This playlist came together surprisingly quickly. I knew I wanted a lot of music from the 60s and 70s - not because Frank is a veteran of the Vietnam War like a lot of people assumed initially, but because of the fractured and psychedelic nature of a lot of the music from that time period. In both musical structure and lyrical content, many of these songs (especially in the first half of the mix) are at odds with themselves: there are sharp changes in tone, the lyrics don't match the mood of the song, etc.
I know I said that the Sam/Mark playlist is the most structured, but this is a close second. There's a sense of confusion that builds all the way up until "Helter Skelter", when the music reaches its height. That song has a very quick fade-out before coming back in with those angry guitars and horns - just when you think you have escaped the noise, it comes back for you. This is the moment when things go very badly for Frank in Iraq. The following track, "Hero's Song", is the one moment of clarity he has before the sedated, cotton-wrapped sadness of returning to civilian life.
1. "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" - Blue Öyster Cult
I think this was Frank's dad's favorite song. He felt like he was invincible and strong and raised his son to feel the same.
2. "Shiny Happy People" - R.E.M.
I don't know why, but this song has always felt mocking to me. Apparently, it's a song that R.E.M. really dislikes, and I think that shines through - there is something very insincere about it. It feels like pulling a smiling mask over your frown and trying to pass it off as your real face.
3. "All Along the Watchtower" - Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix was a favorite of Frank's growing up and I think he gained new levels of appreciation for this song after going to war.
there's too much confusion/I can't get no relief
Like so many Bob Dylan songs, this piece is best when performed by someone other than Dylan. Brilliant songwriter he may be, Bob Dylan is not a great singer and I prefer the covers of almost all of his songs. There's also a great cover of this track by Bear McCreary for the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
4. "Helter Skelter" - The Beatles*
The last minute of this is what the inside of Frank's head feels like sometimes.
5. "Hero's Song" - Brendan James*
This is probably the most on-the-nose choice out of all the playlists - it is written specifically about soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a lot of songs written about soldiers but I don't know many written from the perspective of someone fighting - of someone who is waking to the reality of their situation and is horrified by what they see.
a compass and a weapon/a lost American
smoke and explosions surround me/a flood of hate it drowns me/I cannot live this way/no, I cannot live with this/doubt and confusion/they find me/they run up right behind me/I cannot die this way
6. "Colorblind" - The Counting Crows
This song is so stripped down, both in its composition and in the feeling it inspires - that feeling of being hollowed out. Duritz sings pull me out from inside/I am ready/I am fine - three phrases that seem completely at odds with one another and completely unconvincing.
There is also the word "colorblind" to consider - Frank's artistic center is shaken by his time in combat and he sees no color and too much color all at once, which shakes him even further.
7. "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" - Joni Mitchell
Enter Chloe Turner. I think Joni is played a lot at the Turner household and this song is Chloe reaching out to Frank. He sees her as this bright, beautiful presence who shows him kindness with no strings attached. But Frank is unaccustomed to that - while he looks at her and sees light, there is also a part of him shouting that there must be something menacing, that danger is everywhere: that going down that dark ladder will not lead to him finally having his feet on solid ground, but will lead him deeper into despair.
"come with me/I know the way", she's says, "it's down, down, down the dark ladder/do you want to contact somebody first/leave someone a letter/you can come now/or you can come later" (yes, I know this song is about heroin, but I'm choosing to interpret it more optimistically)
8. "Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman
This is another one of those Great American Songs of the 20th Century tracks - I could listen to it on loop forever and never get tired of it. Chapman's voice is so unique and beautiful and emotes so much. One of the things I love about this song is how seemingly unglamorous it is - unlike so many songs about running away with someone, it isn't imagining a world in which all your problems are solved and you have everything you want. It just imagines a place that is better than your last. Both Frank and Chloe are trying to cope with the hands they've been dealt and they recognize something in each other that could help them both belong.
maybe together we can get somewhere/anyplace is better
you gotta make a decision/leave tonight or live and die this way
9. "Arlington" - The Wailin' Jennys
This is Frank starting to see clearly for the first time in a long time. The rubble and chaos of his mind is beginning to settle and he is starting to figure out who he is again.
is there something in the wind/breathes a chill in your heart and life in your wings/does it whisper 'start again'/start again