On My Mind

A while ago I read an article that completely condemned technology as well as people who love to use it. I can’t remember much of what was written but it had a very negative (cherry-picked) stance on the modern age of social media. It implied that the current preoccupation with technology meant that nobody cared about what was going on in reality. I was thinking today about how much I personally disagree with that.

There are so many things I would not know without social media. I probably would not be as politically active and interested in current affairs if it were not for Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. I don’t use them extensively but they have proved wonderful over the years. It’s unlikely I would have discovered the published pieces of Owen Jones had it not been for Youtube and Facebook. And now I love basically everything he has to say. I’ve learned so much from reading his books Chavs and The Establishment, as well as watching his videos online. I think he’s such an important voice in modern politics and his presence on the web is wonderful.

I also want to mention the Artist Taxi Driver (or Mark McGowan). He’s an amazing performance artist everybody should check out. In his videos he goes about his day-to-day profession as a taxi driver, but in between his fares he passionately effuses about the news of the day. It can be so inspiring to watch somebody discuss current affairs with genuine emotion and compassion. He has plenty of other art pieces available online as well.

Also, there are hundreds of great websites that provide news and opinion articles etc. I, myself, am part of a blogging team that aims to tackle gender and racial injustices. It’s called Spark Movement (in co-operation with Powered by Girl). To me, it’s such an amazing concept and I’m so glad to be a part of it.  The girls create such empowering pieces, I’m always visiting the site for a new read.

I’m not saying social media is perfect. I know for a fact that it has a myriad of shortcomings. For example, Instagram and Facebook are well-known for promoting unhealthy ideals regarding body image and Twitter can often feel like a breeding ground for bullying and harassment. However, to say that our preoccupation with technology means we’re less interested in what’s going on in the world is simply not accurate. Social media may be flawed but it’s not completely negative. Without it, I definitely would not be as interested in politics as I am today. It has opened the door to so many new ideas for me.

 

“So it goes.”

Recently, I read Kurt Vonnegut for the very first time. He’s a writer I’d been meaning to check out for ages, after enjoying little quotes from him here and there, so I bought myself a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five (arguably his most famous book). Basically, my reading experience was an embodiment of the cliché phrase- I couldn’t put it down. From beginning to end, I didn’t tear my eyes away. Even once I had finished, I returned to some of my favourite passages for an indulgent re-read.

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I adore this book. I love everything it stands for and how much humanity it captures using such sparse words. Despite the violent subject matter, Vonnegut still manages to reveal the gentle beauty and significance of innocence. I honestly did not expect to fall in love with this book as much as I did. How he manages to insert such power into his rather colloquial writing style is unbelievable.

My awe was obtained during a very early chapter and it only expanded as I carried on reading. (Something about the writing actually felt reminiscent of Hemingway- another author I admire beyond words. I think it’s the way both men convey such enormous ideas with such simplicity. The relationship they create with the reader is a human-to-human one, rather than the reader being conscious of the fact they’re a reader, if that makes sense.)

It wasn’t the writing alone that entranced me, though; the story itself is remarkably beautiful. (And yes, I am aware of the fact I’ve just used a semi-colon, which Vonnegut fully disapproves of. He said- “All they do is show you’ve been to college.” That’s probably the one thing I don’t agree with him on.)

The character of Billy Pilgrim is the central focus of Slaughterhouse-Five. He is the kind of guy that breaks your heart with his immaturity. Billy’s entire life is outside of his control. He’s sent to war and during that time witnesses a vast array of traumas, unable to change any of it. Death pours over every aspect of his life. Even after the war,  sadness has a way of following him. He becomes the only survivor of a plane crash that kills every other passenger, including his Father-in-Law. On top of this, his wife dies of carbon-monoxide poisoning. This is partly as a result of her obsessive love for him.

Billy is also captured by aliens. Although, this could just as easily  have been a delusion considering the fact he has an obvious mental illness. Regardless, the situation leaves him helpless. As always…

For me, one of the parts I found the most touching was the portrayal of free will. Time is presented as non-linear. Everything that has already happened is still happening and Billy can visit a random event in his life at any given moment- but it occurs without his consent. Time has no structure, exactly like the chronology of the book, which is almost a representation of Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence”. This portrayal of time raises an important thought- are we all the same as Billy? We don’t actually have much time, because time has us. We can’t tell it to slow down or speed up. Generally, we are time’s subjects and it can do with us as it pleases. Therefore, Slaughterhouse-Five poses the question: is free will nothing more than a mere illusion? If the answer is yes, then we are all like Billy. Little leaves blown by the wind with absolutely no idea which direction we’re going in. However, Vonnegut is not entirely pessimistic in his concepts. He does not abolish the possibility of free will, rather he tries to wake his readers up- as though freedom can be attained. Hopefully, inspiring our courage to break free from whatever chains our lives are constricted by.

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Obviously, this was not the only thing about the book that moved me deeply. There were many instances in which I clutched the paperback to my chest, desperate not to move onto the next page in fear of finishing such a masterpiece. I wanted to stay in Vonnegut’s mind forever, or at least longer than 170-something pages. Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book  was the relationship between Billy and his wife -Valencia. It wasn’t a conventional marriage to say the least, but by far one of the most fascinating dynamics I’ve read between two characters in a long while. During and after the war, Billy’s mental health begins to spiral downwards. He loses his mind. This, the narrator suggests, is why he agrees to marry Valencia in the first place. She cries at one point after they sleep together, as she used to believe no one would ever marry her and now her happiness with Billy is overwhelming. She’s described as overweight and this is something that constantly makes her feel insecure. It even causes her to tell Billy that she’ll lose weight for him, to which he replies that he likes her the way she is.

Throughout the whole book, Valencia is utterly in love . She dotes on Billy but given his mental health issues, he remains unable to communicate emotionally. Sometimes he comes across as distant. Still, this doesn’t prevent us from feeling their unorthodox love burst out of the pages. I had a tear in my eye when Valencia was tragically killed from carbon monoxide poisoning. Even her death is a result of her love. After Billy’s plane crash, she rushes to the hospital in such frantic terror that she crashes and triggers a fault in her car. She couldn’t concentrate on the road due to her emotional state at her husband’s hospitalisation.

A prevalent anti-war theme is a vital part of the book as well. Whenever the subject of death is mentioned or referenced, Vonnegut uses the three word sentence “So it goes.” I’m sure I read in another review that “So it goes” is mentioned 105 times in the book. What this sentence does is bring to attention the ultimate tragedy of war- death becomes a means to an end. Death shouldn’t be dismissed; it should be mournful, and people should grieve it, but in war there seems to be an indifferent attitude. It’s something along the lines of “So it goes”. Governments don’t care about the loss of life, about the millions of young men who fight with such bravery and then suffer for the rest of their lives with the memories. As long as the jobs done, nobody seems to care. And that’s what Vonnegut tries to show us. He makes us aware of how terrifying war really is, how sorrowful the long-term consequences can be. There is nothing glamorous about it at all. This is stated in the first chapter and it comes to a head in the final line of the book. The last word is the incoherent tweet of a bird. It happens immediately after the war is finished. The main interpretation of this is that nothing can be said. War is such a devastating subject that there simply are no words for it. Innocent people dead. Cities destroyed. Minds made insane. Children without parents, parents without children, men without wives, women without husbands. War ruins lives and so arbitrarily that one can only weep. This futility is reflected through the execution of a soldier for stealing  a teapot in the book’s climax. Truthfully, Vonnegut is a genius, using these stark contrasts to illuminate deeper connotations!

Everybody could do with reading this book. It whisks you away from the first page and doesn’t let you go until the last. I was reluctant to finish it and today I gladly discovered that a film adaption exists from the 70’s. I can’t wait to see if the film is up to scratch with the masterful book. Vonnegut himself was very fond. He said: “I drool and cackle every time I watch that, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book.” I hope I feel the same, because I really need to return to the Slaughterhouse-Five universe.

My Summer Playlist

Pretty much 90% of the spare time I have, I use to listen to music. I love it! Spotify happens to be my favourite app; it’s ideal if you’re like me and love curating different playlists depending on mood and season etc. As well, it contains so many wonderful ways to discover new stuff- a lot of the random songs I can’t stop replaying have been suggested through Spotify.

Last summer was when I really got into music and started developing different tastes and preferences. I realised what type of albums I kept going back to and which ones I might like to try next.

The summer months have an enormous effect on what I listen to. I go from blasting out the dark, cynical lyrics of Radiohead in the colder seasons, to suddenly craving warmer folk/acoustic styles like Bear’s Den and Angus & Julia Stone during the Summer. I’ve a very eclectic taste! Also, I have to say, I’m fairly stuck in the old ways when it comes to music. I like the old timers most of all, such as Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin.

Anyway, I created a little playlist with all the music that pops into my mind whenever the sun decides to come out. Below are the 20 songs that made the cut!
These songs are masterpieces I know I’ll never grow tired of. Some tracks I can even see myself  listening to twenty years into the future…

1. Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

“Laugh until we think we’ll die,
Barefoot on a summer night
Never could be sweeter than with you”

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How can anybody not think of Summer when they hear this one?! It’s definitely going to be a timeless June/July/August anthem for me. And it sticks! Whenever I finish listening to it (probably after five or six repeats) I get the whistling sounds stuck in my head.

2. Songbird by Fleetwood Mac

“For you, there’ll be no more crying.
For you, the sun will be shining.
And I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright, I know it’s right.”

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This is probably the most stunning song ever written, in my opinion, and I’ll always be listening to it- whatever the season! It definitely had to make its way into my Summer playlist. The melancholy yet hopeful lyrics fit so well with the feeling you get on Summer evenings when it’s light extremely late at night, and ready to get dark soon.

3. Ophelia by The Lumineers

“Oh, Ophelia, you’ve been on my mind girl since the flood
Oh, Ophelia, heaven help a fool who falls in love”

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From the moment I first heard ‘Ho Hey’  five years ago, I just knew The Lumineers were going to be a band I followed. And they haven’t disappointed me yet. Their albums so far have been flawless. But this song stands out as particularly summery. I especially love the music video. It’s quite funny in how relatable it is- a guy pretending he’s in a music video while walking down the street and then hurriedly acting natural when a car goes past.

4. Every Time The Sun Comes Up by Sharon Van Etten

“Every time the sun comes up, I’m in trouble
People say I’m a one-hit wonder
But what happens when I have two?
I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom”

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Sharon Van Etten is a genius and this song is amazing! She’s got such a humorous yet often quite sad way with words. I’m so thankful to have found her music. She’s probably my favourite female musician working today. She isn’t intimidated by the prospect of appearing exposed in her lyrics.

5. Girl From The North Country by Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash

“Please see for me if her hair hangs long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see for me if her hair hangs long
For that’s the way I remember her best”

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Two of the most brilliant old-time musicians  coming together to sing this sweet, lovely song! What more could you ask for? I’m really protective over this one in the sense that I don’t think anybody else should sing it. These two were perfect. Any other versions are going to fall short compared to this gem.

6. Over the Hill by John Martyn

“Been worried about my babies, been worried about my wife
Just one place for a man to be when he’s worried about his life
I’m going home, hey hey hey, over the hill”

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Living incredibly close to so much greenery- all kinds of hills and mountains – for some reason this song just encapsulates all of that. Whenever I hear it, which is often considering I listen to Martyn’s records A LOT, I always think of a camping site in Braithwaite I stayed at for a night last year. I was going through a big John Martyn phase and wouldn’t stop playing his songs by the tent. This one especially.

7. Falling Slowly by The Swell Season

“You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you won
Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time”

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Every single person should listen to this song. It’s one of the very, very best and I have to say I probably listen to it at least three or four times a week. Without a shadow of a doubt it’s one of my all-time favourites. There’s not much to say about it other than how lovely it is. (I think it’s a massive shame Glen Hansard isn’t known by everybody. He’s one of the greatest singer-songwriters to have ever existed- and more people should know who he is. He’s the definition of under-rated.)

8. Depth Over Distance by Ben Howard

“Depth over distance was all I asked of you
And everybody round here’s acting like a stone
Still there’s things I’d do, darling, I’d go blind for you”

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It wouldn’t be a Summer playlist if I didn’t include this musician and this song in particular. Even when I listen to it mid-winter, I’m brought back to warm air and cool drinks. It’s not necessarily upbeat but there’s a really soft, bright vibe to it. I used to play it through constantly last June/July. As well as that, I would watch every live version I could possibly find on YouTube because I loved the part about five or so minutes in when he started singing so loud that his voice cracked.

9. Mexico by The Staves

“I’m saving up
To take a trip to Mexico
I heard it’s the place to go
Oh I want to see the colours of another sky”

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These three are perhaps the most talented sisters alive. Their harmonies are breathtaking. I remember discovering their music through the documentary Austin to Boston on Netflix. It’s about a group of musicians touring the United States. It exposed me to The Staves for the first time. I haven’t stopped listening to them since. This track is ideal for lazy Summer days when you don’t really want to move from the garden where you have sweltering heat, a cold drink, and a good book.

10. Here Comes The Sun by George Harrison

“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right”

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This should be on every Summer playlist for obvious reasons. I chose George Harrison’s rendition (and it was a close call; I almost went for Nina Simone)  as I have a huge soft spot for him and could watch him perform for hours on a loop.

11. Big Jet Plane by Angus & Julia Stone

“Be my lover, my lady river
Can I take ya, take ya higher
Gonna take her for a ride on a big jet plane”

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I think these two siblings deserve a place among everybody’s Summer favourites. There were a number of songs I could have chosen from any of their albums- they seem to capture the Summer feeling exceptionally well. In the end though, Big Jet Plane proves the most appropriate. It’s so simple and hazy yet still so memorable.

12. Nothing to Show For by Nathaniel Rateliff

“We’re all broke down
We’re all well hid
We’re all just kids
Despite our age”

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Another discovery through the Netflix doc- Austin to Boston. This man is just WOW! The passion he always performs with blows me away. I’d kill to see him live one day. You can tell from the documentary he’s just so authentic in his love of music. Definitely a really intense and fierce song. I can’t quite explain why it reminds me of Summer, it simply has that folky edge to it. I can imagine hearing this while being at a really muddy, quirky mid-Summer festival in the South-West, surrounded by fields, birds, and oceans.

13. Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons

“Love, it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be”

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Last year, around July, I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road for the first time. It changed the way I look at literature and I quickly became obsessed with the story. I watched the film adaption shortly after I read the book and was equally as impressed with that. This Mumford and Sons song is often attributed to On The Road. In fact, Mumford and Sons might have been inspired by Kerouac, I’m not sure. They’ve wrote songs inspired by great American authors in the past, such as Steinbeck. Anyway, Sigh No More highlights the message of On The Road which is to basically live as brightly and brilliantly as possible.

14. The Trapeze Singer by Iron & Wine

“I heard from someone you’re still pretty
And then they went on to say
That the pearly gates had some eloquent graffiti
Like we’ll meet again and fuck the man
And tell my mother not to worry”

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What a song!!!!!!!!!!!
Actually, I don’t even look at this as a song. More like a masterpiece. It’s close to ten minutes long but you become so engrossed in the gorgeous lyrics that you don’t even realise. It tells a story. The humming and the bells create this gentle, mellow atmosphere that makes me immediately think about the last few days of Summer. Yes it’s quite a sad one, but nonetheless- purely mesmerising.

15. The Wolves (Act I and II) by Bon Iver

“And the story’s all over you
In the morning I’ll call you
Can’t you find a clue when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue”

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I can recall the exact moment I first heard this song. It was late June and I was listening in bed to Bon Iver’s first album. Then, this song started playing. I checked instantly to see what it was called. I knew from the first verse it would become important to me. Ever since it’s been one I always go back to. It’s somehow harrowing but at the same time a cosy climate manages to be created. You can almost picture a barn in late August as a heavy Summer rain descends upon it.

16. The Fear by Ben Howard

“Oh, I’ve been worryin’ that my time is a little unclear
I’ve been worryin’ that I’m losing the ones I hold dear
I’ve been worryin’ that we all live our lives in the confines of fear”

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I could easily put all of the songs from his first album and early EP’s on here, but I won’t. The Fear has stuck with me for years. I think I was 12 when it first came out. I kind of forgot completely about it until last year. I fell back in love with this song. Even if you don’t think you know it, give it a listen and you’ll probably remember the chorus. There is a specific sentence which never fails to make me stop and think – “I’ve been worryin’ that we all live our lives in the confines of fear.”
It’s a fairly deep piece of music. Nevertheless, the melody makes it an instant Summer classic. Thoughtful AND a good one to sing along to.

17. The Night We Met by Lord Huron

“I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met”

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This song was made famous by the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I think. I haven’t seen it yet (I’m always very late on the bandwagon) but the beauty of this song makes me eager to do a binge watch to catch up with the hype. It’s such a pretty song. The alluring melody and simplistic yet touching lyrics make for a piece of music I put on repeat, repeat, repeat. I’ve been listening to Lord Huron for years; this is his best piece yet!

18. Harvest Moon by Neil Young

“Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon”

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Neil Young literally will never get old. I think everybody who is familiar with his music feels the same from what I’ve read. He’s basically timeless, and a musical legend. Harvest Moon feels like being in a wooden cabin, clouds are just starting to block the sun as dusk arrives. Addictive, to say the least.

19. Warm Foothills by Alt-J 

“Oh the weeds and larger leaves sway
And stretch themselves beneath
Blue dragonflies dart to and fro
I tie my life to your balloon and let it go”

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I can’t believe I almost forgot about this song. Everything about it resonates with Summer. The delicate, basic tune is so appealing to listen to and the lyrics accurately sum up the simple joys of a warm day.

20. Hoppípolla  by Sigur  Rós

“Ég lamdi eins fast og ég get
með nefinu mínu
Hoppa í poll
Í engum stígvélum”
(It’s not an English song!)

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Pretty sure I saved the best until last… this song is iconic! For Summer times, but also for all times. Written in a part-Icelandic, part made-up language, Hoppípolla is literally breathtaking. You’ll probably recognise the tune because it’s often played in the back of film scenes etc. But it’s only when you put your earphones in and appreciate it on its own that the song truly affects you. In terms of relating it to Summer, I think it captures what a Summer’s day feels like for a child.  Whether adventuring through long grass with friends, going on bike rides, or having net-fishing competitions, the inspiring music summarises how those Summer days can make you feel like you’re on top of the world.

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You can find this playlist on my Spotify -https://open.spotify.com/user/kaylenforsyth13/playlist/5SpjWodoY1NCFc7qVIRnWZ