Share and Care
Taking on the stigma of mental health issues, one playlist at a time
SOME YEARS AGO, my hometown community back in Britain was hit hard by the suicide of a friend. He was a musician on the rise and his loss was felt across the isles. Out of the tragedy came a resolve to speak openly about mental health struggles. Depression and suicide and difficult issues to discuss but I think neglecting the realities of the former leads to higher risk of the latter.
Consequently, We Are Hummingbird (WAHB), a community of music lovers who spread awareness of mental health within the music industry, was established. Among the many initiatives WAHB coordinates, The Playlists are my favourite. Depending on which stats you take on, there are 12 or 13 individuals who commit suicide in the UK each year. Therefore, 12 or 13 track on each playlist.
These lists come from far and wide, from music celebs and quirky amateurs with lots of love to give. They are weekly installments of others’ passions, joys, music secrets and beloved taste. The songs that centre you, the songs that take you elsewhere, the songs that bring comfort.
I was happy to answer the invite to make a playlist, but it’s nearly impossible to reduce your favorite things about music down to a track list of 13!
To make the decision-making easier, I limited myself only to artists who originated or were/are based, on the U.S. west coast. Over the years I’ve lived in San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Portland and Seattle.
The west coast a long way from my UK roots, so the music these places conjure is both discovery and bittersweet reminder that I’m far from my Brit-rock Indie teenage self; the nineties were when I felt most connected to people through music. I’m listening to songs all day long as I write and edit and grade papers. Pinging far away friends with new tracks and emerging artists keeps me pucker and in touch.
Making this track list was a trip. It’s for you and it’s for me, it’s for friends and strangers, it’s for Matt’s memory and it’s for a future without stigma and unnecessary struggle around mental health. I hope you can dig this peculiar mix of classic rock, early punk, spiritual jazz, summer rap, slide-guitar instrumental, doo-wop and singer-songwriter bliss.
Heart — Barracuda (1977)
Let’s start this thing with some glorious fun. Amy and Nancy Wilson are goddesses. From Seattle, Heart was making music 20 years before grunge defined the city. Nancy plays mandolin. Amy’s vocal range is filthy. WILSON WILSON 2020.
The Cramps — The Way I Walk (1979)
Formed in Sacramento, the punk-psychobilly The Cramps fused rock’n’roll riffs with yelps, whoops, Hawaii licks and a fuck-you-farce-view of society. They inspired other favorites of mine The B52s and Thee Oh Sees.
The Go Go’s — This Town (1981)
One of the most successful all-female bands in history. Belinda Carlisle in her early pomp. Pop signatures to die for. Clap machines. The Go Go’s set the sound-motifs for a decade of eighties movies.
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda — Rama Rama (1987)
Coltrane is not an artist easily understood by a single track. Her albums are complete journeys that demand surrender–make time for Universal Consciousness (1971), Illuminations (1974) and Eternity (1975) on vinyl or cassette. The multi-instrumentalist’s journey is the quintessential tale of west coast reinvention. Following her husband John Coltrane’s death, Alice moved out to Malibu, embraced Eastern mysticism and founded an ashram. ‘Rama Rama’ doesn’t feature Coltrane’s signature harp, but her prominent throaty chant-vocals (also unusual) run deep. Pause to consider that, at the same time, just an hour away, N.W.A were recording their landmark album ‘Straight Outta Compton’.
Rodney O & Joe Cooley — Everlasting Bass (1988)
Hip hop at its most innocent. Rodney and Joe never made it big but with this late-eighties signature track, they laid the foundations for West Coast hip hop and rap (especially Dre and Snoop).
Coolio — Fantastic Voyage (1994)
It’s a song about driving across Los Angeles to the beach and all that that entails. The video is amazing: Coolio transports hundreds of beachgoers in the trunk (boot) of his car.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks — Pink India (2001)
Generally regarded as his most accessible, rounded single, Pink India namechecks Stoke-On-Trent and is, I think, an argument against imperialism and war.
Magic Magic Roses — Memory Palace (2012)
“You deal in space, I deal in time. We build a, a constellation.” Nuff said.
La Luz — Sure As Spring (2013)
This four piece from the Seattle suburbs blew onto the scene in 2012ish. They’ve since charmed everyone with their dreamy, surf-rock that channels Mexican telenovelas and grindhouse soundscapes. Picked an oldie, but they keep upping the ante. Most recent album Floating Features (2018) is top.
Marisa Anderson — Sinks and Rises (2013)
I first heard Anderson play at a book-reading party. That’s a party at which speaking is forbidden and everyone kicks it on beanbags catching up on their reading. It was summer, it was hot, everyone was in shorts and Anderson put out blues and lapsteel into the air, over the fences, and across the neighbourhood. Portland legend. Soon to be a global legend. This tune is about a day at a swimming hole.
Lithics — Lizard (2017)
Low energy, punk-y rock. Portland-based four-piece. Insistently different. Sparse vocals. I can’t decide if they’re ordinary or genius and I’ve seen them play at least 5 times. Lithics make the list because they still have me confused.
Ill Camille — Black Gold (2017)
Unembellished rap over sampled soul vocals. Represents the current renaissance in Los Angeles being made by young artists with new sounds. Sit down, shut up and listen. Strong AF lyrics. So good.
Ian William Craig — A Single Hope (2017)
Based in Vancouver, Craig is Canada’s version of Olafur Arnalds. Indulge in melancholic loops, gentle strums, choral voice and electronic stuff. Songs are mood makers, yeah?