Happy Monday, folks. I spent last week visiting family in Oklahoma; specifically, I went to see my grandparents. They’re all getting up there in years (all of them are now well into their 90s), and their health is in decline. They take it with the same sort of Okie stoicism I’ve come to know from them over the past 40-odd years, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see these remarkably strong people become increasingly weaker and less able to do things they used to do with such ease.
Of particular concern is my maternal grandmother. She, like her husband before her, has started to suffer from dementia. We finally got her into an assisted living center last month, but that was a trial and a half and thank God it’s over. While she seemed resistant to it at first, she seems to have settled in and is doing quite nicely. She likes all of the staff and she’s made friends and is participating in activities. Everyone keeps talking about how sweet she is, to which I replied, “Really? My grandmother? The sour-faced lady?” But she does seem to be genuinely happy for the first time in . . . years, I’d say. Since before my grandfather got poorly, at least.
Anyway, all of that had me thinking about memory and the things we carry with us and the things that we try to carry with us but, ultimately, can’t, and this playlist popped out.
- Glen Campbell, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”: Glen Campbell suffered from Alzheimer’s, and toward the end of his life couldn’t really do much as that disease robbed him of everything that made him, him. But he gave us one last song, and damn if it isn’t a doozy. Contemplating life, death, and loss, he reflects on the fact that while the Alzheimer’s might be destroying him, it’s really those around him who will suffer from it.
- The Pixies, “I Can’t Forget”: The Pixies cover a Leonard Cohen song. About trying to remember but being unable to do so.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”: A long, sinuous jam of a song, the sort I’m usually not that in to. But this one is pretty good, as those things go.
- Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Remember The Mountain Bed”: Woody Guthrie’s words are so evocative here, so painfully, painstakingly clear, that I can picture the mountain bed of the title in my mind. I can picture the girl, and the leaves, and the boy lying beside her, whispering things to one another that are just on the edge of hearing. And it feels a little bittersweet. This is clearly a moment from the distant past, a stolen piece of time between two people who are no longer in each other’s lives. And it’s beautiful and ephemeral and it’s one of my favorite songs ever.
- Jars of Clay, “Unforgetful You”: Now, just for a minute, forget that the song is a Jesus song. I know, it’s hard to take it out of that context, but work with me here. It’s still a fun song about someone who absolutely refuses to forget about you, and we all kinda need someone like that in our lives.
- The Mountain Goats, “You Or Your Memory”: Once more proving the adage that there’s not a playlist yet that can’t be improved with a Mountain Goats song, we’ve got this one. As per usual, Darnielle cuts through the noise and rips out your heart, and he does it all in under 2 and a half minutes. That’s just efficient.
- Neko Case, “Don’t Forget Me”: It’s an old cover. It’s beautifully sung, because it’s Neko Case. I don’t know what else you need to hear.
- Peter Gabriel, “I Don’t Remember”: This song and the Glen Campbell song were the two that sparked this whole playlist. The Gabriel song is edgy and nervous, anxious about the loss of memory, while the Campbell song is resigned to it and leaning in.
- Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, “If I Am A Stranger”: There were quite a few Ryan Adams songs I could have put on this list (and more than one from the album Cold Roses), but I settled on this one because I remember my grandfather going from knowing everyone who was around him to being surrounded by strangers. I think it scared him sometimes, not recognizing our faces.
- George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”: The song I always come back to for comfort. George understood the world and our place in it better than just about any other musician, and he understood that death comes for everyone eventually. And he accepted that with grace and dignity. It’s just wild to me, and helps me come to terms with things myself.