Melnick Staff Playlist

Songs for Survival Picked by Our Staff

Inspired by Lynn Melnick’s Dolly Parton playlist for her book

Haven’t we all put on some headphones and slipped into a sad song to fit a gloomy mood, or turned up the volume on a bright and bubbly pop song to absorb some positivity when feeling low? Some songs remind us of those we’ve lost, and we press play to be with them again. Lynn Melnick begins her book I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive: On Trauma, Persistence, and Dolly Parton describing the sound of Dolly Parton’s voice on “Islands in the Stream” piped into the triage room of a hospital. Throughout her book, Lynn Melnick weaves a playlist of soothing and empowering Dolly Parton songs into moments in her life when she needed to hear Dolly the most.

“[Melnick] writes with remarkable vulnerability and candor yet ensures that the often-painful memories she relates don’t cloud her critical gaze. She moves gracefully between confessional and analytical registers, her prose both sharp and full of heart.”

The Atlantic

To celebrate Lynn’s book, we asked our staff to share the music that has been a balm during tough times. We hope you enjoy meeting us through the tunes that have buoyed us! Stream the playlist below or find all our playlists here!

Joel Pinckney

Senior Publicist

Little did we know what was ahead of us when David Berman released his first album in ten years in July of 2019 under the moniker of Purple Mountains—that such a striking comeback would be Berman’s final offering, as we’d lose him just a month later; that we’d lose so many in the months, and then years, to come, to a deadly pandemic of which we had no inkling at the time. The album immediately captivated me—I was drawn in by Berman’s heartrending and witty one-liners, the songwriter winking at me through tears; by the sonic dissonance throughout the record; by the total lack of pretense in Berman’s delivery. With each subsequent listen, the album grew into a devastating, hand-holding companion—Berman, chronicling his lonely mind amid the slog of depression and grief, offering his companionship to the listener, his songwriting making me, and so many others, feel less alone. Berman couldn’t have known how much we’d need what he had to offer, particularly as March of 2020 came upon us and we descended into the bleak early days of the pandemic. Berman’s album also serves in part as a chronicle of the grief that overwhelmed Berman after he lost his mother, and in that, too, he gave so many of us a companion in the months and years to come. And still, he was generous enough to make us laugh in the middle of it all, asking us to approach even the worst of days with whatever levity we can muster. We miss you, David Berman.

Lynne M. Ferguson

Senior Manuscript Editor

For my early years, I’m going to pick something by Elton John, I think the first one of his that I loved: “Daniel.” This song, and Elton’s other early music, always takes me back to the bedroom of one of my close friends from when I was growing up. She and I would have sleepovers where we would earnestly dissect, probe, and discuss Bernie Taupin’s mysterious lyrics while floating away on Elton’s beautiful melodies.

Fast forward at least twenty years to my second pick, R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming.” The lyrics by Michael Stipe and co. are even more inscrutable than Taupin’s, but the music absolutely pierces my heart and can alternately soothe or uplift me.

Karen Broyles

Journals Production Editor

Back Home Again,” Low

When a parent has Alzheimer’s, emotions around a visit can surprise you. For me, it’s an emotional marathon with nightly pit stops of alone time for processing. I didn’t have to use music as a tool for dealing with that grief, but music was going to greatly affect those feelings whether or not I made conscious choices around it.

My mother moved back to her home state, one where I’ve never lived, to be closer to some kind and generous relatives willing to help out. As I drove toward her new home for the first time, my playlist came to Low’s cover of the John Denver song “Back Home Again.” It’s a great deal slower than the original, but I hadn’t thought of it as sad. I remember the Denver version from childhood, but not in any painful way. And why should “home” set off any particular baggage, since I didn’t even have a singular childhood home to call to mind? But it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I found myself sobbing along a stretch of toll highway known as Alligator Alley. I think I let it play all the way through. It was disconcerting to be so suddenly wrecked emotionally when my visit had yet to really begin, but I think it oddly helped in the long term. I hadn’t been completely avoiding my feelings, but I hadn’t delved into them either and I suppose I needed to. 

These days, when I’m on my way there or on my way home, I don’t avoid the sad or acutely emotional songs. But I am aware of how I use them. Sometimes I need perking up, so I listen to the Bats’ Fear of God, Wire’s Pink Flag, or anything from the Minutemen catalog. Sometimes I just want to listen to the last 20 or so songs I’ve been obsessed with recently. And other times I pull out the big guns (like Talk Talk or the Go-Betweens) and let grief happen for a while.

Christopher Farmer

Journals Manager

The Cars – “Drive” (1984)

I was a young teenager when this song was released and it took me a few years to fully realize the impact that the lyrics would have on my life as I navigated making friends, finding love, and facing death.  We meet many people over a lifetime, but it is crucial to maintain relationships with those that will be there for you when you’re most vulnerable. Simple song, though very meaningful to me.

Elizabeth Locke

Customer Service/Circulation Coordinator

Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell

Anytime I’m feeling burned out or in need of a vacation, I put on Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”. The cinematically grand orchestral backing from The Wrecking Crew validates my feelings of weariness, and the simple but beautiful lyrics tell a story that feels universal, even though I’ve never been to Kansas, and I’ve certainly never worked for the phone company. Will our lineman take that small vacation? Will I? The song may end, but hope carries on.

Uriel Perez
Uriel Pérez vibing with I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive

Uriel Pérez

Advertising and Exhibits Coordinator

I’m a latecomer to art rock iconoclasts Sparks, but I fell in love with them in late 2021 after screening the Edgar Wright-directed documentary about the group and haven’t been able to look back since. They’re overlooked and often derided for having a bit too much fun in their lyrical approach, but their songs can really get at the essence of what it means to be a person in the world and have buoyed me during some especially difficult times this year. I also like to imagine that the anxious/angry/hopeless/directionless/overwhelmed teenaged version of myself would’ve had a lot of fun listening to them, too. Notable tracks: “When I’m With You,” “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’“; “I Married Myself,” “The Number One Song in Heaven.”

Sharon L. Casteel

Digital Publishing and Reprints Manager

Silly WizardKiss the Tears Away. I fell in love with this album when a friend played “The Queen of Argyll” for me in college, and I got through some really bad months by listening to this album every night to get to sleep.

Värttina, “Seelinnikoi” from Seleniko. The first time I heard this Finnish folk-rock song was a revelation — the vocal quality, the instrumentation, the rhythm that was different from the rock music I was familiar with and yet still driving and energetic. Värttina started me on a decade of exploration of Scandinavian folk, and this song is the start of the path that’s led to several albums of Finnish folk metal on my iPod.

Great Big Sea, “Donkey Riding” from Play. I first heard this Canadian folk rock song when visiting my sister and her boyfriend in Edmonton (a long way from GBS’s home base of Newfoundland). The boyfriend didn’t last, but GBS has been a part of my musical life ever since, as have co-lead singer Alan Doyle’s solo albums. 

Talitha Mackenzie, “Ajde Jano” from Spiorad. A Scottish-American’s cover of a Serbian folk song. I’d discovered this song on an online radio station and really enjoyed it. A few months later  I went to Austin International Folk Dancers’s weekly dance night for the first time I was feeling intimidated by all the unfamiliar dances and the strangers and wasn’t sure I wanted to come back; then they played this recording, and that was when I decided I’d stick with it. That group ended up being a major part of my life for nearly two decades and was where I met my husband.

And for more widely-known music, every time I hear Journey‘s “Don’t Stop Believin’“, it feels like a reminder from the universe not to give up.

Angelica Lopez-Torres

International Rights Manager

Selena’s “Si Una Vez” is the perfect angsty anthem I needed in my teenage years, it’s spiteful and full of regret. Call that the gateway to Paquita la del Barrio’s “Rata de Dos Patas,” literally, “two-legged rat.” Finding Paquita is I think a rite of passage for any Mexican woman. Paquita is much older and it can be surprising and very liberating to listen to the very fire she spews through her songs. My aunts and mom all belted this song at the top of their lungs, and well I sure joined in. It is deliciously hateful with lyrics that translate to “Damn leech, damn cockroach/ you who infects with bites/ who hurts and who kills…”

Alejandra Guzman was the bad-girl everyone loved to hate and her song “Eternamente bella” brings me back to me and my cousins listening and watching her concerts while the adults disapproved of her every move. We couldn’t get enough of her!

And lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Natalia Lafourcade’s beautiful ballads, particularly “Hasta La Raiz,” a literal love song to Mexico, Mexican culture, and it’s musicians.  Like Lynn with Dolly, these four women have always made me feel powerful in different ways and different stages of my life.

Jim Burr

Senior Editor

In a very broad sense, the music I go to for a pick-me-up is showtunes—bouncy tunes that take me to a wondrous world where people spontaneously break into song (and can actually carry a tune). That sort of world takes me away from my troubles and allows me to forget that I can’t actually sing as I caterwaul along with the songs. If you want specifics, some of the songs that bring the most joy to my cold heart are the villains’ songs from Disney cartoons. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid, “Be Prepared” from The Lion King, “Friends on the Other Side” from The Princess and the Frog, or “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast always perk me up. Despite questionable or outright offensive politics and representations, the cartoonish evil of, say, Ursula or Scar helps me forget, even briefly, the real evils of the world. Their sort of villainy is just a lot more fun, and easier to defeat, than the real villains we’re faced with. They’re also part of my cultural heritage as a gay man of a certain age. I mean, c’mon, Ursula was based on Divine and was voiced by a lesbian actress!

Dolly Parton playlist
Robert Kimzey with his chickens, 2020

Robert Kimzey

Editing, Design & Production Manager

Twisted,” lyrics by Annie Ross, music by Wardell Gray

My analyst told me that I was right out of my head
The way he described it, he said I’d be better dead than live
I didn’t listen to his jive
I knew all along he was all wrong
And I knew that he thought I was crazy but I’m not
Oh no!

My analyst told me that I was right out of my head
He said I’d need treatment but I’m not that easily led
He said I was the type that was most inclined
When out of his sight to be out of my mind
And he thought I was nuts, no more ifs or ands or buts
Oh no!

They say as a child I appeared a little bit wild
With all my crazy ideas
But I knew what was happenin’, I knew I was a genius
What’s so strange when you know that you’re a wizard at three?
I knew that this was meant to be

Well I heard little children were supposed to sleep tight
That’s why I drank a fifth of vodka one night
My parents got frantic, didn’t know what to do
But I saw some crazy scenes before I came to
Now do you think I was crazy?
I may have been only three but I was swingin’

They all laughed at Al Graham Bell
They all laughed at Edison and also at Einstein
So why should I feel sorry if they just couldn’t understand
The litany and the logic that went on in my head?
I had a brain, it was insane
Don’t you let them laugh at me
When I refused to ride on all those double decker buses
All because there was no driver on the top

My analyst told me that I was right out of my head
The way he described it, he said I’d be better dead than live
I didn’t listen to his jive
I knew all along he was all wrong
And I knew that he thought I was crazy but I’m not
Oh no!

My analyst told me that I was right out of my head
But I said “Dear doctor, I think that it’s you instead
‘Cause I have got a thing that’s unique and new
It proves that I’ll have the last laugh on you
‘Cause instead of one head… I got two
And you know two heads are better than one
(The lyrics say it all.)