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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Playlist of My Life: Evelyn Wilber `26

Owen Barbato
Evelyn Wilber `26 listens to “Days” by Television while working on an assignment in her on-campus dorm room.

The S&B is proud to introduce a brand-new series on the Opinions page: Playlist of My Life. This concept, lifted shamelessly from the Teen Vogue YouTube channel, gives Grinnell College students the chance to tell the story of their lives through the songs that soundtracked their most important moments. We want to publish your musical life story, too — to write your own playlist piece, contact the S&B at [newspapr]. This week’s inaugural playlist comes from S&B staff writer Evelyn Wilber `26.

When I was a kid, my father would play me and my sister a lullaby every night. We had bunk beds, so it would be me in the top bunk and my sister and dad in the bottom bunk. He would play us a song off his phone, and the one I remember the most vividly is “Jezebel” by Iron and Wine. Although at the time I did not understand what the lyrics meant, I was fascinated with the song. I liked the name Jezebel, and I liked that it was a story about a woman. It sounded like it was about something mysterious and magical. 

Whenever I hear that song, it serves as a reminder of how much my dad has influenced my music taste. When I got a little older and had my very own hot pink iPod, it was still full of the music that he downloaded onto it. It was quite an eclectic mix, from Feist to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I found and loved the album “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” by Neko Case, a favorite that stuck with me until my early teen years. Again, I did not really know what she was talking about, but I loved it. The instrumentals soared from gentle, lulling lows to fervent highs alongside her voice, and it told me that she was singing about something important — never mind what the words meant.

My favorite song on the album was “Hold On, Hold On.” I listened to the chorus over and over, and it was exhilarating every time. The words sounded so good together and so good with the sound of Case’s voice, intense, and urgent and thrilling, that it gave me goosebumps. I loved “Maybe Sparrow” as well, especially the part of the last chorus when her voice crescendos — another goosebump-inducing moment for me as a child. My dad bought me a Neko Case shirt that I still wear, and for Christmas one year he got me a signed poster from an event she did in Chicago in tandem with some famous restaurants. It has a fox on it, and she wrote, “Love, Neko.” It’s still hung up by the window in my room at home.

Music then was mostly something to share with him. I remember lying on my parents’ bedroom floor, watching music videos with my dad and loving all of the songs that he loved. “Orphan Girl” by Gillian Welch, “Simple Song” by the Shins, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” by Sharon Van Etten. I listen to them now, and it feels like a gift from him. It’s still something for us to share, a thread of continuity in our relationship connecting who I am now to who I was when I was his 8-year-old daughter. 

A turning point came for me in middle school when I met my best friend Clare, who turned me onto emo music. Clare and I were certifiably obsessed. Although we dabbled in all the classic emo bands, I think the most important album for us was “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” by none other than My Chemical Romance. I had never heard so much pain and suffering in a singer’s voice. While perhaps embarrassing to some, I remember my emo phase as a super fun time in my life. The sound of this album took the middle school angst I felt and elevated it into something beautiful, something dramatic, something divinely painful. Listening to this album made me feel like a sexy, misunderstood vampire/rockstar protagonist — it provided an escape that made getting through the insecure years of middle school much easier. 

 The most important thing that album brought me is friendship. What started out as two girls hitting their local Hot Topic together became discussing, advising and loving each other through every part of our lives. While the music made me feel like I was special and misunderstood, Clare still made me feel special, but deeply understood. We are best friends to this day, and watching her grow up by my side has been a true pleasure. 

Another heavy hitter was “Guppy” by Charly Bliss. I listened to it after I read a New York Times article that my mom sent me about rock music  by women, and immediately I was hooked. It was a woman singing pop-punk music! The same thrashing guitar, but with funny, clever lyrics about life from a perspective closer to my own. My favorite song on this album is “Westermarck.” I thought the lyrics were silly, and it had a guitar solo, something I was still craving from my emo days. I messaged the lead singer on Instagram to tell her how much I loved her, and she told me I should come to a show, which unfortunately I never got around to. This was another album that Clare and I shared, and one that I think marked our transition away from emo music. 

 My music taste changed drastically and rapidly after middle school. One album that was pivotal for me in high school was “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill. I had heard songs from it throughout my childhood, but I first listened through the album on my own when I was 16. Ms. Lauryn Hill’s lyrics are insightful, her voice is incredibly powerful — I am not even sure what to say about this album because it is so good I feel like nothing I write can do it justice. I do not know if I can pick one favorite song off this album, but if I had to, I think it would be “When It Hurts So Bad.” I think it’s a great example of her back-phrasing, and I love how she sings right behind the beat. Another one worth mentioning is “Nothing Even Matters” because it was the song that was playing as I got anesthetized for wisdom teeth surgery this summer.

 A song that sticks out to me from my later high school years is Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That.” I listened to it while I drove myself and my sister to school on my first day of senior year. It was playing when I made an extremely dangerous merge very close to a semi-truck. We survived, though Anne yelled, the truck honked and I hit the gas hard. I still love the song.  

It also marks the beginning of my sister and I sharing music on our car rides to and from school. We started swapping songs pretty much every day, many of which we dubbed “the best song ever,” and it was such a joy throughout my last year of high school.

Anne is only a year and a half younger than me, so as we got older, it felt more and more like we were at the same stage in life, and she truly became one of my best friends. Sharing music with her is a defining aspect of our relationship. I love hearing a song and immediately thinking, “I need to play this for Anne.” 

 Late in high school was also when I got really into Talking Heads. I am a fan of all of Talking Heads’ albums, but my official favorite is “Speaking In Tongues.” The lyrics are wild and silly. The melodies give you the impression that the band does not take itself too seriously, and I really love that. This is an album that makes you want to scream and yell, but in an exuberant way and not an angry one. 

 That about brings us up to date! Last year, four albums I loved were Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” “Mama’s Gun” by Erykah Badu, “Adventure” by Television — although, of course “Marquee Moon” is my favorite Television album — and The Velvet Underground’s self-titled album. More recently, I loved Big Thief’s newest album “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” — I saw them play Pitchfork music festival with my sister this summer ,and they were incredible. They almost sound better live than recorded — and I have been listening to “Supa Dupa Fly” by Missy Elliott.  

 I am sure I missed some album that would have been really obvious for me to talk about. What is more important to me, though, is capturing the way that the people close to me have shaped my music taste, and thus, shaped me. Listening to a specific song is like coming home to my parents, to Clare, to my siblings, to the people I hold closest to my heart.

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About the Contributors
Evelyn Wilber
Evelyn Wilber, Staff Writer
Evelyn is a second year intended English and math double major from Chicago, Illinois. She enjoys reading, watching movies, listening to music, her dog Ted, and the season of winter.
Owen Barbato
Owen Barbato, Staff Photographer
Owen is a third-year psychology and political science major from South Pasadena, California. When he's not photographing for the paper, Owen enjoys taking nighttime and landscape photos. In his free time, Owen can be found trying to learn guitar and overanalyzing music.
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