I have always valued the ability of the music of others to say what I can’t.
When I was in high school as the art of the mix CD was dying out, I hoarded songs on my iPod as though they were the last box of Jaffa Cakes. I used the lyrics of others to vocalise what I wasn’t able to put into words myself. And so began the infinite playlists, the playlists I would craft with specific people in mind. I would take songs that the subject and I had discussed, songs I knew they loved, or songs that just plain made me think of them, and add them to an On-The-Go playlist, which I would later merge on iTunes.
The boy I loved in high school had the first playlist. And after six months, his playlist had about 500 songs. 500 songs that made me think of him. I added these songs to the playlist the way a child eats Smarties – by the fistful. If he mentioned an artist, I scrutinised each song title and tried to determine which ones best suited him and the way I felt about him. Blink-182 was the staple artist on his playlist. Their lyrics summed up everything I thought I felt about him at 17 – what I thought was love, the pain he caused me by simply being my best friend and nothing more. I was naive. And much like anything that starts off with a bang, it ended in a whisper. We haven’t spoken in about four years because the girl he was dating from our senior year in high school to our sophomore year in college decided that I was a threat to her relationship and he could not have me in his life. The feelings are gone now, his playlist has been deleted, but I will always think of him fondly and laugh at the many life lessons he gave me – such as the thought process after hitting a deer with your car (“Male or female? Did it have antlers? How much did it weigh?”) and how to deal with crossing guards.
The second boy with a playlist was the boy from college. We met in a car and bonded over a Lana Del Rey song playing on the radio (you can read all about that here if you are so inclined). He was your stereotypical hipster, square-framed glasses, loved film noir and anything on vinyl. After three months, his playlist had over 1,000 songs. He and I used the lyrics of others to say things we couldn’t say. He had eclectic tastes and I think he loved the idea of “educating” me musically (mind you, he wasn’t musical. I have never seen him pick up an instrument). We would lazily spin records in his bedroom. I went overseas soon after we met, and because of who he is as a person, music became our best way of communicating. He would send me lists of albums and artists that he wanted me to listen to, and he would become withdrawn and silent if he heard of anyone else recommending music for me (he literally hated my flatmate for this reason, but if anyone has any business educating anyone musically, it would be him). Our biggest fight ever was about The Smiths. By the time he called things off with me, his playlist had grown to over 2,000 songs. And because that ending hit me hard, that was over 2,000 songs that I could not listen to. But our playlist, much like our relationship, had exploded at a rapid rate. It grew so quickly I don’t even think I listened to all of the songs, which I guess you could use as a metaphor for us. We escalated so quickly I don’t think I ever really knew him at all. When we ended, I think I mourned the loss of the possibility of all the things we could have had and could have been instead of mourning the person I had actually lost. I deleted his playlist about a year after things ended. He was an important lesson but not one that will make me look back fondly.
And now, we look at the most recent boy and his playlist. When we met, he didn’t get one. His permanence wasn’t even on my horizon. When we reunited about 10 months after we parted, the minute I got back to the US, his playlist began. I remember walking through the streets of Brighton, on a quest for my first pair of Doc Martens, listening to “Bedroom Eyes” by the Dum Dum Girls, and that became the second song on his playlist (the first was The All-American Reject’s cover of “Jack’s Lament” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, don’t ask). I didn’t continually add to his playlist the way I had with others in the past. And unlike the other playlists, the evolution of us is very apparent in the song selections. The Regina Spektor song with the catchy chorus in English and French that begs the listener not to leave in the most upbeat way? Added to the playlist. The song by Bright Eyes that he said reminded me of him? Added to the playlist. The Death Cab For Cutie song that he played for me on his bass? Added to the playlist. The Bob Dylan song that tangled us together after he left? Added to the playlist. The playlist shows when we were happy. It shows when we were apart. It shows when things were carefree and when things were difficult. And I know almost every song by heart – I’ve listened to his playlist now more times than I can count.
It’s been over 4 years of knowing each other. His playlist is only 102 songs. If listened to continuously, it would only play for 6 hours, 19 minutes. At first, it concerned me that I wasn’t behaving the way I had in the past with other boys. Why wasn’t I gorging myself on songs, stuffing his playlist full of the catalogue of an artist he had mentioned to me once? And I think that our playlist, much like the one for the boy before him, serves as a metaphor for us. It is a slow burn. Songs are added as they are relevant but only if they truly have meaning. It has grown with us. At times it is idealistic, at other times it is raw. But the fact that our playlist continues to expand, slowly, reflects that we are coming together, slowly. Slow and steady wins the race, and if it has taken this long for our playlist to be crafted – and the fact that it is still being crafted – maybe means that, much like our playlist, we are truly infinite.