1. ”There There” by Radiohead
SOMEWHERE OVER THE PACIFIC, 2009 — The woman sitting next to me talked loudly to her friend through the plane seat in front of us. A baby screamed behind me. The man on the other side hogged the armrest, so I sat, scrunched and concave-chested, as the plane hit a vacuum and suddenly dropped what must have been 50 feet. People screamed.
I thought, “I’m about to die,” and then I realized that the song playing on my iPod was Akinyele’s “Put it in My Mouth.”
The plane leveled out, and I thought, “What if I had died with the words ‘Well you can lick it you can suck it you can taste it, I’m talkin’ every drip drop don’t you waste it, baby slurp it up’ running through my head?”
I decided if I was going to die surrounded by assholes that I would at least be listening to good music. So I put on Radiohead’s “There, There,” which I had a click away for the rest of the flight.
2. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Eric Idle
WASHINGTON, D.C., 2014 – I was flying home for my Grandpa’s funeral. I’d spent the last day fielding texts and messages and e-mails from friends and acquaintances offering me condolences, and I’m putting on an act. “You’re in my prayers,” they say. “He’s in a better place.”
I didn’t believe in prayers. I didn’t believe in better places. Death was coming, and it was pointless.
I opened up my phone to find a good Crash Song. I checked my Musical Theater playlist, and see there, in the Spamalot soundtrack, the greatest death song of all time:
”Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true
You’ll see its all a show, keep ’em laughin’ as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.”
For the rest of the weekend, whenever anyone said something I found a ridiculous, I just whistled.
3. “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers
SOUTH AFRICA, 2007 — I’m tired, I’m hungover, and I’m about to get on a 2 hour bus ride to go jump into freezing cold water with sharks. I picture my bed: warm. Happy. Safe. I start to turn back to skip the trip, and this song comes on.
Hear Brandon Flowers chant, “I got soul buy I’m not a soldier” over and over again in your ears, and tell me you’re not rad enough to jump into an ocean full of sharks.
4. “Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)” by Bob Dylan
BEIJING, 2009 — While I was in Tibet, I came down with an atrocious case of altitude sickness. The guy traveling with me got it so bad that he went temporarily blind thanks to a cerebral edema (brain swelling) that was pressing against his optical nerves.
“It hurrrrrrts,” I would say to my friends, head throbbing.
“Are you blind?” they would say.
“Then shut the fuck up, Matt.”
The Tibetan home we crashed in for the night suggested rancid yak milk tea as a pick-me-up. It did not, unfortunately, end my altitude sickness, but it did give me explosive, toilet-ending diarrhea that kicked in just in time for my 30 hour hard-seat train ride back to Beijing.
I sat curled on the couch of my friend’s apartment in Beijing in the type of oxygen deprived haze you enter on airplanes, weeping openly at the only two movies that our Chinese HBO subscription was playing, The Simpsons Movie, and an American remake of the Korean rom-com classic, My Sassy Girl.
At night, I put on my headphones, adjusted myself into whatever position least agitated my chafed asshole, and put on this Bob Dylan classic:
”Ohhh…. mama! Can this really be the end?
To be stuck inside of Mobile, with the Memphis blues again?”
“Always,” I thought, “Always somewhere wanting to be somewhere else.” My last thought before drifting off to sleep would be, “Well, if Bob felt it, it can’t be all bad that I’m feeling it, too.”
5. ”All of My Days” by Alexi Murdoch
OHIO, 2005 — I was driving back to college, deeply depressed. I’d been home for just a few days, and in those few days, it’d become clear that the girl I’d loved since high school wasn’t remotely interested in me. I was on I-71 and the sun was coming up over a golden cornfield when this song came on.
“Well many a night I found myself with no friends standing near
All of my days
I cried aloud
I shook my hands
What am I doing here
All of these days.”
“This guy, I thought. This guy feels what I’m feeling.”
10 years later, I’m driving on the same stretch of highway, right around sunrise, when the song comes on again.
”Now I see clearly
It’s you I’m looking for
All of my days
Soon I’ll smile
I know I’ll feel this loneliness no more
All of my days.”
I turn and look at my fiancee in the seat next to me, and I started to cry.