Songs for Our Now: A playlist for survival and centeredness

Songs for Our Now: A playlist for survival and centeredness

In the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where I’ve lived most of my adult life, November is always a transitional month. At times it even inspires a kind of cyclical mourning. As the leaves fall, the temperatures drop, and the landscape’s colors morph from vibrant postcards into barren withered browns we, too, shift in posture and color. In the present moment many Americans are searching for the most resonant emotional chords.   Navigating the changing scenery also means being enveloped by the swirl of emotional uncertainty. We are simultaneously seeking solace and inspiration to cosset us from acute feelings of anger, betrayal, sadness, and ambivalence.

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall
(“Autumn Leaves” English Lyrics by Johnny Mercer)

Music is, naturally, an almost undefined, intangible space of reckoning. Certain melodies, words, and tones can cohere into irresistible musical forms that move us unexpectedly.  When the right pitch catches us we feel heard; it grounds us and we are poised for new vistas. In this spirit I offer an anthology of songs that sings to us in this particular moment. I was inspired by food writer extraordinaire Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, a generous collection of interwoven stories and recipes documenting losses in her life that gave her life meaning.  Rather than seeking music that merely enrages or soothes, I have chosen music representing a vast palette of emotions.

“O’ Death” (sung by Marion Williams): For creating room to moan, cry, grieve, and lament.

“Autumn Leaves” (sung by Eva Cassidy): For capturing the bittersweet flavor of fall and the uncertain season ahead.

“I’m not ashamed to sing the blues” (sung by Bobby “Blue” Bland): For those moments when you must express your truth in an effort to transcend it.

“Day Dream” and “Wave” (sung by Sarah Vaughan): For when we need to escape into sonic reverie, the kind only available to us through the most sublimely luxuriant and enveloping voices.

“O Shenandoah” (sung by Rene Marie): For reminders of the beauty of the American landscape even in the ugliest of times.  

“City of New Orleans” (sung by Allen Toussaint): For times when we must remind ourselves of the interconnectedness of communities, cities, and states beyond region.

“I Can See Cleary Now” (sung by Holly Cole): For times when you need beams of hope that sustain you, even if such optimism feels illusory.

Can you hear the words being whispered
All along the American stream
Tyrants freed the just are imprisoned
Try to rekindle the patriot’s dreams
(“Patriot’s Dream” Lyrics by Arlo Guthrie)

“Patriot’s Dream” (sung by Jennifer Warnes): For those seeking a reason to fight for democracy that feels under siege.

“American Tune” (sung by Paul Simon): For when you must press on in spite of it all.

“Ol’ Man River” (sung by Aretha Franklin): For acknowledging the unheralded dignity and sacrifices of hard working people especially those from the social and economic underclass.

“My Petition” (sung by Jill Scott): For when we are longing for eloquent challenges to blind faith.


I want fresh fruit, clean water,
Air that I don’t see
I want the feeling of being safe on my streets
I want my children to be smarter than me
I want, I want to feel
I want to feel, I want to feel free
For real ya’ll
I’m just telling you so you know
I want to, I want to have faith in you
I really do but you keep lying to me
It hurts
(“My Petition,” Lyrics by Jill Scott)

My aim is restorative listening. Please share, re-mix, re-sequence, and listen to whenever and however you choose.