Reflection: The Little Things in Song

Adrienne Murr musically muses on making and breaking winter term.

by Adrienne Murr | 3/8/23 2:25am

keystone-snow
by Adrienne Murr / The Dartmouth

Growing older is self-realizing the poignancy of cliches: money can’t buy happiness, time heals all wounds, life is about the little things, etc. In an academic microcosm of over-achievers like Dartmouth, it’s easy to discredit the poets and hyperfixate on capital-S Success, to chase prestigious acceptance letters and five-figure salaries. But it’s important to remember that the little things count too. I’m talking cappuccino foam, salted sidewalks, “snowflakes that fall across my eyes,” flaky salt and the chorus of a heart-wrenchingly good song.

This term, I derived fulfillment from life’s many mundane joys. My simple, ever-changing pleasures took the form of sparkling snow, Bob Dylan soliloquies and orange cardamom buns. It was neglecting 200 pages of Victorian literature to bake pavlova on a rogue Thursday night and sending hand-written letters to my friends back home and abroad, whom I miss oh so dearly. 

At a mere 21 songs, my termly playlist came together short, sweet and on repeat. Over the past 10 weeks, I’ve grappled with free will, fan behavior, email etiquette and the ethics of Instagram reels (big yikes) to the soundtrack of M.I.A. and Ella Fitzgerald. As someone on Twitter once wrote, “I have no idea what’s going on with my life, I’m just in charge of the music.” 

Every term, usually around week seven, I give up on romanticizing my life. I stop ordering cappuccinos, with their joyous foam, swap Bose headphones for Airpods and rediscover 2008 Lady Gaga. The “little things” leave the chat. No longer humming Belle and Sebastian on the Green, I’m just another shell-of-my-former-self rolling the Sunday scaries Novack line. 

To paint a more realistic picture of this drastic but inevitable lifestyle pivot, I could have added the entire “The Fame” album to my playlist. Alas, I was not willing to sacrifice the 1:3 ratio of Gaga to non-Gaga songs in pursuit of authenticity — though that would’ve been cool too. 

In homage to the breaking point of my term, “Paper Gangsta” stands in for the entirety of “The Fame.” Lady Gaga songs fall into one of two categories: hype and extremely hype. Admittedly, “Paper Gangsta” is only just hype, but please don’t let that deter you from blasting it en route to your next existential breakdown. Soft-spoken hype is an underrated genre. 

Nine years before Jack Harlow slapped a few obscene lyrics over the backtrack of Glamorous and went viral, Rainbow Kitten Surprise created the original “First Class”: beautiful, catchy and emotionally derailing. “First Class” is the type of song that loops on repeat without losing emotional resonance. At an impressive five minutes and 45 seconds, it’s a solid choice for your snowy evening walk back from the library. It boasts some of the best, most screamable lyrics on the entire playlist. 

My next standout song, “Cop Killer” by John Maus, stands as an anomaly to my usual Beach House Bob Dylan bullshit. Like all great discoveries, I stumbled upon this gem on a potential employer’s 2011 indie playlist. Truly could not tell you how I got there. “Cop Killer” is optimally enjoyed while shivering. It just hits different while you’re cold — I don’t know what to tell you. Typically, I’ll follow up “Cop Killer” with “First Time” by Soft Circle, which doesn’t pick up until a minute and thirty seconds in but gets there eventually. In a similar vein to Cop Killer, “Chances” by The Strokes has a soft-spoken, gut-wrenching energy that compliments Maus. Bittersweet is the closest I can get to articulating this trio of songs’ power in words. 

If I could NRO any song on this playlist, it would be “Oblivion” by Grimes. My individuality complex prevents me from fully enjoying any song I associate with TikTok. I’m working on it.

Jazz. Let’s talk about it. Is it possible to listen to Lester Young in Sanborn without being a pretentious cliche? Asking for a friend. On a separate but related note, is queuing the score of a Godard film ironically any less annoying than listening to it unironically? To be fully transparent, I don’t even know what liking something ironically means anymore.

Whatever your preferred measure of sincerity, you can listen to my full 23W playlist here. And that’s all folks. See you this summer.