I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like autumn.
Sure, you’re out there somewhere. For some reason, you dislike the leaves turning gorgeous, almost unnatural shades of red. You miss the sauna-like temperatures of the summer and dread the cool breezes that come whistling in the evening hours. You hate talk of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Maybe you just despise raking.
But this is my favorite period of the year — a time of contradictions. People love how the cool, crisp weather is a welcome from the dog days of summer. The leaves are colorful, Halloween decorations are up, and you can almost feel the anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For the pessimists and Goths, autumn can also symbolize death — those beautiful, colorful leaves fall from the trees, leaving the bare branches exposed to the upcoming cold and cruel winter. A bit macabre, if not poetic.
For me, fall seems somewhere between those contradictions — a bit of anticipation and beauty, contrasted by sadness and loneliness. It all hearkens back to my junior year in college, the year I moved away from home. I knew very few people at the school, but I was looking forward to a new opportunity and a chance to begin to make my mark upon the world.
A Cold Day in October
A few days before Halloween in 1988, I was invited to a fall festival in a nearby town. I remember getting ready to go and listening to “The Last Beat of my Heart” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, an eerie but beautiful ballad. Like fall, it is a song of contradictions: wondrous and sad, warm and chilling; the instruments consist mainly of a timpani rolling in 6/8 time, accented by strings in sets of triplets and a single accordion. That percussion seemed like a drum roll of anticipation that evening; it also ominous, like distant thunder approaching.
It didn’t rain, but it was cool and brisk. And as I was at the festival, Siouxsie’s voice was softer and fragile than her usual off-key vamping in this song, and it haunted my brain as I struggled to fit in that evening. I don’t know whether it was there to soothe me or torment me.
Twenty years later, whenever I hear that song, I instantly recall the homesickness I felt at college, a feeling that was gradually being replaced by the feeling of new friends and a new environment. It was the death of my childhood, being replaced by the sometimes brutal sting of reality. I still feel the chill in the air that seemed to represent the excitement and nervousness I felt. (For more on this feeling, visit my post on music and memory.)
I play this song only during the fall, and I love the emotions that it brings out. Over the past two decades I’ve collected other “sad but beautiful” songs that seem to fit the bill. I usually play them at night while I’m driving, when it’s at its coolest.
The songs in this mix try to reflect that mood. Some are apparent in their inclusion (“The Birds are Leaving,” “October”); some are beautiful but sad (“If These Walls Could Speak,” “All My Days”); some are upbeat but feature bittersweet lyrics (“Sunrise,” “Have a Little Faith in Me”). It should remind you of all the wonderful misery that the season can throw at us.
My Autumn Playlist
- “The Birds Are Leaving” – Boo Hewerdine
- “Everything In Its Right Place” – Radiohead
- “Prince Valium” – Joe Pernice
- “All My Days” – Alexi Murdoch
- “Somebody That I Used To Know” – Elliott Smith
- “How Kind of You” – Paul McCartney
- “The Last Beat of My Heart” – Siouxsie & the Banshees
- “Sunrise” – Pulp
- “Place to Be” – Nick Drake
- “Explain It to Me” – Liz Phair
- “Sweetness Follows” – R.E.M.
- “If These Walls Could Speak” – Amy Grant
- “Different Names for the Same Thing” – Death Cab for Cutie
- “October” – U2
- “Have a Little Faith in Me” – John Hiatt
Over the past four years, I’ve made the Autumn playlist available in a variety of formats. First, when people listened to MP3 files on their computer, it was in a giant zip file that you had to download. Then Spotify created a widget you could place in posts so everyone could listen to playlists. So I present to you my Autumn playlist.