Shuffle: The Late Summer Holiday Playlist


This year along with millions of others, we’ve had to think differently about the kind of holiday that we will be going on. Normally we unthinkingly (well there is a bit of thought about where we are going) get on a plane and go somewhere nice and relax for a couple of weeks. For these trips, during the plane ride, I’m reading a book and listening to music through headphones/earbuds – no need for me to think about creating a playlist, I can listen to whatever I want. Usually, I do create a playlist of new stuff that I’m trying to catch up on. This year we are holidaying in the UK, we’ll be going to Wales and then up to Scotland, we’ll be driving a lot of hours. I’m not so anti-social that when I’m driving I will wear headphones and we have an agreement that whoever is driving gets to choose the music and as I’ll be driving most of the time it would be supremely selfish of me to expose my wife to hours of, what she would characterise as, ‘just noise’. So I am curating a playlist that we can both listen to whilst I drive.

This is not a simple undertaking, I love my wife and my greatest joy is spending time with her but when it comes to music we are very different. When drawing up a Venn diagram of our musical tastes the circles barely kiss. I love music and am endlessly curious, she would never just listen to music. My iPod contains thirty-three thousand songs, hers has eight hundred and thirty-seven. She has terrible taste in music, i.e. it is not the same as mine. Over the years I have tried to get her interested in my kind of music and she has slept through some of the best gigs you would have bitten your arm off to get a ticket, but she was there and that’s the important thing. So I’m trying to find that happy middle ground so we can both enjoy the music as we contemplate the, hopefully (I’ve only ever been to Scotland for work), Scottish scenery.

There are few bankers, she likes one Wussy (‘Airborne’) song, she likes one Arcade Fire song, one Iron and Wine song (thank you random Vampire franchise) – she is extremely picky, cherry-picking only those cherries that conform to some exacting, but indefinable standard. She distils things down to essences – “I like that one Wilco song” – and when discussing the construction of this playlist she said, ‘remember I don’t always like things that are like the things that I like’. So you can imagine the difficulty of the task that I am undertaking. Yes, I’m including the obvious tracks from the bands that she has expressed tolerance of: Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet, but only very few select songs. So I’ve been very careful and working diligently through the whole of the thirty-three thousand, to find those tracks… what was that Avett Brothers track that she didn’t mind? Can I cheekily try something new? That’s a risky one, maybe one or two, Tony Molina you’re up.

Looking through all of these songs there are gems that I haven’t thought about for years but just because I love them doesn’t mean that she will even like them or listen to the whole thing. The other part of the Playlist Agreement is that she can delete any songs that she doesn’t like. There are a few GBV songs that she can stand – ‘Game of Pricks’, ‘I am a Scientist’, ‘Teenage FBI’. I’ll definitely be throwing some other GBV masterpieces into the mix but the mantra, ‘remember I don’t always like things that are like the things that I like’ is my guiding principle but I’m not selfless enough to not want to please myself also.

By now you are probably wondering what actually did make it onto the list. I’m not going to detail the electronic music or other non-Americana choices or indeed the bulk of the list, but the distillation of thirty-three thousand is down to an essence of a couple of hundred, and I know that I’ll have gone too far and there will be things that she doesn’t like but I’ll be happy if, in this next couple of weeks in the car, we hit upon just one that she kind of likes, that’s all I ask for. In the past twenty years, these breakthroughs have been few and far between – to her Bonnie Prince Billy is just a strange man. She can recognise a Howe Gelb vocal or Bill Callahan (both of whom she has seen live). I think she may even have enjoyed seeing Howe though for the life of me I can’t think of any of his vast catalogue that she likes. She doesn’t tolerate dissonance which eliminates half of my collection, prefers singers who can sing in a conventional manner, goodbye another quarter, no jazz, bye-bye another ten percent, no hip hop, no go-go, nothing experimental, nothing mournful… oh my God, this is impossible (maybe Buffalo Tom’s ‘Impossible’ who am I kidding?). Are you beginning to see how difficult these past weeks have been, poring over these thousands of songs to find those that I hope against hope she won’t hate?

By the time this is published we will be halfway through our British odyssey – my guess is that the core things, i.e. the things I know that she likes will be mostly intact but where I’ve taken the slightest step away from the path of the greatest of the greatest hits, the delete button will have been pressed. The thing is though it will make no difference, we will enjoy each other’s company, she will never understand my taste in music and I will never understand how she can exist within such a restricted musical universe – and I will continue to marvel at the fact that she has chosen to spend her life with me.

About David Cowling 142 Articles
Punk rock, Go-Betweens, REM, Replacments, Husker Du, Minutemen, Will Oldham, Smog, Whiskeytown, Ass Ponys but probably most of all Howe Gelb, led me on this journey.
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