- I know this song was horribly overplayed when it was on the radio but, c'mon, it's a great song.
7. "Gentleman" - Daniela Andrade
- There is nothing urgent about this song - it is simple observation, ambling contemplation. Chloe isn't a demanding indivual - she is content to sit and absorb and be part of the universe as it moves around her.
8. "Between Two Lungs" - Florence + the Machine
- Florence perfectly encaspulates the deeper, more combative nature of Chloe. Florence Welch is ethereal but powerful - this is one of her softer songs, but it speaks to the capacity for strength that lies within Chloe.
9. "On the Radio" - Regina Spektor
- These lyrics are all Chloe - a little quirky, but endlesslessly good-hearted and optimistic about love for all people.
- No, this is how it works/you peer inside yourself/you take the things you like/and try to love the things you took/and then you take that love you made/and you stick it into some/someone else's heart/pumping someone else's blood.
10. "No One Else" - Breanne Düren
11. "Sympathetic Vibrations" - The Paper Raincoat*
- I get so mesmerized/that I forget to breathe sometimes
- Everything about this song is how Chloe sees the world - glowing, exciting, full of possibilities. The very term "sympathetic vibrations" is perfect for how Chloe feels connected to everyone around her, telepathy or no.
For a long time, I wasn't even sure Damien would have a playlist. For the first half of the podcast, he is shrouded in mystery. He was a mystery even to me - I discovered Damien slowly, in pieces. Creating a playlist for him seemed too personal - too intimate - at first. And then I heard the cover of "One Way Or Another" and couldn't resist. The cover is classic Damien: knowingly but genuinely creepy, hollow and yet full of unidentified emotion. As a result, this mix began as a largely aesthetic one - about building a sense of dread in song.
1. "Hello" - Via Audio
- This song is cool and calm and just a little bit dark and therefore how I think Damien would want to be introduced.
2. "Back to Black" - Beyonce + Andre 3000
- There is something menacing about this cover (the original by Amy Winehouse) and the way that Beyonce sings is incredibly seductive. Seductive but just a little off-putting.
3. "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" - James Brown
- While gender plays a small role in some of these playlists (mostly the split of female vs. male artists on some mixes) Damien's is the only one that is overtly gender specific. This wasn't exactly intentional - I picked songs about control and power and it just so happened that many of those songs deal directly with power dynamics between men and women.
4. "Daddy" - Emeli Sandé ft. Naughty Boy
- This is another one of those gender-specific songs: the classic story of the woman not being able to resist the seductive bad boy. Damien is not this boy, but he certainly aspires to be.
- I first heard this song in the summer of 2012 when I finally watched the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I know, I know, but for some reason I devoured the rest of Whedon's catalogue first and ended with Buffy). It quickly became a song that I associated with Spike and Buffy. And while Damien certainly has no Buffy, as a character, he is heavily influenced by Spike.
5. "Feed the Hunger" - Peter Cincotti
- the more you talk/the less I hear
- This song, like much of Peter Cincotti's catalogue, has an old-school swagger to it. The lyrics are overly confident, demanding, and unapologetic.
6. "Leigh" - Nathan Angelo
- misery loves company/misery wants a family
- When I first chose this song, I was attracted to its message of control - of this person who comes into your life and sucks everything out of it. While that still applies, I'm now fixated on the above lyrics - of that slight twist of a well known saying.
7. "Blue Jay Way" - The Beatles
- This is the only Beatles' song that genuinely frightens me. I don't know why, but it seriously gets under my skin. That's all.
8. "One Way or Another" - Until The Ribbon Breaks*
- I don't know what to say about this song because, to me, it just fits so perfectly with Damien that it needs no explanation.
Adam's playlist didn't get made until long after the character was first introduced. This is unusual - I like to give the actors their playlists before they start recording. But for Adam, Mark, and Frank, we had already learned so much about their characters before we even heard their voices. And with Adam, we had the added benefit of hearing the playlist that he made for Caleb, which is much more telling in some ways. However, one song has been on the playlist since the very beginning - before the in-universe mix, before Alex was cast, maybe before the first episode was even released. That song was "Drowning" by Jay Brannan.
On that note, this playlist does come with a warning. I don't usually put warnings in front of anything in The Bright Sessions world because we deal with such a range of mental health issues, that any warnings would be as long as our episodes. But this mix has some pretty powerful lyrics written by artists with severe depression: both "Roman Candle" and "Drowning" deal directly with depression and self-harm. "Death Came and Got Me", as its name suggests, is not an "up" kind of song. So be aware if that's something you are sensitive to.
A second note - this playlist should be listened to with headphones. It is better that way. Trust me.
1. "Sugar in a Pie" - Erin McKweon
- I first heard this song at the Welcome to Night Vale live show and it just reminded me of Adam for some reason. It is one of the cheerier songs on this mix and feeds into the cyclical nature of the playlist: it starts on an up note and sinks steadily down until "Blood Bank", when it starts its crawl back up.
2. "Pink Moon" - Nick Drake
- It wasn't my intention to have two songs back-to-back that were written by artists who committed suicide (Drake and Smith) but here we are (this is not a suggestion that Adam is suicidal - simply that he relates to music written by depressed artists).
3. "Roman Candle" - Elliott Smith
- It's the guitar in this that really gets me. The album Roman Candle was recorded on an four-track in his basement and you can feel it; you can hear every time his fingers slide against those metal guitar strings and it is so visceral and powerful and painful and wonderful. (don't forget: wear headphones)
- I'm a roman candle/my head is full of flames
4. "Death Came and Got Me" - Rosie Thomas
5. "Drowning" - Jay Brannan*
- I wish the ocean was warm/I feel like drowning
6. "Blood Bank" - Bon Iver
- Like so much of Bon Iver's music, this song feels cold and sleepy to me in the best of ways. Well I met you at the blood bank/we were looking at the bags/wondering if any of the colors/matched any of the names we knew on the tags is a lyric that evokes such strong imagery in my head. I see someone, bleary-eyed and tired, seeing someone else that makes them wake up a bit.
7. "Signs" - Bloc Party
- Another sleepy/cold song in my mind. I guess that's Adam's aesthetic. (temperature cold, not emotionally cold). This song is also deeply heart-wrenching.
8. "Grow Till Tall" - Jonsi
- This song is the light streaming in through the window in the morning, thawing everything out. It is careful, fragile hope. It starts so slowly and builds to such an incredible crescendo - the opening of the curtains, letting the sunlight pour in. I get goosebumps at minute 3:40. Every time.
- Incidentally, like Jay Brannan and Erin McKweon, Jonsi is another openly queer artist. Though that was coincidence, I do think Adam would consciously seek out LGBTQ artists.
- Science fact: Jonsi has one of the most beautiful voices you will ever hear. He has the voice of an angel alien. As with Tilda Swinton and David Bowie, Jonsi is not of this world.
- This is why you wear the headphones.
Like his sister, Mark proved a difficult character to make a playlist for. By the time I made it, we'd already heard a good deal about him and met him briefly (this mix was made on the hiatus between Episode 24 and 25). But the Mark we'd met was also an incredibly traumatized and strung-out version of the man. I wanted the playlist to reflect who Mark is when he hasn't been held in captivity for four years: fun-loving, confident, and an all-around good time. Like Damien's playlist, this one has swagger, but instead of the faux-tough-guy feel of Damien, this is pure, true confidence that is not determined by the opinion of others.
1. "There's Always Someone Cooler Than You" - Ben Folds
- I can just see Mark at 17 discovering this song and thinking to himself, "fuck yeah, who cares what people think, I'm awesome and no one can tell me otherwise".
2. "You Don't Have to Believe Me" - Eric Hutchinson
- This follows in the same vein as the Folds' song but this time the confidence is aimed at someone else. It's someone who is already very comfortable in their own skin trying to encourage someone else to feel the same.
3. "Let's Dance to Joy Division" - The Wombats
- I think Joy Division is a band that Joan would have really enjoyed in her youth - I imagine Mark visiting Joan in grad school and playing her this song. He'd be trying to get her to jump around with him and she'd be telling him they should just listen to some actual Joy Division.
4. "Keep the Car Running" - Union of Sound*
- there's a fear I keep so deep/knew it's name before I could speak
- This song is originally by Arcade Fire (a band I really enjoy) but I like this version better. It may be because I heard it first or because Union of Sound really simplifies the orchestration. Either way, this is the perfect road trip song. Not just because of the lyrics or the driving guitars, but because the whole thing sounds like rolling down the window to feel the cool night air, like gas stations late at night, like having a piece of pie at a diner at 1am; like breaking free.
- I probably associate this song so strongly with driving because I first heard it on a mix my sister and brother-in-law made for me when I drove cross country. If you ever want to make your little sister cry her way through New Jersey, make her a really good road-trip/moving away mix.
5. "Something Good Can Work" - Two Door Cinema Club
- I chose this song entirely because it's fun and fluffy and good to dance to. You may have noticed that a lot of Marks' mix is good for dancing - he's the type of guy that's gonna blast music at 9pm on a Tuesday and have a full on dance party by himself in his kitchen.
- Then my sister texted me saying, "oh my god, this is the perfect Sam/Mark song and I can totally picture Mark singing it for her at karaoke" and now that's an adorable image that I can't get out of my head.
6. "A-Punk" - Vampire Weekend
7. "Boyfriend" - Best Coast
- Mark is romantic. Mark is that guy who would pine just for the fun of it. I think he's out-grown that stage, but there have definitely been many wistful looks in this dude's life.
8. "Hang With Me" - Robyn
- Mark is a huge Robyn fan. This is definitely how he approached relationships in his early twenties: "you're cool, I'm cool, let's hang and have a good time and see where this goes and not worry about stuff too much. let's keep it chill"
- and if you do me right/I'm gonna do right by you - everything is equitable in Mark's life.
- I was slightly tempted to put "Time Machine" on here instead.
9. "I'd Rather Dance With You" - Kings of Convenience
10. "Praise You" - Fatboy Slim*
- This is honestly one of the Great Songs of the 20th century. It is incredibly simple but expertly executed and I'm not sure it will ever get old. So much electronic music from the late 90s feels like it's from the late 90s but there's something timeless about this song. It is a keystone song for no other reason that it inexplicably reminds me of Mark.
- If we had a ton of money to spend on music licensing, I would want to play this song at some point in the series. It feels like a finale song - everyone together, having overcome adversity, finally taking a breath; as the camera zooms out on them beginning to smile, laugh, heal, "Praise You" starts playing.
SAM & MARK
This mix was made long before Mark's individual mix and well before we ever even heard about Sam's first encounter with him. But I knew where I wanted their story to go and I knew I wanted it to feel like an old-school Jane Austen they-can't-touch-only-stare-longingly-at-each-other kind of romance. We ended up with something a little different from that - creating that sort of tension in audio alone when you can't have the two people in question in the same room is nearly impossible. But this mix reflects that old-fashioned, aching, pining feeling. It is also very specifically structured - perhaps the most structured playlist I've ever made. And gosh, am I proud of it.
Here are the structural things to keep in mind:
- The first half is Sam, the second half is Mark and they meet in the middle. Literally. I chose all female artists for Sam's half and all male for Mark's half, with duets in between. This is about as heteronormative as things get in The Bright Sessions.
- Things also move forwards and then backwards in time. Not necessarily literally - "What'll I Do" is a newer recording of an old song, "Arms" is more recent than "Much Farther to Go", but overall the aesthetic moves from old-fashioned sounding music up to the duets, both of which are modern, and back down to jazz standards. The whole thing is bookended by musical theater.
1. "The Beauty Is" - The Light in the Piazza
- This is Sam seeing Mark for the first time, that flash of recognition - both of someone else who is out of time but also something deeper; some kindred spirt connection.
- this is holding breath and keeping fingers crossed/this is counting blessings/this is wondering when/I'll see that boy again
2. "What'll I Do" - Alison Krauss
- Yep, this is pretty literal.
3. "Let's Face the Music and Dance" - Ella Fitzgerald
- Also quite literal.
4. "Arms" - Christina Perri
5. "Much Farther to Go" - Rosie Thomas
- Thomas knows how to pull heartstrings better than most - this song has that same sad, snowy, sleepy quality that I described in Sam's playlist. It is a reflection on home, belonging, and love and has one of the most devastating endings ever. I don't know why, but it gets me in the gut every time.
- I have much farther to go/everything is new and so unpredictable/I should just kick my heels together and go home/but I'm not sure where that is anymore
- sometimes I cry when it's late at night/and you're not there to lay next to me/morning breaks and the sun warms my face/how I wish it was you warming me - I mean, just kill me already. I can so easily picture Sam going to sleep after visiting Mark and having a dream that she's still there with him. And then the sun wakes her up and she thinks it's Mark opening the curtains but it's not, she just forgot to close them the night before and great, now I'm crying.
6. "You and Me" - You + Me
- Here's an album that somehow flew completely under the radar despite being a collaboration between Pink and Austin Green of City & Colour. This song is romantic and sad and everything to me.
- and they say everything it happens for a reason/you can be flawed enough but perfect for a person
7. "Eavesdrop" - The Civil Wars
- It occurs to me that both the duets are by male-female duos who are not romantically involved. While this wasn't deliberate, I think it fits. Sam and Mark are more than potential romantic partners; they are both people ripped out of their lives, ripped out of time, who are trying to find a way to make a life out of the shape that remains. There are ways to deeply connect and fit perfectly with someone that extend beyond the romantic.
8. "Time" - Ben Folds
- Maybe a little on-the-nose to have a song called "Time" but Mark likes Ben Folds.
- This is incidentally where Sam gets the title of her blog. In the context of Mark however, that same phrase - time takes time you know - seems almost mocking.
9. "Last Request" - Paolo Nutini
- Ugh, Paolo. Paolo, Paolo, Paolo. Why do you do this to me? So heartbreaking and also very sexy. This one feels particularly tragic when you remember that they can't touch.
10. "You and I" - Michael Buble
- This is classic Mark - ever the optimist, trying to see the glass half full. "You might not be here forever but you've given me strength and I'm grateful"
- here we are/on earth together/it's you and I - for Sam and Mark, they really did feel like the only people in the world, a feeling that would have been lovely and lonely in turns.
- well in my mind/we can conquer the world
11. "Run Away With Me" - Michael Arden
- Let me tell you guys a little story: some night last December, I was up late trying to get some writing done for season two. And, in classic 1AM procrastination style, I somehow ended up watching random YouTube videos. It began with watching a new music video and then some old music videos and before I knew it I was watching "Glee" videos. This somehow led me to watching a video of Grant Gustin singing this song at an open mic in his pre-"Glee" days.
- Full disclosure: I have a big ol' crush on Grant Gustin. He's adorable, he sings, he cries a lot in "The Flash", he's the perfect man. And Mark is sort of an adjacent type - the guy that everyone likes.
- So I'm watching this video, having never heard this song before, thinking about the Sam episode I'm writing. And then it starts and I'm like, "hey, this is cute, I could totally see this being- wait, did he just say Sam?" For a moment I genuinely thought I was having a middle-of-the-night-writer's-block induced hallucination. It was too perfect. I had already started this playlist and knew I wanted one more musical theatre song and low and behold. I still don't quite believe it and I'm pretty sure that weird moment of kismet is the only reason season two got finished on time.
- That's all.
This playlist came together surprisingly quickly. I knew I wanted a lot of music from the 60s and 70s - not because Frank is a veteran of the Vietnam War like a lot of people assumed initially, but because of the fractured and psychedelic nature of a lot of the music from that time period. In both musical structure and lyrical content, many of these songs (especially in the first half of the mix) are at odds with themselves: there are sharp changes in tone, the lyrics don't match the mood of the song, etc.
I know I said that the Sam/Mark playlist is the most structured, but this is a close second. There's a sense of confusion that builds all the way up until "Helter Skelter", when the music reaches its height. That song has a very quick fade-out before coming back in with those angry guitars and horns - just when you think you have escaped the noise, it comes back for you. This is the moment when things go very badly for Frank in Iraq. The following track, "Hero's Song", is the one moment of clarity he has before the sedated, cotton-wrapped sadness of returning to civilian life.
1. "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" - Blue Öyster Cult
- I think this was Frank's dad's favorite song. He felt like he was invincible and strong and raised his son to feel the same.
2. "Shiny Happy People" - R.E.M.
- I don't know why, but this song has always felt mocking to me. Apparently, it's a song that R.E.M. really dislikes, and I think that shines through - there is something very insincere about it. It feels like pulling a smiling mask over your frown and trying to pass it off as your real face.
3. "All Along the Watchtower" - Jimi Hendrix
- Hendrix was a favorite of Frank's growing up and I think he gained new levels of appreciation for this song after going to war.
- there's too much confusion/I can't get no relief
- Like so many Bob Dylan songs, this piece is best when performed by someone other than Dylan. Brilliant songwriter he may be, Bob Dylan is not a great singer and I prefer the covers of almost all of his songs. There's also a great cover of this track by Bear McCreary for the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
4. "Helter Skelter" - The Beatles*
- The last minute of this is what the inside of Frank's head feels like sometimes.
5. "Hero's Song" - Brendan James*
- This is probably the most on-the-nose choice out of all the playlists - it is written specifically about soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a lot of songs written about soldiers but I don't know many written from the perspective of someone fighting - of someone who is waking to the reality of their situation and is horrified by what they see.
- a compass and a weapon/a lost American
- smoke and explosions surround me/a flood of hate it drowns me/I cannot live this way/no, I cannot live with this/doubt and confusion/they find me/they run up right behind me/I cannot die this way
6. "Colorblind" - The Counting Crows
- This song is so stripped down, both in its composition and in the feeling it inspires - that feeling of being hollowed out. Duritz sings pull me out from inside/I am ready/I am fine - three phrases that seem completely at odds with one another and completely unconvincing.
- There is also the word "colorblind" to consider - Frank's artistic center is shaken by his time in combat and he sees no color and too much color all at once, which shakes him even further.
7. "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" - Joni Mitchell
- Enter Chloe Turner. I think Joni is played a lot at the Turner household and this song is Chloe reaching out to Frank. He sees her as this bright, beautiful presence who shows him kindness with no strings attached. But Frank is unaccustomed to that - while he looks at her and sees light, there is also a part of him shouting that there must be something menacing, that danger is everywhere: that going down that dark ladder will not lead to him finally having his feet on solid ground, but will lead him deeper into despair.
- "come with me/I know the way", she's says, "it's down, down, down the dark ladder/do you want to contact somebody first/leave someone a letter/you can come now/or you can come later" (yes, I know this song is about heroin, but I'm choosing to interpret it more optimistically)
8. "Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman
- This is another one of those Great American Songs of the 20th Century tracks - I could listen to it on loop forever and never get tired of it. Chapman's voice is so unique and beautiful and emotes so much. One of the things I love about this song is how seemingly unglamorous it is - unlike so many songs about running away with someone, it isn't imagining a world in which all your problems are solved and you have everything you want. It just imagines a place that is better than your last. Both Frank and Chloe are trying to cope with the hands they've been dealt and they recognize something in each other that could help them both belong.
- maybe together we can get somewhere/anyplace is better
- you gotta make a decision/leave tonight or live and die this way
9. "Arlington" - The Wailin' Jennys
- This is Frank starting to see clearly for the first time in a long time. The rubble and chaos of his mind is beginning to settle and he is starting to figure out who he is again.
- is there something in the wind/breathes a chill in your heart and life in your wings/does it whisper 'start again'/start again
Wadsworth's playlist, aka. boss bitch playlist, aka. Wadsworth will fuck you up and smile about it. This playlist came together in an afternoon because I knew exactly what I was looking for. I wanted mostly female artists, harsh guitar, heavily electronic. The one song that fits that description perfectly but didn't make it onto this playlist is "Heavy Metal Lover" by Lady Gaga. A really great tune that I just couldn't find the right place for. This mix has two keystone songs - one around which I built the playlist and one that was the final piece of the puzzle.
1. "Scavenger" - School of Seven Bells
- This song is incredibly catchy but feels strangely cold and emotionless to me - a perfect introduction to the character.
- I know what you are/you're a fake/you're a scavenger/too scared to take part/you only take/'cause you're a coward
2. "In for the Kill" - La Roux
- La Roux is one of the best female power pop acts out there in my opinion. One of the things I love about her is that she sings in this high, feminine way, but her persona is much more androgynous - I like the way that she plays with gender. Also, her orchestrations feel sharp-edged, which contrasts so well with her often delicate voice.
3. "Heavy Cross" - Gossip
- Wadsworth wants so badly for Joan to follow her more coldly scientific instincts. Wadsworth knows that, with Dr. Bright at her side, she could accomplish great things in her field. She often gives Dr. Bright the illusion of choice while manipulating her into making the choice that works in Wadsworth's favor.
- We can play it safe or play it cool/Follow the leader or make up all the rules/Whatever you want, the choice is yours/So choose
4. "Don't Hurt Yourself" - Beyonce ft. Jack White
- There's a lot of somewhat vengeful, bitter tracks on this playlist. Beyonce's Lemonade has some of the best "fuck you" songs I've ever heard - the best thing about so many of them is how Beyonce expresses hurt feelings while still maintaining all of the power and control. Wadsworth may have been hurt by Joan leaving, but goddamn, she is still in control.
5. "Hard" - Rihanna ft. Young Jeezy
- Wadsworth is tough shit. The kind of coolness and power that Damien gracelessly tries to achieve comes naturally to Wadsworth. She is comfortable in her own skin and confident to the point of arrogance. I remember seeing the music video for this song back when it came out and loving the way Rihanna strutted around commanding a line of soldiers. That imagery came back into my head when I was building Wadsworth.
- They can say whatever, I'ma do whatever/No pain is forever, yup, you know this/Tougher than a lion, ain't no need in tryin'/I live where the sky ends, yup, you know this
- Not to get too in the weeds about lyric structure in a Rihanna song, but I love that Rihanna sings I'm so hard and the men echo with So hard and Too hard. I don't know if Rihanna was trying to send a message with that, but my mind leaps to men interpreting female toughness as "too much". I imagine Wadsworth has heard similar whispers from her male subordinates who think she's "bossy" or "a bitch".
- (sidenote: Go hard or go home/back to your residence might be one of the dumbest rap verse opening lines ever and I love it very much)
6. "Le Disko" - Shiny Toy Guns
- This is just a really good strut song. Wadsworth struts.
7. "Backstabber" - Ke$ha
- Okay, hear me out: I think Ke$ha is greatly underappreciated. Her music is playful and fun and, like many other people, I am so infruriated with what she's been put through both personally and professionally. If you haven't explored her music, I highly suggest it.
- This is pure pettiness and I love it.
8. "Don't Ask Me" - OK Go
- Another great petty song. This playlist moves somewhat linearly through Wadsworth and Bright's relationship and this is definitely the period when Wadsworth is pissed off and snarky. The thing I love about this song is the veneer of a polite smile over it - of spitting vitriol through your grin.
9. "What She Came For" - Franz Ferdinand
- Thematically, "Maneater" by Hall & Oates would have also worked here. Or "Shark in the Water" by V V Brown. But musically, Franz Ferdinand is all Wadsworth and this song has that same message of "watch out for this woman, she's going to destroy you and look good while doing it".
10. "Crushcrushcrush" - Paramore
- These next two songs are probably the only songs that represents Wadsworth having some very genuine hurt feelings. Most of the playlist is biting and angry and in control. This is Wadsworth taking a moment after the initial rage to actually realize how broken things are - how irreparable the damage is.
11. "Cold War" - Janelle Monae*
- This was the first keystone song and is Wadsworth's signature song. Janelle Monae is powerful and alluring in equal measures, and I knew I wanted her music to be associated with Wadsworth. "Cold War" was the obvious choice - the moment of doubt and sadness in Wadsworth's otherwise self-assured life.
12. "Rain on Your Parade" - Duffy*
- That doubt doesn't last for long - Wadsworth shakes it off and gets her control back.
- I wish you well, I hope you survive/I hope you live, oh baby, so I can watch you cry/'Cause I know in time you'll see what you did to me/And you'll come running back
- "Cold War", while an extremely well-written and powerful song, did not have the finishing flourish that I was looking for. As a song, it slowly shows itself out. While this is often a good quality in a final song, I knew Wadsworth had to go out with a bang. And I knew, I just knew, that there was a song perfect to follow Monae. I couldn't figure out what it was - I knew it had to straddle the same electronic/rock/soul lines that Monae walks with such perfection. Thankfully, I went through a period where I painstakingly curated the genres on my iTunes. A quick search of "soul" brought up "soul pop" and "soul rock" and in those genres: Duffy. And thus, I found my second keystone song.