By Rhea Kapur (V)
Existentialism has dominated my last few weeks. What does that mean, exactly? What even is existentialism? That question in and of itself, my friends, presents its own existential crisis––and that should tell you something about just how much it has been on my mind lately. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, existentialism is the pursuit of what “further set of categories… [are] necessary to grasp human existence.” Let that sink in. Deep, I know. And, of course, we teenagers should all be familiar with the “existential crisis,” a term that is now so ingrained in American culture that it is considered colloquial, dare I say the content of memes. Just to be clear, though, an existential crisis is a moment where we question the meaning of life––or, conversely, contemplate how life has no meaning.
I love to explore different aspects of the Slavic cultures and Russian language. Russian literature offers nothing if not some of the best reading, and many great Russian writers were existentialists. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading Uncle Vanya, one of Anton Chekhov’s plays. There’s a line in there that immediately stopped me in my tracks. Helena remarks, “What a fine day! Not too hot.” And Voitski (Vanya) responds, “A fine day to hang oneself.” If that’s not existentialist, I don’t know what is. Yes, Vanya perhaps takes it too far, but the sentiment is there. In my Russian Literature HIRT, we’re reading Anna Karenina, a great novel by Leo Tolstoy, and a friend of mine recently gave a presentation on Tolstoy’s spiritual crisis. You guessed it: by the end of his life, he was a die-hard existentialist. And, in my American Literature course right now, we’re reading “Bartleby the Scrivener”––perhaps one of the strangest short stories of all time––which presents a perfect case study in absurdism, existentialism, and even nihilism.
For me, all of this inspired a Spotify playlist, which I have lovingly entitled “sediment of existentialism.” In curating this playlist, I had to think about what has had me feeling so existentialist (the literature, obviously, and maybe the crushing amount of work). How could I elicit those same feelings again at a random 2:00 AM, when I really need them?
I came up with two answers. One is slow, melancholy music: “Apocalypse,” “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby,” “Affection,” and “K.” These are slow-burning gems from the band Cigarettes After Sex, perfect for those late nights after you return from a memorable night out, or even while you type out one last essay before our upcoming break. Lana Del Ray, with her unique voice and powerful lyrics, has some stars too: “Love,” “Brooklyn Baby,” “Off to the Races,” and “Born to Die” (that title has me convinced that she, too, is an existentialist) are some of my favorites. All of these songs showcase raspy, unique, and contemplative voices, and they really get my existentialist gears turning, transporting me to entirely new worlds.
The other mini-genre in my existentialist music consists of songs that I’ve associated with a memory. Now, hang with me, folks, we’re getting deep here. What are those sentimental songs for me? “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran is one that immediately comes to mind. I know I may have denounced pop in my last column, and Ed Sheeran would definitely qualify as a pop artist, but this song is exceptional; it’s poignant, and above all it’s beautifully sung. Sheeran wrote it to cope with losing his grandmother, and that loss is simultaneously raw and crystal clear in his voice. As someone who recently lost mine, I can really connect to it. Listening, I remember my dadi, yes, but I also think about death, the meaning of death, and where we go afterwards. Where is the “home” that Sheeran refers to? What quantifies “a life that’s been loved” and lived, as Sheeran sings? How can we measure that?
I have lighter songs, too: the last songs of the night that I’ve danced to (“I Lived” by OneRepublic), a Beatles piece a faraway friend of mine used to play me on his guitar (“Blackbird”), or the favorite song of a sister I never had (“The Monster” by Rihanna). All of these songs––the happy, sad, and in-between––make me contemplate life and its meaning. You could say they elicit those existential crises.
My advice for creating your own existentialist playlist? Find those songs that matter to you – the ones that make you reason, reflect, and reminisce. Find those melancholy songs to which you wallow, or the upbeat songs to which you sing along at the top of your lungs, shaking out your hair and smiling ear to ear (“Story of my Life” by One Direction, anyone?). If you need inspiration, give “sediment of existentialism” a listen. Maybe while reading Dostoevsky (another Russian existentialist––sigh) over break, as I will be. You never know what kinds of existential moments you might find yourself in.
Rhea Kapur (V)
Even though I dislike the mainstream, formulaic pop that constantly fills Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” Playlist, I keep an eye on the charts. Billboard Hot 100? The top 200 albums? Rolling Stone’s Top 100? iTunes Top 100? You name it. Imagine my surprise when, just a few days into October, I saw not Taylor Swift’s Lover at the top of the Billboard 200, but The Beatles’ Abbey Road, as it was just past the album’s 50th anniversary (Sept. 26th).
I went through a brief Beatles phase this summer, after rediscovering Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the “Twist and Shout” cameo – the song was on repeat for weeks, so much so that Spotify would start recommending it in every single one of my personalized playlists. I mainly listened to their popular works – “Twist and Shout,” of course, “Hey Jude” (the beautiful lyrics of which, by the way, were written by Paul McCartney to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian during his parents’ divorce), “Here Comes The Sun,” and “Blackbird.” But, last week, after noticing the Beatles’ unusual appearance in the Billboard 200, and reminiscing about my summer obsession, I was intrigued. So I put in headphones, closed my doors, and blasted Abbey Road, Remastered 2009. The Beatles’ swan song. The famous last album. The goodbye. And I have to say – it was an experience.
My favorite song by far was “Carry That Weight,” one of the only songs on the album recorded with all four members. It’s dark, it’s deep, it’s striking. A bit of history: recorded as one with “Golden Slumbers,” an eerily reassuring, hopeful, and vulnerable track in and of itself, the song was written by Paul McCartney but it interestingly featured vocals from all four Beatles. The sheer pressure the song conveys (heavy trumpets, “weight” being repeated, etc. – and that abrupt ending) mirrors the Beatles’ own struggles at the time: inter-group rifts and management troubles with Apple plagued them. Fellow juniors, I bet you can relate to this pressure – I know I’m already feeling it. Take comfort in knowing that the Beatles, too, went through seemingly hopeless times – but of course, theirs was probably much more significant, as the band ended up breaking up at the end. However, those times overall turned out to be great and remembered from today’s perspective, and ours will too – have faith. The weight, in fact, will be “carried a long time.”
A couple more gems from Abbey Road – “You Never Give Me Your Money,” featuring a beautiful, poignant piano base, “Oh! Darling” with McCartney’s wrought, almost painful, but undeniably powerful vocals, and of course, “Come Together” with its unique instrumental backbone – quiet, but with all the more noticeable guitar and beats in the back. I highly recommend those. And check out the 2019 mix of Abbey Road – it has come out in honor of the 50th Anniversary!
To continue my “classics~vibes” music pattern, I was reminded of Elton John – another great artist I constantly listened to this summer after watching the movie in his honor, Rocketman, with some friends. And what a movie that was. It was the first time I really listened to and recognized Elton John, and in theaters, too – the music was just all-encompassing and consuming in conjunction with the story of his eventful, bright-as-a-supernova life. Hearing the song “Rocketman” blasted, I could sense the mixed feelings and, of course, the Ray Bradbury influence – he wrote a short story in the 1950s entitled “The Rocket Man” upon which the song lyrics are heavily based.
Elton John wrote about the most obscure things – the “blue jean baby” in his hands in “Tiny Dancer” (a classic, by the way – simply a beautiful song), or “Spanish Harlem” in “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (one of my favorite songs of all time, and one of Elton’s own favorites, too. I mean, the emotion in it is unparalleled). Honky Chateau is definitely a must-check-out album. But, I digress. Overall, Elton manages to make each and every one of his songs striking and beautiful. He’s simply a genius – not only with the jazz piano, which backs almost all of his songs, but with the lyrics and the voice, too. I’m eternally envious of those fortunate enough to have witnessed his genius in person, in his prime (Mr. Keating, looking at you!).
So I highly, highly recommend checking out Elton John and Abbey Road. Listen to them alone, in a quiet space, or even on a rainy morning bus ride, but with the music blasting as loud as you can bear – and really feel the music. Let it transport you away from the generic pop for a minute and take you back to the roaring 60s and 70s, when people, places, and music had unique character. Anyway, I’ve been listening to these two as I write this column, and it’s been the perfect vibe. I guarantee you, you’ll be hooked.
By Allie Verdesca ’18
Spring is my least favorite season. Allergies get worse and schedules get busier. What’s more, the weather has not been very cooperative in keeping me going throughout the school year. Especially with senioritis sinking in, I am finding it hard to stay on task. My main coping mechanism for these feelings has been music, and more specifically, breakup music. In my opinion, there is no song more relatable than a breakup song. Even if you haven’t been dumped (or dumped someone else), everyone can understand the sting of heartbreak. While not all of these songs are about the end of relationships, they are perfect if you’re ready to break up with the school year and move on to the bigger, better things that the summer will bring. So grab some earbuds and get ready to rock!
The first song on this list is “The Greatest” by Sia. Recently, I have been listening to many pop musicians and getting reacquainted with a more traditional pop sound. Sia’s “The Greatest” is the perfect earworm to get you through these last few draining weeks of school. The song’s driving beat and refrain of “don’t give up” provide the perfect antidote for your end-of-the-school year woes. Sia’s soprano voice and mastery of her trademark pop sound will keep you hustling through exam season and reassuring yourself that you too are “free to be the greatest here tonight.”
In a similar vein is Ingrid Michaelson’s main claim to fame, her song, “Girls Chase Boys.” Like “The Greatest,” Michaelson’s song has an upbeat and repetitive chorus, and she really knows how to sing a good breakup song. From her emotional vocals on “The Chain” to her enthusiasm on “Be Okay” and her sass on “Hell No,” Michaelson has mastered the craft of channeling sorrow into productivity. With “Girls Chase Boys,” hopefully, you too can release your disenchantment with the school year and use it to finish strong. The song’s leading verses are relatable and encouraging, and with a fun, danceable beat, “Girls Chase Boys” will have you shrugging off your setbacks and admitting that “I’m gonna be alright!”
On a different note, one of my favorite songs of all time is “Sad Song” by Scotty Sire. Not my typical type of music, “Sad Song” combines biting sarcasm with a bubbly, upbeat rap to create the ultimate feel-good, feel-bad song. The song’s lyrics carp on all the little things that can go wrong in life, and Sire’s nasal voice and accompanying whistling along to the tune of the chorus make everything seem a little easier. While this isn’t necessarily a breakup song, it embraces the self-pity and stress that come with the end of the year and reassures us that “it’ll be alright,” and sometimes, joking about your misery makes your problems easier to bear.
And finally, the epitome of breakup songs has to be Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” After performing the song with the Balladeers for our annual assembly, nothing has encapsulated my end of the year more than this iconic 1980’s single. Gaynor is the epitome of a classically trained vocal powerhouse with an amazing belt. The strength in Gaynor’s voice is undeniable, and the way she puts weight behind every word will have you singing along. The slow, dramatic piano introduction sets the stage for its pulsing chorus. The chorus will have you jumping off your feet and dancing, and will be the perfect push to get you through final exams and AP season. Knowing that “you will survive” may be the best motivation to send exhausted Pingry kids into the summer feeling accomplished and ready for a well-deserved break.
As this is my last music column for the Pingry Record, I just want to say it has been a pleasure to share my music interests with you all. I hope I have been able to provide some musical inspiration and broaden your horizons. Have a great summer!
By Allie Verdesca ’18
All right, raise your hand if you’ve had this experience. During a family car ride, your mom or dad would turn up the radio and sing along – a little too loudly – to the music they loved as a teenager: classic rock. Maybe it was Bruce Springsteen, maybe the Rolling Stones, maybe the Eagles. Although I might not want to admit it to my parents, a lot of this music has stayed with me throughout my life and provides a nice break from today’s oft-auto-tuned pop offerings.
For this column, I want to explore these musical roots. This is in no way a comprehensive list of the best classic rock songs. Instead, I will highlights songs that I’ve been listening to at the moment. With that said, here are three of my favorite classic rock and roll songs.
The first song on my list has made a comeback recently due to the popular Netflix show, Stranger Things. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash plays in one of the first episodes of the first season. Stranger Things, which is set in the 1980s fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, is known for its nostalgia. This nostalgia has exposed a whole new generation to the Clash’s hit single. One thing I love about classic rock is the amount of guitar highlighted in each song. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” pairs raunchy guitar riffs with a solid, catchy drum beat. The song shifts tempo from the verses into the chorus, creating an effect that keeps the listener guessing. The vocals are shouted in punk-esque style, highlighting the band’s origins as a part of the first wave of British punk. The song is a great addition to a throwback playlist, and it should keep you going through these brutal weeks before Spring Break.
Another song I listened to growing up is “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel. Frankly, any Billy Joel song could make this list. Billy Joel is arguably the quintessential classic rock artist. He has sold over one million tickets at Madison Square Garden, setting the record for any single artist, and he will be performing his fifty-fifth consecutive show in August during his musical residency at MSG. Of all his songs, however, “Uptown Girl” is one of my favorites. Anyone who claims “Uptown Girl” isn’t catchy is lying; the rhythm is infectious and conveys the song’s status as a cheerful earworm. The song is playful and light; it stands in perfect contrast to “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Nostalgic vocals back the lively chorus, giving the song a danceable beat.
The last throwback song on my list is “Call Me” by Blondie. Showcasing the vocals of female singer Debbie Harry, Blondie was among the first bands to show that girls could rock and roll alongside the guys. A quintessential eighties band, Blondie’s other hits included “One Way or Another” and “Heart of Glass.” “Call Me,” which was Billboard’s most popular single in 1980, pairs girly pop vocals with a steady and tempestuous drum beat underneath. The vocals are certainly part of the rock genre; the song, like “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” prioritizes instrumentals over vocals, which is common among classic rock songs. The simplicity of the vocals and the driving beat gives the song its iconic reputation.
I hope these three throwback songs will provide you with a little nostalgia and encourage you to listen to classic rock. In our modern era of auto-tune and rap, it’s always nice to hear the bands and singers who put the era of popular music into motion. Happy listening!
By Allie Verdesca (VI)
Transitioning from summer to fall is tough. Having to balance a new schedule while also getting back into the swing of schoolwork makes it easy to get overloaded with new information. However, one of the benefits of this season of change is the amount of new music being released. Hundreds of artists are releasing new songs for the fall, and with the help of fresh new sounds and outlooks, you’ll be better prepared to take on the new school year.
Looking for an edgier approach by a superstar? Try Taylor Swift’s new album, Reputation. Although the album won’t be officially released until November 10th, her lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” is already taking the world by storm. In mid-September, it was ranked number 3 on iTunes’s Top Songs and number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Her other song from the album,“…Ready for It?”, also rose to number 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100. “Look What You Made Me Do” marks a significant shift in Swift’s musical style. Her last album, “1989,” was her first full-fledged venture into the world of pop music. This time around, Swift’s lyrics contain newfound themes of revenge and shady nods to those who have wronged her in the past. The rhythm of the song and its infectious beat provide the perfect backdrop for her spiteful lyrics and determined message. There’s no doubt that Reputation will become wildly successful upon its release.
Still popular is one of this summer’s most notable releases, Kesha’s album Rainbow. Following a controversial contract dispute and a sexual assault case, Kesha’s songs “Praying” and “Rainbow” show the singer’s renewed passion and positivity in the face of setbacks. A central theme of the album is affirmative energy, and this is not only reflected in the album’s vibrant and psychedelic music videos and album cover, but also in the very fibers of the songs’ rhythms. “Praying” is a pleading, satisfying pop tune with a good message of forgiveness and renewal.
On the more alternative side of the spectrum, Imagine Dragons’s new release “Believer” has a catchy and gritty beat that has commanded attention this fall. Their album Evolve, which was released last June, contains the band’s typical futuristic and post-apocalyptical sound, represented in its shouted vocals. The other main single off the album, “Thunder,” introduces a new, more synchronous style to the group’s usual intense chords and choral background vocals. It has a more generic pop sound, which isn’t my personal taste, but for those looking for more variety in Imagine Dragons’s usual sound, this song may be for you.
In this same vein of more rock-sounding, alternative beats, Fall Out Boy has been teasing their fans with songs off their album Mania, set to be released in January of 2018. The three leaked singles so far, “The Last of the Real Ones,” “Champion,” and “Young and Menace,” have already become immensely popular. “Young and Menace” has been a real experiment for the band. Ever since their last album American Beauty/American Psycho, Fall Out Boy has been experimenting with integrating a classic pop sound into their more traditional rock, angst-ridden, pop-punk sound. “Young and Menace” is one of Fall Out Boy’s first official forays into synth and auto-tuned sound effects, a recent trend in many popular songs. “Young and Menace” has a great build up; the song starts off soft, with a driving beat, until it finally coalesces into mass hysteria at the chorus. “Champion” is a much more subdued song, with a simpler instrumental accompaniment. It is more like their typical style; gritty, determined vocals are paired with a strong drumming beat to craft a great pump-up song that will be sure to get you through those first trying weeks of school. No matter how you’ve managed to deal with all the layers of stress that come with the beginning of the school year, I hope that all of these new releases will keep you motivated for a great year to come!