November 9th: The Greatest Playlist You’ll Ever Need This Inauguration Day
It starts with “Big Trouble” by Man Man, with very unsettling, dissonant, horns on the off beat song. It’s the kind of intro that leads you into the villain’s lair. You’re not quite sure where you’re stepping and if there’s a way out but you keep following the sounds forward because its too dark to turn back. “You make me feel LIKE A ZOMBIE!” shouts Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) “Woe is me! I’m a Zombie!/Forever falling like peanut brittle/all over your skin.” The horns lead you further into the hole and the xylophone fills in your childhood nightmares, the one with a twisted carnival. Then the timbres of the vocals change, as the grown men strain to sing like children, lulling me to sleep, before they start yelling again, “You make me feel LIKE A ZOMBIE!”
Then we move into “I’m An Animal” by Neko Case, a delicate love song playing with your imagination. Off of Middle Cyclone, a record that will convert any Joni fan that hasn’t found Neko yet. “I do my best/but I’m made of mistakes,” she sings. It’s so fucking charming and lovely, and then my eyes scan the title again: “I’m An Animal” and so is he.
It’s the November 9th playlist and the concept runs deep, just like this election. It’s inauguration day and I am straining myself to avoid the news, social media, and national broadcasts. In some corners of the Internet, I’m off making jokes with my co-host (shameless self promotion to my new podcast, We Are The Pizza) about pizza, and I’m avoiding the surreal fucking shit that is going down in a city I used to call home.
Track three is Dan Deacon’s “USA I: Is A Monster.” Then “Dark Center of The Universe” by Modest Mouse, “Get On Top” by Tim Buckley, “No Fun” by The Stooges, “I’m So Green” by CAN, Wilco’s “Hate It Here” and Fleetfoxes’ always chilling “Helplessness Blues.”
I wish I could take credit for what I truly believe to be one of the greatest playlists of all times. But instead, it belongs to Ben, my partner, boyfriend, authority on all things Star Wars, cheese, poetry, marine biology, and apocalyptic aftermaths. It is his brain child and every time I listen to it, scanning through the track names I am reminded of what’s to come: no one has a fucking clue and my god this is the best conceptual music programming ever.
November 9, 2016 didn’t even feel like a day. It felt like a bizarre dream that everyone was constantly waking up from. But don’t let me get ahead of myself.
On Election Day I was at work: a sandwich counter, coffee bar, prepared foods and specialty grocery store in Brooklyn. The store was busy, full of families receiving their free donut with their “I Voted” stickers and our heads were all spinning as NPR piped through the stereo, instead of our usual mix of 80s alternative jams and R&B. One of my bosses (both women!) who owns and operates the store was dressed in all white: solidarity, she told me, with HRC and the suffragettes. A polling station was right around the corner and the flow of customers made the time pass. All we could talk about was how happy we were for this election season to be over. She would surely win and we could all move on and get back to our lives.
My coworkers and I had turned off NPR around 6pm, as there was no news to report and our bosses had joined their friends and family to see what would happen. Customers were coming in for our takeaway chicken dinners to bring home and sit in front of their TVs, and the foot traffic had dwindled. We started checking some news sites but everything was too soon to call. For the most part, everything looked blue and we felt relieved.
Ben was up in East Harlem at a friend’s party. I wanted to be with our friends too but didn’t want to spend the hour subway ride underground without any information. So after closing, I checked in at the bar across from the store figuring I’d get a beer and share the night with strangers. But instead it was so full of people I became overwhelmed. Then I looked at the TVs, all tuned in, and only saw red. Wolf Blitzer was calling the states as they came in: red one after the other. The muscles in my face tightened and I walked out, calling one of my sisters out in Colorado: Mountain Time.
We talked about whom they voted for, that in Colorado everyone votes by mail and rarely goes to a polling station. I told them how friends of mine registered in NY State voted for Jill Stein and felt OK by their conscience doing so since they knew Hillary would win NY. My brother-in-law said he would’ve done the same if he was sure Colorado would go blue too.
My walk between work and home is only twenty minutes. The streets were empty. I talked more with my sister and brother-in-law about how worried we were, what would happen, how could this happen, what were we going to do? Meanwhile, my other sister, who lives in NY State, was texting me woes of fright. I checked in with a bar much closer to my apartment to see what else had developed. I still couldn’t believe it: more red. Friends I only hear from a few times a year were texting me, “can you believe this??”
In my neighborhood bodega, my sister convinced me to buy two tallboys instead of one, because who only needs one beer at a time like this? We said goodbye and I hopped in the shower after putting CNN on full volume on my TV. Ben was heading home, refreshing the news on his phone every chance he got. “The meter keeps going further into the red,” he texted. “I just want to come home.”
We stayed up until 1am, staring blindly into the news in awe of what had unfolded. State by state went red, the popular vote kept climbing in Hillary’s favor—but as you know the Electoral College has the last say, so it was him. He would be president.
Today is inauguration day, a Friday, laundry day. While I sorted things to line dry or not, the television in the empty Laundromat was tuned to Washington, D.C. I looked up to catch myself as a captive audience to see him swear in as president. I couldn’t look away. It was too real.
Back at home, where our clothes are out to dry, where Ben works on Fridays, he had the speech on and every time I heard a promise to “save our jobs” to “defeat ISIS”, that “this country was ours again” I felt the anxiety gripping my chest.
So I turned to the November 9th playlist, enclosing me in my over the ear headphones. Safe under these foam cans, Jeff Tweedy can remind me that I “Hate It Here”, Lee Dorsey reminds me I “ Gotta Find A [New] Job.” Helen Reddy refreshes my memory that “I Am Woman” (Hear Me Roar). But instead The Dead Kennedys remind me that he’s going to “Kill The Poor,” Johnny Cash makes me more upset because I wish “I Had A Hammer,” and Skeeter Davis elegantly sings to me that it’s “The End Of The World” and she’s known since 1962. “We The People…” from the new A Tribe Called Quest is such a great fucking song, period. But its undertones remind me that we’re all fucked.
It’s a playlist of madness, rage, feminism, power, anxiety, depression, and wonder. It speaks to and for everyone who now feels like an alien in their own country.
To borrow a phrase from Rihanna, ‘I’ve run out of fucks to give’ and it’s a dangerous mindset to be stuck in. I can go to the Planned Parenthood volunteer sessions (if I’m ever not working during them) all I want, I can call Chuck Schumer’s office every day and try to get through, I can protest, and I can give money (wait, what’s that?), but none of it will change the fact that he will do what he wants, whenever he feels like working. And the scum surrounding him, that pervert Paul Ryan and the slime that is Mike Pence, they will continue to do what they want, and as Ben says, “play him like a fiddle.” So will Congress. He has the duty of naming over 100 federal judges across the country, not including the Supreme Court seat that’s empty. He has the nuclear codes. He won.
Suddenly Dylan’s “Masters of War” is no longer a worry of the 1960s. It feels like he wrote it in my lifetime. “You play with my world/like it’s some little toy,” he sings. Dylan, I wish I knew what you were thinking right now. I wish you could come back and write more non-protest songs, and tell me that you’re not sure what the fuck is going to happen either. Not that I could understand you when you sing, but I’d like to hear it.
And then it’s “Crazy People” by the Boswell Singers from 1932, reminding me that not only is everyone I know crazy, but that the crazy people are now in charge. No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” comes on, an anthem to women in the generation I grew up in. Gwen Stefani sings: “’Cause I’m just a girl, little ol’ me/Well don’t let me out of your sight/Oh, I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite/So don’t let me have any rights/Oh, I’ve had it up to here!”
Yeah, me too girl.
I want to organize and act and resist but I feel helpless. I the only thing I have is my education, my ability to consume media from different outlets, to understand who is put in charge of what and what I can do, if anything, to help.
Thank god for music right now, because without it I wouldn’t know how to process anything. The November 9th playlist is available on Spotify here. It is a genius work of playlist and I love it. May it be your soundtrack, may it let you find power and peace in your life, may it make you laugh, and reflect, and, dear god, may it help me find something or someone to look to. At least I’m writing.