Summer jams: how five albums narrated my summer
The summer, at least for me and many of my friends, is defined or marked by certain songs —often referred to as summer jams. I find it funny but also logical that we don’t have “fall jams” or “winter jams;” summer is the time when you’re outside, riding around in your car, and you need to pump up the volume, sing along, bop your head, feel free. It’s a transitional time as well, especially for those of us who’s lives are still defined by the academic calendar. The summer is always pivotal, but especially now for me, as I enter my last year of rabbinical school, as the end of this first year of mourning comes full circle, as I had the most time off I’ve ever had. I had a lot of free time, for which I am extremely grateful, and much of which was taken up with playing Spotify loudly while dancing around my apartment or driving around. As summer is nearing its close, I find myself reflecting, and am thus extremely tempted to over-analyze everything. So, this is a bit of a step back from that, while still maintaining a semblance of the peace I find by exploring my mental state and emotional journey. But first, a minor detour into that emotional rollercoaster of grief as it reaches it’s first year around the sun.
This week is most certainly the toughest week of the summer. Sunday marks the first anniversary of the day my mom died. Honestly, we were truly grieving for her before that day, because for a little while before then the person she was, was already gone. That’s part of what makes it so difficult. I find myself experiencing it like it is: a traumatic event. With the anniversary of trauma, one find themselves reliving each day, strong memories surfacing, along with intense emotions, mood swings, and possibly even a bit of regression. I don’t want to delve much further, because I’m still living it right now. Suffice it to say this:
~Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, there are many ways to deal with it — some healthy, some not, some a combination of the two, and I am trying on a few things that feel like they’re working.
Particularly, a strong wave of nostalgia has washed over me, and I find myself eerily longing for but also simply grateful for all of my childhood experiences…and snacks.
~Thank you to all the friends and family who are supporting me, and to my incredible family unit going through it with me and in their own ways.
Back to what I’ve decided to talk about: summer jams. Music has this incredibly beautiful power to do so much for us: it defines moments of our lives; it helps identify, bring out, or even steer our emotions; it somehow speaks to us on personal and communal levels, and sinks into our souls. There is a lot of music out there right now that excites me, and in particular five albums I find myself listening to on repeat this summer. Instead of letting my brain do analytical cartwheels and backflips, I let the music speak for me. Since this has been such a defining chapter of my life, it feels right and true to punctuate it with the music. These albums are like chapter titles for the living memoir of my life (and for these, honestly, the actual album titles could be).
- Lizzo, Cuz I Love You: Everyone knows Lizzo is the freaking best. Not opinion, fact. She is all about self-love, self-care, self-respect, and I would even say self-improvement. When I listen to her songs, especially Water Me and Soulmate, I feel like I’m listening to her sing about my life… or my aspirational life at least. She is the perfect companion to the journey I am taking with myself. Cuz I Love You, because I love myself. As loudly as possible.
- Ingrid Michaelson, Stranger Songs: Ingrid is my favorite musician, and this album is breathtaking for me. Each song is inspired by a scene from Stranger Things, which is fabulous, but they also all speak to human emotion and experience generally. When I listen to Ingrid, I feel like I’m listening to my emotional history in song form. She makes me feel all the things I do, and don’t, want to feel. And it’s still magically upbeat and fun at the same time, somehow. I can cry and dance around simultaneously. Stranger songs for a strange time, poetry with a pop backdrop.
- Chance the Rapper, The Big Day: We were all waiting for this, and it did not disappoint. Chance seems to have made this album all about how he’s found happiness, and he’s so proud of that. I love it. When I listen to him, especially Ballin Flossin and Zanies and Fools, I get so pumped up and feel excited to continue finding my happiness. It’s about what could be coming for anyone, if they’re open to it. The Big Day, meaning that day we know we can look forward to, or remember, when it feels like life has fallen into place. For Chance, that was marriage. For me, who knows.
- Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where do We Go: This album dropped before the summer, but it is still always on my mind. She wrote a lot of this album inspired by her night terrors, lucid dreaming, and even sleep paralysis. When I listen to her singing those eery, haunting layered vocals, I feel like I’m listening to all of my crazy, scary, strange dreams personified in music. On the other hand, of course, it is just this interesting, genre-bending stuff that blows my mind. When we all fall asleep, where do we go? To dreamland, the land where our minds tell us what we’ve truly been worrying about, what we’re afraid of, who we are when no one is watching but ourselves.
- Ariana Grande, thank u, next: Yeah, this album is still a banger. It’s pop iconic, and don’t we all need that in our lives? I also just love what it is conceptually: she’s expressing all the sides of herself, living the personal truths of her trials with love, relationships, and herself. When I listen to Ariana sing those crazy high notes and do all those runs, I feel like I’m on top of the world. Plus, Rihanna hasn’t released new music yet, so Ariana will have to continue to vill the void of iconic, female queen until then. Thank u, next: to everything and everyone causing strife. Grateful it happened because it makes me who I am now, and grateful to move forward to the improved me.
There you have it: I must disclaim that I am no music expert, and that this list is not about universal claims. Although, it could be, because I must say I have impeccable taste. Truly, these albums have defined my summer because of all the things they make me think about, and feel. I love how I can have a personal relationship with each of these albums, these musicians, and know that their music has made positive impacts and differences in my life. It’s corny, sure, but that’s what life is about sometimes. A trope only becomes one because it’s a way to reveal the truth, a cliche exists so we can use it, and music is here for us to listen — to what it’s telling us, and to what we hear as it plays. What are you listening to? And what are you listening for?