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Reality shifted for me in June of 2018. Maybe you know how it is: Someone you love more than anything dies. Or you give birth to someone who becomes a new more-than-anything love. Or maybe the smell of smoke suddenly jars you into the realization you’ve been lost in the woods for years and it’s time to fashion a compass to get the hell out.

I wore headphones a lot. When I burned through old favorites, I sought out new songs to guide me, and even treated myself to a handful of live shows. These are the moments that saved me.

1. David Byrne’s American Utopia Tour

Daniel Freedman is an amazing percussionist, a friend from high school, and part of David Byrne’s band. He introduced me to David at the end of the night, which was surreal. As I stood with friends in the warm June twilight, the band played “Once in a Lifetime,” time collapsed, and I was every age I’ve ever been when I’ve heard same as it ever was. Ten, sixteen, twenty-five, forty, and then I became my future self, heard the song in my sixties and even later, and I reminisced back to this summer night and was content being a tourist in my life and not knowing what would come next.


2. Indianapolis Jazz Fest — Anat Cohen and Amanda Gardier

For years, I’ve wanted to see a show in this series. When these musicians played the same bill, I couldn’t miss it. I wore lipstick and sat at a high table by myself and read poetry until these jazz babes blew my mind.  

3. Michael Kiwanuka — I’m Getting Ready

The perfect sad song is a salve. When I needed to fall to my knees and weep, Michael understood. Oh Lord, I didn’t know how hard it would be. No one can fix your feelings for you, but someone quietly sitting next to you and saying I know how it is can be blessed company.

4. My Running Playlists — EDM

I ran a lot this year and I got quicker, and I will not apologize for pretending to turn into Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde while I listened to Moderat, The Acid, and Christian Loffler. Flying through a misty park in a pink dawn while electronic dance music swells and builds and drops its beat is simply heaven.

5. Come From Away

I saw this musical on Broadway, and it’s about the way people fell apart and came together on September 11 when 38 planes were grounded in Newfoundland. The music embodies the complexity of confusion and disconnection that can come from any trauma.

6. Khalid — OTW

This song is straight up sexy and made me dance with my hips. We all need to do more of that. Tell me what you wanna do. I’m on my way.

7. Death Cab For Cutie’s Thank You For Today Tour

I hadn’t seen these guys live before, and this was the year I needed reminding that heartache and dissatisfaction are nothing new. They were frenetic and plaintive and perfect.

8. Yo-Yo Ma — Songs of Peace and Joy

On the last day of the library sale this summer when I was encouraged to stuff everything I could into a paper sack for $3, I snagged this compact disc without noticing its genre. I stacked it alongside our one functional CD player and rather blithely popped it in while I decorated gingerbread houses with my sons. Christmas is a struggle for me this year, but I am trying and oh hey, I discovered this album is chock-full of lovely versions of seasonal music that doesn’t trigger unwanted sentimentality.

9. Duets with Clarinet

My ten year old began learning the clarinet this fall and of course I think he has beautiful tone, but the required practice frustrates him. The time passes more quickly and he engages better when I play with him. I take out my flute and have him listen and repeat, and then we get silly and improvise pop songs, or we settle down and play his band music as duets. For thirty minutes, we sometimes achieve flow and escape all our worries.

10. The Verve Pipe — Photograph

I listened to this old ’90s song every time I walked our doofy dog for months on end. I raged to it, screaming the lyrics over by the retaining pond fountain, and I also cried to it, well aware I was being a melodramatic nutcase wearing pink headphones. If you want pitiful, have me in a picture. But also, I am fearless, and I’m still in the photograph.

Kate is the nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel and the author of many great stories that have appeared in many places (including here), but most importantly in a book called “The Girl & The Fox Pirate” — her debut collection of 34 short stories, published earlier this year by the mighty Mojave River Press. Go get it.

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Top Ten times music saved me in 2018

by Kate Gehan