I created this playlist one autumn when I was feeling very low. It started when a friend sent me “Joanne” from Lady Gaga’s album of the same name. Suddenly my grandmother came to min., I had been really missing her at that time, and next I knew I was choking up as I sang along. I knew I couldn’t just find another song to “make me feel better.” I needed to dig deeper into what I was feeling, why I felt as I did, and how I handled my emotions. I named the song my Melancholy Mix because melancholy is the most complex of emotions. It is more than just sad, depressed, gloomy. There can be moments of faith and small joys in melancholy. Nostalgia, regret, and even an anticipation for new beginnings have their place
in melancholy. Eventually, as the list began to grow and contract, I discovered that the order became important. A list of songs whose chronology dug me deeper into my own feelings and actions, past and present, followed by a counter list which could slowly pull me into a place of promise, love, and optimism.
Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” tells the story of uncertainty. Two lovers leave their hometown with the mission to discover themselves. It’s playful, yet melancholic. The honesty of the piece comes when the two are on a bus and have run out of things to do. They are broke, have run out of cigarettes, and just watch the country pass from the window. Almost out of nowhere the narrator sings, "'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said, though I knew she was sleeping. 'I'm empty and aching and I don't know why.'” This line is the crux of the piece. The anxiety of striving for “the American dream,” – a now antiquated saying and toxic idea.
Barenaked Ladies were always willing to explore the messiness of relationships – something my gen x side loves. This is an acoustical track from their album “Everything to Everyone.” I have been a fan of their sound for a long time, so the melody won me over quickly. It was the lyric “If I hide myself wherever I go, Am I ever really there?” that blindsided me. I thought of how I compartmentalize myself and started to wonder if I did this out of self-preservation and how it affected my relationships.
I discovered from Bojack Horseman – a show I like to call my emotional support TV. This is the song that ended the entire series and whenever I listen to it, I perceive the lyrics from the point of view of the character, Diane Nguyen. I find myself singing along with this song as if it were a monologue. I imagine a person having to end a relationship with a toxic partner. She is calm and levelheaded throughout because she knows he will use her sympathies against her. She loves him, but knows it’s time to walk away. It was the perfect way to end one of the smartest series on Netflix.
Nina Simone’s adaptation of the Rodgers and Hart song is the titular track from her 1958 debut album. The melody is arranged over the tune of Good King Wenceslas, which to me invokes a sense of cold, winter, sorry and melancholy. But when I read the lyrics and the story of the carol, perhaps she wanted to portray both the cold and the miracle of surviving the storm. Nina Simone, being a classically trained musician, artfully and earnestly accumulates, distributes, and shapes the musical energy. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end to the musical narrative, wrapping up with a sense of religiosity. This song is a pivot point in the song list. I like the idea of the story of Little Girl Blue proceeding the breakup with Mr. Blue. after exploring the sorry of my feelings, Ms. Simone, as is her G-d given power, ignites a spark of hope. From this point, the songs begin a more joyful edge, the happiness possible
through love, gratefulness, and new beginnings.
Isn’t It Love? from the Steven Universe Movie
Featuring the fabulous Estelle, the voice of Garnet from Steven Universe. Garnet is a fusion and symbolically the physical embodiment of two people love. Her songs in the series tend to champion the power of love, which appeals to my closeted sentimental side. In the context of the movie, Sapphire and Ruby, the two gems who fuse to become Garnet, have lost their memory. Due to a series of events, they fuse as if for the first time and relive the sensation of becoming one being. It’s a very well-drawn moment video and a sweet song. In the context of playlist, it acts as a nice transitional piece between genres.
From Alanis Morrissette’s 1998 album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. In this song are feelings of reflection and exhalation. It also brings back fond memories of undergrad, friends, youth, and a feeling of limitless future. The video has influenced my staging in productions playing with time, tempo, space, realism amongst abstraction.
True Kind of Love from The Steven Universe Movie
Another song sung by Garnet. In the context of the Movie, a seaside town is being destroyed by an outside force and the Crystal Gems, alien outcasts fighting an intergalactic empire, save the town as Steven confronts their foe. The lyrics are simple, and the music has a good beat. However, what gets me every time I watch this part of the movie is the way in which the town quickly assembles to save each other. No fighting, no blame, just help. In a world that seems so protectionist and objectivist, even the animated image of a love of neighbor tugs my heart strings. I also greatly admire the nuance of some of the lyrics. When Steven is trying to reason with the foe, he sings “Show me that solvable problem, we can get through it, I’ll do the hardest part with you.” He doesn’t say that he will “do the hardest part” or
that he will solve the problem. That one simple preposition, “with,” indicates effort and that there is no deus ex machina to make everything better. Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe and cowriter for many of the songs, is brilliant in her word choice.
A fabulous cover by the Temptations and The Supreme. I love Diana Ross and the Supremes and you can hear how much fun they are having singing this song with the Temptations. It’s playful and flirty.
Love Like You from Steven Universe
This was the ending credits song for season one of Steven Universe. I think of it as Rose Quartz’s song. I think of someone who doesn’t understand how love works, how another person could love someone the way she is loved. I feel a real sense of amusement and melancholy in this song.
“Stars” is sung in the first part of this video. It’s a long performance spanning about 7 minutes, but absolutely worth every second. The song was originally performed by Janis Ian and Ms. Simone references her in the song along with Janis Joplin. This arrangement was featured in the season 2 finale of Bojack Horseman.
You can hear her pour her entire self into this performance. She becomes overcome and at some point the lyrics no longer matter because the piano is communicating her raw emotion. Through improvisation and what seems to me to be an expressive honesty, she navigates to a musical conclusion and set up the next song. In the order of the playlist, It’s another moment of reflection. The performing arts, this business of ours can be harsh and being that this is a melancholy mix designed to help me explore what I’m feeling, the placement of this song grounds me for a moment. I take a moment to share this feeling with Nina, Janis
Joplin, Janis Ian, all the performers she mentions, and know that there will be times of hurt, that is life. As almost every Russian novel reminds us: Without suffering, we cannot know joy.
Being Human from Steven Universe Future
This is the song that ended the Steven Universe series. Another show that became my emotional support television and ended at the beginning of Pandemic. Steven Universe is starting a new chapter in his life, where he longer has to bear the weight of the universe on his shoulders. He leaves home and his family to discover who is and what is like to be human. The musical narrative depicts effort, struggle, and forward momentum to the unknown. Even the ending cadence is inconclusive – the world awaits Steven.
Nina Simone’s cover of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” is one of the most uplifting songs in my library of albums. The rhythms, instrumentation, backup singers, et al invoke in me a feeling of pure joy. I have hope. I feel as if through her, I hear the voice of G-d and I am comforted Without failing, she makes me smile again.
You can find David's playlist on YouTube
Latino American director, David Radamés Toro, applies his background in physical theatre and mime to a variety musical repertoire with an affinity for baroque and 20th/21st century works. He has worked at companies including Minnesota Opera, the Wexford Opera Festival, Washington National Opera, Cincinnati Opera, and Opera Neo. dtorodirects.com