“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” -— Frederich Nietzche (questionable)

“Some people have lives; some people have music.” — John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

In conclusion, I am insane and have no life.

Russian Roulette playlist image

The most accurate reflection of my high school years can be described in my Spotify profile. It’s a culmination of all my personalities and interests and all the people I’ve ever loved. Someone once told me that I had no music taste—instead, I steal what someone I love loves most and, like some sort of impressionable child, let it infuse into my taste. In a way, the quality of a song is based on the quality of the person who loves it the most (or, for me, who I associate it best with).

The first time I listened to Odesza’s The Last Goodbye album, I stayed up unreasonably late to listen to it the minute it was released. I almost cried, not because the music was inherently a tear-jerker (it is an EDM album), but because I was reminded of a friend who once knew the context of my entire life and whom I had loved. (Love is a weird word because it always implies something, and therefore, we live in constant fear of finding ourselves so lost in love that we become okay with its limitless implications.) When I saw my friend’s face light up with joy, even at the smallest beat drop, when listening to music, I wondered why I had never felt so deeply about anything. Who feels the urge to gesticulate so wildly at a mere chord progression!? Why have I never felt so deeply for anyone? Therefore, to answer that question (and with the delusion that loving people would be just as easy), I threw myself headfirst into loving music.

In hindsight, there’s nothing special to loving music. There’s an argument to be made about aesthetic objectivism; that there are some fundamental qualia of art that appeals to all humans.

“Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual… It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important.” — Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto

(You may be wondering why I am quoting Nietzche or Rand—I promise I am not an edgy philosophy nerd, but instead, I find it deeply humorous to repurpose these quotes in the least related of contexts.)

But that’s okay because finding joy in something everyone else also enjoys is totally okay. I’d had to grapple with that when I realized there were people out there who did not, in fact, find it unique that I was of the top 0.01% listeners of Imagine Dragons for the past three years in a row. Darn.

But playlists, on the other hand, can be groundbreaking. Many go through a camera roll or old Instagram posts to feel nostalgic; I just scroll through the playlists I made in the summer of 2021. Sure, my life is nowhere as dramatic as most of these song lyrics, which is just as well: I can build tiny castles in the sky where I am that princess in a love story and feel the temporary joy of living a life that is not my own.

In a way, that becomes a goal, too, because while I might be indulging in some form of escapism, believing that my life can become just as real and emotionally true as that of these artists gives me hope for the future.

Yall this is History, playlist

There’s a formula to making someone the perfect playlist.

title: a question (for example, why do I miss us?)

▶ 1) The quintessential Taylor Swift song (out of the woods, taylor swift)

▶ 2) The “remember that song we screamed at the top of our lungs that one time? well, I’m forcing you to relive the ghost of the next day’s sore throat” song (electric love, børns)

▶ 3) Albums that provide an all-around experience have changed my relationship with storytelling forever because, before, I thought the only way my impatient self could ever follow a story was through reading at my own pace (dawn fm, the weeknd)

▶ 4) Here, I add a song you, too, once added to all your playlists as a sort of secret way of telling me, “this playlist is for you,” which is why I once stayed up to listen to all of them, over and over again, even the ones that were meant for someone else (we were lovers, the analog affair)

▶ 5) :) (sweater weather, the neighbourhood)

▶ 6) Cheekily, I know when you’re seeing this because we’re in different time zones, and you subscribe to a form of cyclic nap/wake/nap cycle (3 am, ajr)

▶ 7) We’re 7 songs in, and I haven’t figured out what I am trying to tell you. What will you take away from this when I randomly send you the link at two am, right before I go to sleep? (hate to be lame, mcalpine)

▶ 8) but I might love you…

▶ 9) As the dj of the night, I played this song for you once, and I’m pretty sure I saw you cry. Which is wild, because I’d never find myself doing that (touch, daft punk)

▶ 10) Every birthday, we swap playlists that piece together some story of the past few months, and, no matter how hard I try to give you music you’ve never heard before, your music taste has so permanently permeated my life it is impossible (you’re so fucking pretty, the regrettes)

▶ 11) On a train ride home, we once accidentally listened to all of this album one airpod each. I woke up with “ba ba barbara, santa barbara” playing on a loop in my mind as we rode by that very city (california, u2)

▶ 12) I once saw this in something you’d once made for me. What did it mean? (let her go, passenger)

▶ 13) Years (or is it just days?) after we last see each other, we reunite and share an awkward clutch that feels like an insult to our old hugs. Maybe human connections are inherently impermanent, and trying too hard to cling to them is a sign of insanity, but I’m willing to jump into the stream a thousand times if it means I can forever refer to you as a loved one (break my heart again, finneas)

“Licotic — adj. anxiously excited to introduce a friend to something you think is amazing—a classic album, a favorite restaurant, a TV show they’re lucky enough to watch for the very first time—which prompts you to continually poll their face waiting for the inevitable rush of awe, only to cringe when you discover all the work’s flaws shining through for the very first time.” — John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Link to playlist: context of my entire life.

Link to substack post: clairebookworm.substack.com.


Thanks to Y.S. and A.L. on top of the entire Creative Nonfiction group for a fantastic workshop & feedback. Thanks to R.K. and T.B. for being in my thoughts as I wrote this <3. Thanks to Gabrielle Zevin for writing Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, for portraying platonic love (which I feel is so rare today), the various people I’ve shown this essay to because I was too afraid to actually post it somewhere, N.R. for sitting through my playlist rants and reading my essays, and Spotify, of course. :)