Songs for the Pandemic

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You have your Sad Bastard Music playlist, your All-Nighter Playlist, your Daily Bus Ride playlist, your After-Five Overtime playlist, your Aerobics Playlist, your Daily Traffic Anxiety playlist, and so and so. Oftentimes, these playlists are more or less the same, interchangeable, except for the first one. Unless, of course, all your playlists are actually Sad Bastard Music with different names.

Sadly, the pandemic has turned every playlist into a pandemic playlist. No more songs for parties and getting drunk. No more songs for long drives and out-of-towns. Every playlist turned into playlist for making out—not making out as in, y’know, but as in coping, getting by. Playing music has morphed into music therapy — reducing stress and anxieties, helping us cope up with the situation, distracting us from all the bad news, helping us get better sleep at night.

If one can put away all these uncertainties for just three or four minutes, if one can forget all her troubles and all the sickness in the world for a song’s length, man, there’ll be less toxic posts on Facebook (and maybe Twitter), less about chismosas and good for nothing boyfriends and husbands and there will be more cute cats and dogs and memes. See, happy/upbeat/whatever music could help us get rid of (or at least reduce) all the negativity both offline and online and fill the the world with all the positive vibes that we need, make us more calm, relaxed, less angry, and relieved.

Not saying it’s a one-stop solution to whisk away all your worries. But maybe, just maybe, a pandemic playlist is something you need. And if you still doesn’t have one, I’m making a few suggestions below, to help you make your own playlist.

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I guess it’s best that we start with something that could help you expand your mind. And nothing could enlarge your brain faster than a good dose of neo-psychedelia. Something that pierces your brain through the ears and fill your head with deep blue glowing liquid and submerge your brain in it. For beginners, I’d suggest The Flaming LipsClouds Taste Metallic, a neo-psychedelic record filled with beautiful melodic pop music and noise. It’s like The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in a Fusion Dance but also much much weirder, noisier.

Sample lyrics that will surely distract you from whatever it is that’s bothering you? There’s “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles,” the second cut off the album, with its “Cat killing dogs, pigs eating rats / Every mouth will eat you up the king bug laughs” and “Rubber bullet barn, titty suckin’ calf / Goats and roosters, bees and bugs amoebas!!” The title alone guarantees 100% distraction.

On the next track (“Placebo Headwound”), Wayne Coyne asks, “Where does outer space end? It’s sort of hard to imagine,” and later, “And if God hears all my questions, well how come there’s never an answer? Is it nothing, nothing?” It’s something that could put you in deep thought and make you think that there must be something bigger, more powerful than all this.

There are a lot of wonderfully written lyrics in Clouds Taste Metallic. Aside from those mentioned above, there’s “Lightning Strikes the Postman” and “Brainville.” However, my favorite is that of “Christmas at the Zoo,” where Coyne sings about jailbreaking all the animals in the zoo on Christmas eve. However, all the animals “refused to leave.” Which reminds me of some people I know. Something about getting out of your… y’know… this is getting pretty long already, and we’re just on our first entry, so, no need elaborate. Let’s move to the next.

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Let me take you back to 1992: the year Rage Against the Machine released their eponymous debut. It’s one of the best of the decade and it’s the one with a Vietnamese monk committing self-immolation on its cover. I choose this particular album and not their second (Evil Empire) or Live & Rare because I am in total agreement with the guy who posted something like “RAtM were okay… until they got all political.”

They were a lot better back when they called their album Rage Against the Machine and not Evil Empire, back when they’re singing songs like “Bombtrack” and not making lousy covers like “Fuck Tha Police.” You see, Green Day used to be a really cool pop-punk band until they got all anti-war, anti-Bush with American Idiot. Same case with Rage Against the Machine.

Still, nothing beats RAtM, specially if you’re into physically invigorating music. The music is funky, plenty of inventive guitar riffs, and the songs are full of raw energy. If you haven’t heard this album yet, I’d suggest you first listen to “Killing In the Name.” It’s a kick-ass number. Now, like with most music, you don’t have to take the words literally. “Killing” here doesn’t mean literally killing people. It’s more like killing it, like doing very well at something. So, if you’re doing something at home or at work, you better put this one on. And you’d definitely get all pumped up.

One thing about this band though, is that they seem to only have one sound, distinctive but also kind of same-samey. I’m not saying all their songs sound the same or that their albums sound bad. It’s only that they seemed to have gotten themselves boxed in one corner and they’re left with very limited space to play around.

That is, their music is somewhat one-dimensional. Which reminds me of the government’s response to the pandemic, imposing strict and varying modes of lock-downs, only different in names. It’s all military and police-enforced lock-down, with very little else in terms of healthcare expertise and medical solution. Modified this and enhanced that? How about modified and enhanced targeted mass testing next time?

On top of that, Zack dela Rocha’s “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” repeated ad infinitum at the end of “Killing In the Name” also reminds me of the Secretary of Health’s utter incompetence and I don’t give a fuck attitude. He who didn’t heed the experts’ advice, until it was too late. By not listening to what he’s told, the ugly motherfucker has fucked all of us. Big time. Ugh! We better get going… 

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This one’s still from the 90’s, an album replete with psychedelia, soothing guitar noise and child-like wonder. It’s The Flaming Lips’ Trasmissions from the Satellite Heart. With song titles like “Oh My Pregnant Head (Labia in the Sunlight)” and “Chewin the Apple of My Eye,” infectious melodies and fun lyrics like “Be my head and I’ll be yours,” this is The Flaming Lips album to put on if you want to escape into a wonderful colorful world of psychedelic rock. Once you get a dose of them, I’m sure you’d never want to leave.

If you are unfamiliar with this record and want to skip the “warm up” stage, then I’d recommend that you start with “She Don’t Use Jelly,” the fourth track on the album. Maybe you’ve heard it before, it’s the one with that “She uses Va-ah-ah-seline” in the chorus. It’s one of the bands most popular songs and still their highest charting single to date.

Equally remarkable as the music is the song’s lyrics. The song describes a girl who “thinks of ghosts” and puts Vaseline (i.e., petroleum jelly) on toast, a guy who “goes to shows” and uses magazines to blow his nose, and another girl that “reminds [the track’s narrator] of Cher” and uses tangerines to make her hair orange. Not only that, in the lyrics, the narrator tells that there are other options, more sensible ones than the characters choose to use but these characters won’t. Read the first verse below:

I know a girl who thinks of ghosts
She’ll make ya breakfast
She’ll make ya toast
But she don’t use butter
And she don’t use cheese
She don’t use jelly
Or any of these
She uses Vaseline… Vaseline… Vaseline

I mean, what kind of stupid would do that? And on the second verse, what kind of person would use magazines to blow his nose rather than use tissues or napkins? Magazines might not be as effective as well in trying to control the spread of the virus.

And it’s funny, right? Because it’s stupid. But not as funny and utterly stupid as the people in the government agency who forced motorists to put barriers on their bikes just because. Despite the obvious illogic and all the scientific proofs thrown against it. Well, fuck logic. Fuck science. And fuck all those people who were left with no other choice but to purchase these stupid  barriers because these evil motherfuckers got manure for brains.

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If you’re not much into 90’s rock and prefers a more folk-rock vibe, then Neil Young & Crazy Horse‘s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere might just be your thing. It has the Radiohead-favorite “Cinammon Girl,” “Down By the River,” and the epic 10-minute closer “Cowgirl In the Sand.” I’m sure that instead of thinking of the news about the “Manila Bay Sands” or the creeping unemployment, you’d think about something else or more accurately, someone else: your wife, girlfriend, lover, ex, textmate, pen pal, etc.

A little precaution though: avoid listening to the title track if you can, especially since it’s the second cut on the album and its chorus is one of the catchiest of the lot. It goes “I gotta get away from this day-to-day running around, everybody knows this is nowhere.” Why? Because the title track’s chorus might remind you of our current situation and the government’s plan (or lack thereof) in handling this pandemic.

There’s no use in listening to your pandemic playlist to get away from this “day-to-day running around” and then have one chorus remind you of the very situation you’re trying to escape from. Because “Everybody knows” we’re getting nowhere in this battle, that the government failed, that this government fucked it up, that the government fucked us up, that we’re still far from the end of this tunnel. Okay, not “everybody.” Let’s exclude a certain group of people who are either willfully stupid or still in denial.

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No list would be complete without Pavement. If neo-psychedelia isn’t your thing, maybe you could do well with Wowee Zowee, indie rock’s crowning glory. And if you haven’t heard of Pavement or listen to Wowee Zowee or any of their first three albums, then you’ve never heard indie-rock yet. And the best way to appreciate this album is listen to it from start to end, no shortcuts to the singles, no skipping on fillers or goofy tracks. 

You start with “We Dance,” where Stephen Malkmus declares that there is “no castration fear,” then “Rattled by the Rush,” where Malkmus makes fun of the British people with “There’s no soap in the john, no soap in the john,” then “Blackout”, then “Brinx Job,” which is a reference to the heist movie The Brink’s Job. After that, I’m not gonna tell you what the next songs are and you have to check them out yourself. Here’s the [link] to the album’s track listing. Because that’s how relationships work. I do my part, you also need to do yours. Now go to the link above (in case you haven’t yet) and see it for yourself.

Let me warn you though that Wowee Zowee isn’t as consistent as Pavement’s other albums. Malkmus and co. alternates between different modes of slacker-y: from playful indie-rockers (“Rattled by the Rush”), to lovely guitar duets (“Pueblo,” “Grounded“), to punky goofball rockers (“Flux=Rad,” “Best Friend’s Arm”). It’s a zigzag journey and it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s schizophrenic, actually. And the lyrics are kind of cryptic and usually don’t make a lot of sense. Kind of like the president and his men who vacillate between defeatist attitude, jokey optimism, and the usual gobbledygook i.e., the cadaverous head talking gibberish on late night broadcast on national TV.

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