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.
For whatever reason, I knew Rose’s playlist was going to be all about blues rock and upbeat soul from the get-go. Before being afflicted with her ability-induced narcolepsy, Rose was the life of the party. She’s energetic, goofy, and outspoken. A lot of the music on this playlist is stuff she would have listened to growing up - bands that her brother introduced her to and eventually things she discovered through the Pandora playlists she’d put on when cooking. In her current life, I see her turning to this kind of music as a kind of pep talk - something to keep her energy up and keep her focused on being in the present moment. But, at the end of the day, I definitely think of this as Rose's go-to cooking playlist. No matter what she's cooking, she throws her favorite apron on, presses play, and gets down to business.
1. "Home" - Marc Broussard
- I clearly have a bit of an obsession with road trips because this is another great road trip tune. But for me this is about Rose’s love of Southern food. When she was a kid, she and her family took a camping trip in the southwest and Rose absolutely fell in love with that part of the country. Her aspirations are not to stay in the city she grew up in and work as a chef in a fancy restaurant - she wants to go to culinary school and then move to Austin or Santa Fe and open up some fun, crazy fusion restaurant where she can blast this kind of music, make chocolate-chili babka, and take breaks to have beers with her patrons.
- Okay, so that was a bit of a tangent, but this song has that hot-sun in the middle of the desert, pop open a cold one, carefree attitude that I think Rose dreams about embodying one day.
2. "Come Home" - Back Door Slam
- Back Door Slam is a band from the Isle of Man, which is pretty damn far from the Southern United States. I like how authentically American this band sounds, despite not having that experience - “be doin’ time in the county farm’ should not sound convincing from these Brits and yet, it does. As a Jewish girl from the Northern United States, and therefore not your typical Southern blues rock person, I think Rose would relate.
3. "Jackie & Wilson" - Hozier*
- Another non-American who has fully adopted this very American art form. Community is really important to Rose and one of the reasons she loves cooking - she can cook with people, connect with people through her food. While it isn't on her to-do list at the moment, Rose would eventually love to get married and have kids; open a restaurant that becomes a hang-out for her own family and many others.
- We’ll steal her Lexus, be detectives, ride around picking up clues/We’ll name our children Jackie and Wilson, raise them on rhythm and blues - there’s a fabulous sense of fun adventure in this song. Even though she grew up in an extraordinary family, Rose’s world is pretty small. She’d love to get out there with a girlfriend or wife and have silly adventures.
4. "Blowin' Smoke" - Kacey Musgraves
- While these lyrics revolve around “I can’t wait to get out of this one-horse town”, it’s pretty upbeat, which fits in with Rose’s romanticization of this kind of life - living in a small, middle of nowhere town and working hard hours at a restaurant. Rose is already doing the latter, though in a medium sized city, but she can’t wait to get out and move somewhere else. Definitely a “grass is greener” type of song.
5. "Valerie" - Amy Winehouse
- This song is just really great to dance around to and is honestly pretty gay. It just fit Rose. (I know this is technically a cover and not even a romantic song to begin with but it’s always felt pretty wlw to me)
6. "Carolina" - Sara Bareilles
- While this song fits musically with the first half of the playlist, it doesn’t have the carefree nature of many of those tracks - instead it turns back to the restlessness of “Home”. There’s an under-the-skin drive to this song that speaks to some of Rose’s impatience: I want to go back to work now, I want to go to school now, I want to tell the girl I like that I’m atypical now. Rose is a free spirit, but she also often wants to skip a bunch of steps.
- Trying to find the morning/Hell I'd settle for the other side/Don't bother counting up the days boy/Numbers gettin' bigger by the minute and I'm so tired
7. "The Blackest Lily" - Corinne Bailey Rae
- I have it in my mind that Rose saw the music video for “Closer” (off this same album) when she was a preteen and had one of those “oh…” moments. She’s had a crush on Corinne Bailey Rae ever since and has bought every one of her albums.
- This number has an amazing groove to it - something you can put on in the background without getting distracted from the recipe in front of you.
8. "Come to Mama" - Lady Gaga
- This was the last song to be added to this playlist - I had the whole thing for months but knew it needed something else. Then I realized that the missing piece was going to come off of Lady Gaga's most recent album. There are so many songs that would fit, but I love the triumphant feeling of this.
- Come to mama/tell me who hurt ya/there's gonna be no future/if we don't figure this out - I love how pragmatic the lyrics are. Rose is someone who will see a problem and not back down, even when it's tough.
9. "Smokey Joe's Cafe" - Paolo Nutini
- This song is just perfect for a cook-out. There's a slow, sexy swagger to it that I adore.
Caleb - Season 4 (By briggon snow)
This is a mix I made for Caleb (and really myself) coming out of “Safe House II”. It was an emotional episode to record, and as part of my process to move forward from it, I made this mix as a gift to Caleb to work through the emotional aftermath of what had happened at the end of season 3. I’d like to think that Caleb and I would listen to this together...never really talking...occasionally glancing at each other...but deeply connecting to the music and trying to get back on our feet.
- Briggon Snow
1. “Waves” - Dean Lewis
- More than any other song I can think of, this has always felt like an anthem for Caleb. This mix being what I’d give him to “get through” the aftermath of “Safe House II”, I see this reflecting back to Caleb what his journey with emotions has been so far, and how the difficulties and angst inherent with his ability comes and goes in waves.
2. “Human” - Civil Twilight
- You’re human, Caleb. You are going to make mistakes. Some of these mistakes may be seismic in consequence and hurt...but it doesn’t make you a bad person. Love, pain, fear...and how we struggle through those feelings is what make us all human. Human beings are terrible messes...and that’s beautiful; it’s sometimes tragic...but all the while beautiful.
3. “Bitter Leaf” - LANKS
- There’s an angsty resignation to this song. For me, the lyrics matter less in this...it’s more the attitude and “numbed” self-preserving defiance Caleb is feeling in between moments of self-pity and anger. At the end of the day, he’s a teenaged boy, and part of the process of accepting and moving forward stronger, especially for a teenaged boy, is a bit of “fuck-you” detachment and mindlessness.
4. “One Day” - Kodaline
- Caleb can’t get through this alone. It’s tough being a young man in this world, while there’s so much good for you out there...there’s a pressure and a self-inflicted harm in the form of pride and masculine expectation. Caleb wants to figure all of this out on his own...but he knows managing his anger and recovering from his pummeling of Damien cannot be sorted out in total isolation. He needs to let in those that love him.
5. “Human” - Aquilo
- To move on...to get better...you need to sit in it a bit. You have to feel the hurt and even the painful self-loathing to remotely having a chance at climbing out of the dark hole you’ve fallen into. This song is meant to remind Caleb that it’s temporary. He will stand taller, stronger and more compassionately after crying with his head buried between his legs.
6. “Fickle Game” - Amber Run
- The tension and limbo of being a teenager... Not only is Caleb dealing with very real “adult” problems, but he has to deal with them at a time where he is trying to figure out his identity....he’s defiantly rushing full-sprint into manhood when boyhood challenges are still holding him with a tight grip. Growing up is full of fits and starts…Caleb is anxious to start his life and be a good “man”...but before that he needs to recognize that he is a good person.
7. “Change It All” - Harrison Storm
- Caleb needs to grow from this. The struggles will never go away, but he is stronger after this. He may not feel stronger...he may actually feel weaker and pretty much lost...but that doubt, confusion and insecurity will be a defining step in how he lives a life with his ability.
8. “Something Wild” - Lindsey Stirling feat. Andrew McMahon
- I mean… You've got a big heart/The way you see the world, it got you this far/You might have some bruises and a few of scars/But you know you're gonna be okay/Even though you're scared/You're stronger than you know. ...more than anything I want Caleb to know this. His future is so bright and beautiful...
Damien & Mark
A/N: this playlist is sort of funny, because I started it a really long time ago while I was still in the process of working out Damien and Mark's relationship. I was initially going to publish the mix after Season 3 but then I got a lot more mileage out of it in writing Season 4A. Because of this, I've got two different commentaries on it from two different periods.
My initial annotation from February of 2017:
I didn’t set out to make this playlist but when I was in the midst of writing S3B, I heard “i hate u, i love u” by Olivia O’Brien and gnash on the radio and had a pretty visceral reaction to it. I’d been trying to work out exactly what the dynamic between Mark and Damien was at the end of Season 3 and the lyrics of the song just resonated with those thoughts. While nothing explicitly romantic or sexual is ever articulated between them, there is something more than platonic. It’s messy and complicated and will probably never lead to anything good. But it’s an interesting dynamic and so I found myself starting a playlist with this one song and thinking about what could have been. What resulted is a playlist made up entirely by either duets or songs by duos, mostly on the subject of toxic love.
An added annotation in December 2017:
I continued listening to this playlist up through writing Episode 48 (and then beyond because it’s just a good playlist if I do say so myself). The Damien/Mark dynamic finally comes to a head in 48 and this mix definitely helped me a lot in getting there. Their relationship definitely does start to veer deeper into the romantic/non-platonic realm. There’s always some hope that Damien is going to finally change, that Mark will somehow be able to redeem him and then, when Mark realizes that this would mean sacrificing his own pride and mental wellbeing, he walks away, just when Damien is at his most vulnerable. Which, let's be honest, really makes this a break-up playlist.
1. "If I Never See Your Face Again" - Maroon 5 & Rihanna
This is such a great break-up song that toys with power dynamics - that feeling of wanting to chase someone down to prove to yourself that they still want you but also never wanting to see them ever again.
2. “Come Back Down” - Greg Laswell & Sara Bareilles
You’ve gotta take it on your own from here/it’s getting pathetic and I’m almost done here
3. "Wish I Could Forget" - The Weepies
- There’s a real theme of wanting to forget or not think about the other person on this playlist - sometimes it’s easier to just bury your feelings deep down and hope they go away.
- Funny how a heart shatters all at once/seems like it should make a sound - god, what a line
- Most of the music on here also fits into the “Americana road trip” vibe that is core to any kind of possibility in Mark and Damien’s relationship - it could only ever exist in the vacuum of life on the road and without Joan or Sam or any of the others
4. "The One That Got Away" - The Civil Wars
- Ugh, no one does pining angst better than this duo. What I love about this song is that it takes a common saying and flips it on it’s head - I wish you were the one that got away. There is so much regret in this song and it’s the best.
- I never meant to get us in this deep/I never meant for this to mean a thing - definitely a S4 line for both of them.
5. "Two Sides of Lonely" - The Lone Bellow
- On the one hand you’re hoping I’m lying/On the other you hope I’m a fool - I mean, c’mon! Perfect.
- Two sides of lonely/one’s in the grave/and the other should be - and thus, we move into the death and violence portion of our evening.
6. "Love You Anymore" - Matt Duke
- I mean, this song is basically about killing your significant other. Do with that what you will.
- You’re mistaken that I’m smiling when I seethe - 100% how Mark feels a lot of the time.
7. "9 Crimes" - Damien Rice
I don’t know that anybody on earth feels heartbreak quite as strongly as Damien Rice. One of the things I love about this song is the repeated asking of Is that alright? when it’s obvious he doesn’t really want to know the answer.
8. "If I Couldn't Have You" - Sweet Talk Radio
- This song has always felt like stumbling into a roadside bar at sunset, ordering a whiskey, and sitting there all night, just staring into your drink. There’s something passively melancholy about it. It’s a song you put on when you’re pining and you want to be pining more. You want to press into the bruise.
- And how would the tides flow in/if the moon had gone?/And what would I do/if I couldn’t have you?
9. "i hate u i love you" - gnash (feat. Olivia O'Brien)*
- This song works pretty perfectly with Damien as Olivia and Mark as gnash, though the first gnash verse also works very well for Damien.
- It hurts me every time I see you/realize how much I need you/I hate you/I love you/I hate that I love you - perfect for Damien, hating every second of caring about someone
- If I pulled a you on you, you wouldn’t like that shit // you said you wouldn’t then you fucking did - Mark is definitely gnash.
10. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - Martin Luther w/ Jim Sturgess (originally by The Beatles)
- With every mistake/we must surely be learning - you'd think, right!?! Not so if you're Damien apparently.
- His version has a real hopelessness to it that I just adore. It’s also a male/male duet, which felt appropriate.
Damien & Wadsworth
In terms of choices, this whole playlist is a mix of both Damien and Wadsworth’s individual playlist styles; songs that are heavily electronic, lithe, seductive. Wadsworth is the dominant voice on this mix, as she is in their relationship. The songs each definitely lean to one perspective more than another, as the songs in all two character playlists do.
1. “Desperado” - Rihanna
- This is a Wadsworth song. Rihanna is incredibly sexy and this song is incredibly sexy. It also feels just a little dangerous and that’s what I was going for with this playlist - dangerous seduction. Wadsworth and Damien have an almost flirtatious relationship, where the attraction is based entirely in the power struggle, creating a sense of danger.
- And you ain’t leavin’ me behind/I know you won’t ‘cause we share common interests/you need me there ain’t no leaving me behind
2. “Real Life” - The Weeknd
- This is one of my favorite openings of any album in recent years. It is so direct and driving and this whole track has such an incredible sweeping vibe to it. It fits in so well with Damien’s whole aesthetic.
- Mama called me destructive/said it’d ruin me one day
3. “Never Enough” - Noisettes
- There’s two Noisettes tracks on here, which I don’t often do for playlists. But they are a band that just feels so much like Wadsworth to me. So much of their music is more upbeat and laid-back, but they have a few numbers that are edgier and darker.
- Just when I think it’s done/nowhere left to run/it always brings me back again/another sleepless night, another hopeless fight/I guess nobody wins again
4. “Bodies” - Cee Lo Gree
- This is both of them. This song is almost unbearably sexy, especially considering it sort of feels like it’s about murdering someone? It’s a euphemism for sex, to be sure, but there is something really dark lurking around the edges of this song. It feels like high rise apartments with views of the city, expensive scotch, going home with a stranger, finding your way in the dark and...maybe not waking up the next morning. I'm a little worried about Cee Lo.
- All of these lyrics are amazing and, again, nice and murder-y but my favorite is I can kill it with kindness or murder it
- This track is sort of NSFW? There’s lots of moaning towards the end that is genuinely pretty graphic.
5. “Castle” - Halse
- A Wadsworth song of course. She makes every new environment her castle and Damien is kind of here for it.
6. “Misery Business” - Paramore
- This song is actually on another Damien playlist (ooh, and I can tell you now! It's on the playlist I've made for his book), but I wanted to put it here as well. It just feels so much like him.
- She’s got it out for me/I wear the biggest smile/Whoa, well I never meant to brag/But I’ve gotten what I wanted now
7. “Monster” - Lady Gaga
- Pretty self-explanatory. Works for both of them. Also just a really amazing song.
8. “I’m So Sorry” - Imagine Dragon
- I love how sarcastic this song sounds. I don’t think this guy is actually all that sorry.
- You’ll never love ‘till you’ve made your own/you gotta face up, you gotta get yours/you never know the top ‘till you get too low
9. “Get Over It” - OK G
- Another track that sounds bitingly sarcastic. The level of snark between Wadsworth and Damien is very high. This song definitely falls more into the Damien camp though, I think.
- Oh it’s such a drag/what a chore/oh your wounds are full of salt/everything’s a stress/and what’s more/well it’s all somebody’s fault - oof, that last part is just so very Damien.
10. “Saturday Night” - Noisette*
- Ughhhh this song is SO Wadsworth and it’s perfect and I love it. You can just hear the satisfied smile of, “Oh, I’ve got you now. This is going to be fun”
- Now I don’t know what went wrong/Thought you would get away with it/now the band is playing your swan song/And you shall know the wrath of it/You could have said it to my face/Any time or any place/I’ll light you up and smoke you down/And watch your walls come tumbling down - I mean, this whole song is just exactly them.
Sam & Mark - Season 4
A/N: Like the Damien/Mark playlist, this is a mix I made long ago that I ended up using as writing inspiration for a lot longer than I anticipated. As such, there’s commentary from when I originally put the mix together, and some from right before we recorded episode 53.
From September 2017: Sometimes mixes just happen. Most of the playlists are made intentionally before I start writing in order for me to get my thoughts organized about a character or pairing. But every now and then I start haphazardly throwing music into a folder that reminds me of what I’m already working on and a playlist grows out of it. That’s what happened with this mix. Sam and Mark are together in Season 4, but having a hard time. They’ve both been through so much and they’re trying to move forward but neither know how. Neither know how to be in an adult relationship or how to be their full, damaged selves around each other. As a result this playlist is…sad. Far sadder than I ever planned. I don’t know how Sam and Mark turn out - I want them to be happy together but there is a long way to go.
From April 2018: Where I’m at with Sam and Mark right now is as follows: 53 has been written for months but I just keep rewriting it. It’s the most time I’ve spent on any of the character episodes, probably given my own personal connection with Sam. But also, as I’ve mentioned before, Sam and Mark are having a much harder time than I had initially anticipated. And even though I’m working on the last two episodes of the show, I still don’t know how they’re going to end up. I keep thinking I do and then I revisit 53 and change one line and it changes the trajectory of their relationship completely. It’s like time traveling in my own writing - altering one tiny thing can affect the futures of two people very significantly.
1. “On the Street Where You Live” - Billy Porter
2017: This is the most openly optimistic song on the playlist. Now that Mark is out and safe, Damien is out of the way, and Sam has a new space to call her own, there’s real hope in their relationship for the first time. This song has such a sense of wonder and excitement - that feeling you get when you’re just obsessed with that person you’re dating and so everything remotely related to them seems special. I think that’s how they feel about each other when they’re not being bogged down by all the other stuff.
2018: By the time this was put on this playlist, I knew that we’d be doing a musical episode, but Episode 49 hadn’t yet been written. So the association with “My Fair Lady” ended up being a nice coincidence.
2. “I Can’t Get Started With You” - Ella Fitzgerald*
2017: This has been a Sam/Mark song for a long time and was even on my B-Sides playlist because I wasn’t sure it would ever get placement. But it perfectly encapsulates their relationship in Season 4 - they’ve been through so much, overcome so many obstacles, and done impossible things individually. And yet every time they try to get started with an actual relationship something gets in the way - first time and space, then Damien, then Mark’s trauma, then Sam’s agenda, Mark’s alcohol abuse, etc. etc. They just can’t get started.
Both this song and Billy Porter’s performance of “On the Street Where You Live" have that old, jazz standard quality that I always strongly associate with Mark and Sam. I tried to stay as close genre and feel-wise on this mix to their original playlist.
3. “Lover Come Back” - City and Colour
2017: Sometimes life hands you something you didn’t even know you were looking for. I was trying to find a version of “Lover Come Back to Me” (another old standard) that fit the aesthetic of the playlist. The lyrics of that song work incredibly well for Sam and Mark - that feeling of being far away from someone you love even though, in their case, they are right next to each other. This song popped up as the first result, despite being a totally different song. But when I saw it was City and Colour, I listened. Dallas Green, the lead singer, is half of You + Me, a band that featured on Sam and Mark’s original playlist. This song ended up being perfect.
Bound for trouble from the start/I’ve been walking through this old world in the dark/all along, right by my side/there you were, my shining ray of light - a big theme with Sam/Mark is the idea that they’ve saved each other. The big question is then: is that enough?
How could I have been so foolish to let you leave - the idea of “foolishness” when it comes to Sam/Mark comes back later, so this line further cemented this song as ideal for them.
2018: That idea of foolishness was, of course, Sam's song in Episode 50
4. “Bright White Jackets” - April Smith & The Great Picture Show
This is a number that could also apply to post-Season 2 Mark, when he was struggling to remember Sam and piece his mind back together. But the general message of, “I’m so broken but I will always love you” is at the heart of the Sam/Mark dynamic. They think they are both too damaged to be with the other person and so they try to be perfect for each other. That, of course, will fail and ultimately frustrate them both. In order to be happy, they have to accept that they are imperfect and accept each other’s love all the same. They have to learn to lean on each other.
5. “It Don’t Matter to the Sun” - Rosie Thomas
2017: Another repeat artist - Rosie Thomas is on their first mix with one of her slightly less sad songs. This isn’t her song originally but she brings an extra layer of melancholy that only she can. This and the next two songs are probably the lowest points of their relationship - the feeling that things have gotten so disconnected, that you’re both so lost, that it can never be saved
‘Cause see to them it makes no difference/it just keeps on keepin’ time/‘Cause it ain’t gonna stop the world, no/but it’ll be the end of mine - love me some time references when it comes to these two
2018: oof, this now has a special kind of pain when played in the context of Episode 53. Because Mark does walk out the door, which in so many ways is Sam’s worst fear.
A/N, 2018: Okay, so this is where something kind of weird happens. Which is that, for the first time ever, I made a major change to a playlist months after it was originally made. At first, I had “The Hill” by Marketa Irglova here, and you can still see my notes for that below. The playlist still works like that but, as I say in the notes, the song is just a touch too pessimistic for Sam and Mark’s relationship. Only recently did I realize that the song I actually wanted was “Alone Apart” by The Swell Season. The Swell Season is the duo that Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard made after doing “Once” together, so the DNA of the music is the same. Because this song ended up going here instead of “The Hill”, I swapped the placement of the previous two songs. It used to be “It Don’t Matter to the Sun” and then “Bright White Jackets” but I found that it worked better with “Alone Apart” following “It Don’t Matter to the Sun"
“The Hill” - Once
2017: Oof, this is such a tragic song but so, so beautiful. Again, there’s so much in here about not being perfect and just wanting the other person to help you carry your burden but not knowing how to ask for that. I think this song is a great deal more pessimistic than Sam and Mark’s relationship, but a lot of the lyrics still ring true.
I wish I didn’t have to make all those mistakes and be wise/Please try to patient/and know that I’m still learning/I’m sorry that you have to see/the strength inside me burning
And I’m letting myself down/ by satisfying you/and I wish that you could see/I have my troubles too - they both have their troubles and they’re both letting themselves and each other down by constantly burying those troubles.
6. “Alone Apart” - The Swell Season
2018: I realized I wanted this song on this playlist when I started humming it while writing Episode 53. I just love that phrase - alone apart. And, well, basically this whole song is perfect for Sam and Mark in Episode 53. I could copy every single lyric and, you know what, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
How many times have I been here
How many times was I lost
And how many times I'd be drown in the sea
If you weren't there to rescue me
We're sailing, we're sailing every night
We're drifting, we're drifting alone apart
Not to show that we're in need
But I'd heal your wounds if you bleed
How many times have I hurt you
How many times have you
And how many times I'd been on my knees
Begging, begging please forgive me
Thank you for being so patient with me
I've been weaker than I ought to be
Despair and jealousy blinded my mind
And I couldn't see how you're trying for me
I mean, come on. Those last two stanzas especially!
7. “Work Song” - Hozier
2017: Through making all the playlists for this show, I think I’ve come to realize that Hozier is one of my favorite artists or, at the very least, this is a favorite album. His music has such an intangible quality to it and his lyrics tend to be poetic and devotional. I’m sure by the end of the show, I will have used every song on this album.
These final two songs are really about trying to make your way back to someone. That’s what Sam and Mark are trying to do. They made this journey together - being trapped in time, getting out, finding their way to each other and now…now the really hard work begins. Now they have to make their own personal journeys - learn the truth about themselves in light of everything that’s happened - and hopefully find their way back to each other.
No grave can hold my body down/I’ll crawl home to her - I love the idea of nothing, not even death, keeping two people from each other.
My babe would never fret none/about what my hands and my body done/if the lord don’t forgive me/I’d still have my babe and my babe would have me - here’s the acceptance they both need. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past, they can love each other anyway.
8. “As the Crow Flies” - Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen*
2017: I am absolutely the last person on earth still watching the show Nashville but I’m a sucker for the drama and gosh, the music is great. All these lyrics work so I’m just gonna get straight to it—
I wish that I may/wish that I might/get back to you, the quickest I can/one if by sea, two if by land/I’d cross the world to hold your hand - Sam and Mark have crossed space and time to be together.
No more wrong turns oh I’ve had it with/mistakes, misplaced second chances and/next time I’ll try so much harder/I’m starting to see/what I’ve done to me and you/I’ll chart a course straight to your heart/follow the light from a northern most start/I’ll love, I’ll love like I couldn’t before/I’m here and I’m yours - I love that last bit especially. They can’t be perfect people but they can be perfect for each other. They can love each other better, help each other get better, and try again.
Joan & Wadsworth
This is a playlist that took a long time to build because Wadsworth and Joan’s relationship is incredibly complex and has changed so much throughout the years. It began as admiration, grew to a close friendship based on mutual respect and shared ambition, and then was revealed to have been an incredible manipulative relationship full of lies and betrayal. The first song I put on here was “I Want You Back” by Noisettes (the keystone song of this playlist), which was quickly followed by “Heartless”, the Kanye West song as covered by The Fray. But then the playlist sat untouched for months. It happens like that sometimes — some playlists come together slowly but steadily, others have one or two songs and then months go by and I come back to it and build the rest in an hour. This was the latter. Once I realized the aesthetic I wanted, it was easy — this is my “women who could kill me in cold blood” playlist.
1. “House on Fire” - Sia
Sia has such a raw power in her voice that I feel matches both Wadsworth and Joan extremely well.
I’m going up in flames/and you’re to blame
2. “Heartless” - The Fray (originally by Kanye West)
I like how emo The Fray makes this song - there’s so much good emotion there already and The Fray really brings the energy down to make quite a jam. This is definitely a Joan perspective song.
How could you be so Dr. Evil, you bringing out a side of me that I don’t know
3. “Psychobabble” - Frou Frou
There’s something about this song that makes it feel like there’s a dangerous person inside your house that you don’t know about. It’s slow and steady and creeping — suggesting something lurking just around the corner that you can’t quite see. This is definitely also from the perspective of Joan — her realizing just how unbalanced and manipulative her relationship with Wadsworth was.
If love is surrender/then whose war is it anyway? — Wadsworth sees everything as a transaction, a fight that can be won or lost. Only after she learns the truth does Joan realize she’s lost the war she didn’t even know she was fighting.
If you think that it’s so damn easy/what do you need me for/Just look at the state of you/Babe, snap out of it/you’re not listening to this/And just for once/could you let me finish a sentence? — Joan is so sick of Wadsworth demanding she needs her to work with her despite never making an attempt to make their relationship equal.
If you know what’s good for me/why would I be leaving you? - Wadsworth always thinks she knows best - knows Joan better than she knows herself - but once Joan finds out about Mark, she snaps herself out of her reverence for Wadsworth and leaves.
4. “Girl With One Eye” - Florence + the Machine
I just really like how creepy and menacing this song is. Wadsworth is absolutely the person that’s going to cut you open, tell you it’s all going to be fine, and then smile when you’re bleeding out.
5. “Buried Under” - Connie Britton
This is a song from the TV show “Nashville”, a show that I love that essentially no one else watches. It doesn’t fit perfectly with the musical tone of the playlist, but I just love the lyrics.
I wish I didn’t have to see/a confidant as an enemy — this is total Wadsworth; seeing anyone she’s vulnerable with as a potential problem
The entire chorus is perfect for the Wadsworth-Bright relationship, but I especially love The dirt I have on you is the ground I’m buried under
6. “Teeth” - Lady Gaga
These lyrics are a bit nonsense, but I love the groove of this song so much
Don’t be scared/I’ve done this before/show me your teeth - if that’s not a Wadsworth lyric, I don’t know what is
7. “That’s Not My Name” - The Ting Tings
I mean…this is just perfect for Wadsworth given her whole name thing.
8. “Come Alive (War of the Roses)” - Janelle Monae
Had to have some Monae on here. The frenetic energy of this is so intoxicating.
9. “I Want You Back” - Noisettes*
This is definitely a Wadsworth perspective song - the lyrics, the aesthetic…everything is perfect for her view on her relationship with Joan.
Resistance is futile/Now baby don’t hold back/You'll only have yourself to blame when you let everything go bad - it is not in Wadsworth’s nature to take responsibility