• Matthew Loberg

Unusual Holiday Music Part 3: Growth

Updated: Jul 5, 2019

In this post, I'll chronicle the songs in my Mom's Christmas CD: Growth. This is the final post in a trilogy; to see the first two, click below:

How do we Overcome?

Dreaming on an Open Road

Growth

Sometimes, life gets away in ways that are unexpected. That’s true in relationships (as chronicled herein), as well as more benign aspects of daily life. I suppose that’s just the entropic nature of our existence; without focused attention, disorder wreaks havoc. How do we respond to the unexpected? Hopefully, with growth.

This blog post was almost complete in February…one tear of an ACL later and it was shelved (just like my medical school intramural basketball career). In its formative stages (pre-injury), my Mom’s playlist had no title—it had a backbone of an emotional story with uncertainty surrounding the underlying themes. Now, nearly five months later, the backbone—namely the songs—remains the same, yet the post has the added component of reflection to further its meaning, and, more importantly, through reflection it has gained a title.

Growth has a dual meaning. Growth is being willing to recognize that which is painful and address it. But growth is also recognizing that which gives you purpose and those that you love (two things that are inseparably intertwined), and devoting time to them. Within the mind numbing drudgery of daily existence that is pre-clinical medical education—medical school offers a unique opportunity so see and learn from awe-inspiring patients and doctors but also requires a commitment to memorize an inordinate number of facts with little examination of mechanistic underpinnings, especially within the pre-clinical year(s)—it is easy to lose site of that which provides meaning. To be clear, I have no qualms; I would not change the path that I am on nor would I attend a different school. While there are no Perfect Places, Vanderbilt has become a home, and I think that it is a superb school to pursue MD/PhD training. I would, however, do a better job of finding purpose in the slog.

In the acute time period surrounding being injured and having surgery, I found my time limited as I struggled to pass a block exam that I was, admittedly, woefully underprepared for. After the exam I had time, yet I did not write. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t finish this blog post. I read some—I suggest reading A Man Called Ove—but my reflections remained mortal, fleeting thoughts.

Being injured to the point of being debilitated can certainly be ostracizing at times. Yet being injured allowed me to appreciate all of the good people I have in my life; I grew closer to those around me. Not being able to walk was frustrating, but life as a whole was more rewarding, fulfilling. I recognize now that, for me, writing has been a response to difficult, emotional situations. I like to immortalize melancholic thoughts. But why would I only track negative memories? It’s not only acceptable, but important and necessary that I take time to reflect on the good in my life. I digress; while returning to writing at a time when I feel stressed yet genuinely happy is my own personal growth, this playlist caters to relationships (in all their colors) and recognizing those that we love.

Choosing songs that my Mom will like has always been relatively easy; pick a song with a nice acoustic guitar with a soothing melody (we’ll call the vibe, “singer songwriter coffee shop chill bordering on folk”) and my Mom will find it divine. Now, finding lyrically meaningful songs? Much harder. I’ve gotten better at crafting meaning in my Mom’s CDs, but it’s something I’m still working on.

Last year, I made my Mom a CD themed around being a long way from home while being worried about the health of a parent. It was a CD born out of love and fear at a time when my Mom was going through several health setbacks, and I was trying to figure out my future for the next 7+ years. Emotional highlights of the CD for me include Daughter’s Doing The Right Thing (see music video below) and The National’s About Today [Live]. Doing The Right Thing explores, in my interpretation, what happens to a person who develops progressive dementia. Like most of The National’s songs, About Today can take on vastly different meanings for different listeners—Matt Berninger’s lyrical brilliance at work. For many, About Today may seem to be about the end of a relationship. For me, About Today is about not being there for the death of a loved one (which is the death of a relationship in an absolute sense). It brings to mind memories of my Grandfather’s death on April 25, 2003, several weeks before my 9th birthday; these memories remind me that I want to be there not only at the end, but prior to the end, to foster the relationships that my parents deserve. Such thoughts generate cognitive dissonance when committing to live at distance for as lengthy a time as an MD/PhD. You can listen to that whole playlist here.




Fortunately, this year, I feel much better about my Mom’s health—I still recognize finitude, but that finitude feels much less immediate. As such, in this CD I’ve turned a leaf, exploring new topics, while maintaining threads from past CDs. A theme that will always exist in my CDs to my Mom is my parents’ divorce. The songs here are not necessarily specific to their divorce. Instead, they’re an exploration of finitude—not of life necessarily, as I was previously concerned, but of relationships. Relationships, even the good ones, ebb and flow.

The exploration of relationships is split into three acts.

The first touches on finding a home. In the past, my songs about home have been of longing. My residence outside of Oregon was transient. Now, for the first time, I find myself committed to living away from my family for a lengthy amount of time. A time long enough to let the place I’m in become a home. Given that I’ve chosen to allow myself to make a new home, I want to share it with my Mom.

The second act, which comprises the bulk of the songs, follows a relationship from its sprouts in Nothing More Than That to its aftermath. This is inspired by my parents, but is also a reflection for myself as I try to come to terms with what makes life meaningful and what I value.

The third act is less of an act as it really only comprises the bookends of the playlists. It’s about telling the ones we love how we feel regardless of what we’ve endured.

You can listen to Growth in its entirety here.


1. River—Leon Bridges

Explanation:

A theme in this playlist (not explicitly expressed within the songs) is recognizing the love that we have for others that have been role models to us. Growing up, my sisters and I placed undue stress on ourselves to be perfect—not in all aspects of our lives, but at least academically. My Mom thankfully never put pressure on us to be perfect. She was there for us and accepting of us despite our mistakes. For that, I am eternally thankful. Additionally, it brings me warmth to envision my Mom singing this song in church in Jackson, Mississippi. (Context: my mom spent time living in Jackson in her 20’s.)


Been traveling these wide roads for so long

My heart’s been far from you

Ten-thousand miles gone

Oh, I wanna come near and give ya

Every part of me

But there’s blood on my hands

And my lips aren’t clean


In my darkness I remember

Momma’s words reoccur to me

Surrender to the good lord

And he’ll wipe your slate clean


From Leon Bridges:

“Around the time when I wrote it, I was really down, really depressed. Because, you know I was working like a whole bunch of jobs to try and support my Mom, support myself. And I felt like I was in a hole. And I had this vision to play music and wanting to do that for a living, but I always felt like that could never happen.”


“It all started in Fort Worth, Texas, me playing every Tuesday night at a bar. This guy, he walks in, and he comes up to me after I get done with my gig and was like, 'are those covers?' And I was like, 'No, they’re my songs.' And he was like, 'well, they sound great, let's record them.' That was the beginning of everything.”


“I’ve been hateful toward people…I’ve lied. You know. I haven’t been a perfect person. It’s just about, like, the wrong that I live, you know. And all kind of things that doesn’t measure up with the spiritual way of living.”


“The idea of being baptized in a river has been used in gospel music so many times. And it shows that I’m not perfect, but the lord doesn’t care, you know, [about] the wrong I’ve done. That’s what the river is about.”


2. On the Train Ride Home—The Paper Kites

Explanation:

For me, On the Train Ride Home is about being in a new place and wanting it to become a home.


I want someone to grow with

Songs I can sing to

And a family to cling to

But if I can’t get the things I want

If I can’t get the things I want

Just give me what I need

Just give me what I need


3. Slip Away—McKinley James

Explanation:

Thanks to Bradley Reinfeld (also know as B-Rad or, even better, the greatest bass player in all of immuno-oncology), Nashville rocker and 17-year old phenom McKinley James (MJ) has been my go-to source of entertainment on Monday nights.

With choosing to move to Nashville, I wanted to share with my Mom part of what makes Nashville home to me. Hence, the nod to MJ. In May—well after the conception of this playlist—my mom was able to visit and we saw MJ together after enjoying Five Points Pizza.

What would I give for just a few moments

What would I give just to have you near


4. Lean on Me—McKinley James

Explanation:

My favorite MJ song, hands down. I’ve stayed an extra few minutes at Monday Night Blues to hear Lean on Me more than a couple of times.

I’m coming home

Coming home

Lean on me


5. Nothing More Than That—The Paper Kites

Explanation:

Nothing more than that marks the beginning of Act II; the budding of a relationship.

Sweet December’s coming ‘round

The city’s big but all I’ve found

Is you’re the truest thing in this town

And I want you now


Dropped the needle, closed your eyes

Listened like you’d almost died

All your love in an old record pile

And I want you now


6. Hot Heavy Summer—Ben Howard

Explanation:

Ben Howard has been a staple in the “singer songwriter coffee shop chill bordering on folk” genre that I’ve catered toward since my mom’s first Christmas playlist.

Baby wants to last

In the hearts of the wild and free

She knows that time takes all of us

Through every long hot heavy summer

Says she wants to last

Last how you want to

She’s a light in the young boy’s eyes

Through every long hot heavy summer


7. If We Were Vampires—Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Explanation:

If We Were Vampires is Isbell’s depiction of the beauty of mortality. It’s about two lovers knowing that, one day, one will die and the other will be alone. Isbell hints at the beauty of our finite state. I like to think that it can be about death, but also the mortality of relationships independent of death. A relationship with a lover, friend, or companion does not have to be indefinite to be joyous and fulfilling.

It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever

Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone

Maybe we’ll get forty years together

But one day I’ll be gone

Or one day you’ll be gone


If we were vampires and death was a joke

We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke

Laugh at all the lovers and their plans

I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand

Maybe time running out is a gift

I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift

And give you every second I can find

And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind


“The song is about the wish to be able to be together forever, contrasted against the reality that one day one of them will die and the other will be alone. Unlike other songs that conclude that living forever would be the ultimate expression of love, Isbell concludes that it is the limited time they spend together that gives their relationship meaning.” —Genius

8. Even the Darkness Has Arms—The Barr Brothers

Explanation:


The beginning of existential angst.

Even the darkness has arms

But they ain’t got you

And baby, I have it

And I have you, too


And a light in the window to pass the night through

May be so uncertain but what can I do

Keeping it on, keeping it on

And I know I like it but what does that prove

Sometimes I worry I don’t know how to love you

9. Coming Home—Leon Bridges

Explanation:


I wanna be around

I wanna be around girl

Baby, baby, baby

I’m coming home

To your tender sweet loving

You’re my one and only woman

The world leaves a bitter taste

In my mouth, girl

You’re the only one that I want

Baby, how I’d be grieving

If you wanted to leave me all alone now


10. Like Gold—Vance Joy

Explanation:

I listened to this song on repeat in The Gov Cup while writing my recent blog post, On Divorce. For this song, I’ve included the entirety of the lyrics because they all feel illustrative and pertinent—capturing a feeling through music which I can’t put into words.

Time to let it go

It won’t let go of me

Hanging by a thread

Cutting the cord and then falling back into the

Black ‘cause if I don’t

If I wait ’til it feels right

I’ll be waiting my whole life

Closing my eyes, remember how we were like


Gold, when you see me

Hi, if you need me

Babe, that’s the way it was

That’s the history

Blue, how we used to roar

Like an open fire

That’s the way it was

But that’s history


Oh, oh

That’s the way it was

But that’s history

Oh, oh

That’s the way it was

But that’s history


I have a memory

You’re visiting me at night

Climbing in my bed

You were so quiet that you never woke me

I love the way you could

See the good in everything

But, do we fuel the fire?

Closing my eyes, remember how we were like


Gold, when you see me

Hi, if you need me

Babe that’s the way it was

That’s the history

Blue, how we used to roar

Like an open fire

That’s the way it was

But that’s history


Started with a word

Now, look at where we are

Everything we’ve done

Is there on our faces for anyone willing to

Read between the lines

Now, look at where we are

Everything we’ve done

Is there on our faces for anyone willing to

Oh, oh

That’s the way it was

But that’s history

Oh, oh

That’s the way it was

But that’s history


Well, I got a feeling

Darling, it’s possible that

‘Cause love’s got no ceiling

Now, that it’s just so strong

And I got a feeling

Like everything is possible

I’m trying to change

Mmm


Gold, when you see me

Hi, if you need me

Babe, that’s the way it was

That’s the history

Blue, how we used to roar

Like an open fire

That’s the way it was

But that’s history


Started with a word

Now, look at where we are

Everything we’ve done

Is there on our faces for anyone willing to

Read between the lines

Now, look at where we are

Everything we’ve done

Started out with just one


Oh


Gold, when you see me

Hi, if you need me

Babe, that’s the way it was

But that’s history


11. Arms—The Paper Kites

Explanation:

Arms, to me, is the narrator, post-Gold, attempting to cope with the inevitable.

What can I give that is all for you?

My heart’s no good ‘cause it’s split in two

What can I give that is all for you?

These arms are all I have


But I’ll hold you like I do love you

But I’ll hold you like I do love you


12. Perfect Places—Lorde

Explanation:

This is a song that was instrumental in helping me accept my decision to attend Vanderbilt. When I was trying to find somewhere to live for the remainder of my 20’s, I felt as though I needed to find a perfect place. A perfect place, for me, had to be close to home. Vanderbilt, was a place that, to me, felt (and still does feel) like a home, but was not close to home.

I think, similar to perfect places, there are no perfect people; we make do with those that are dear to us and we love them regardless of their imperfections.

Are you lost enough?

Trying to find these perfect places

What the fuck are perfect places anyway?


13. Comin’ Home—City and Colour

Explanation:


Cause I’m comin’ home, I’m comin’ home


I’ve seen a palace in London, I’ve seen a castle in Wales

But I’d rather wake up beside you and breathe that ol’ familiar smell

I never thought you’d leave me, I figured I was the one

But I understand your sadness so I guess I should just hold my tongue

But I’m comin’ home, I’m comin’ home


14. Guilty Party—The National

Explanation:

See On Divorce, the Unforeseen Consequences. The next sequence of songs require no explanation outside of their lyrics.


I say your name

I say I'm sorry

I know it's not working

I'm no holiday

It's nobody's fault

No guilty party

We just got nothing

Nothing left to say


15. Rose Petals—S. Carey

Explanation:


I woke up in this wallowing

I run from it every day

I started making sense of it

At least that’s what I say

Hiding in the rose petals

Holding on to what you know

Hanging from the pedestal

Hinging on whether you should go

We’re back to where we started

Our backs against the wall

And you’re tracing your steps

Like you said you wouldn’t do


16. Start a War—The National

Explanation:


We expected something, something better than before

We expected something more


Do you really think you can just put it in a safe behind a painting, lock it up and leave?

Do you really think you can just put it in a safe behind a painting, lock it up and leave?

Walk away now

And you’re gonna start a war

You were always weird but I never had to hold you by the edges, like I do now

We were always weird but I never had to hold you by the edges, like I do now

Walk away now

And you’re gonna start a war


17. People Change—Mipso

Explanation:


I used to love you like the world would end

I used to love you like a child

The thing about people is they change

When they walk away

18. Another’s Arms—Coldplay

Explanation:

Late night watching TV

Used to be you here beside me

Used to be your arms around me

Your body on my body

When the world means nothing to me

Another’s arms, another’s arms

When the pain just rips right through me

Another’s arms, another’s arms

And that’s just torture to me

Another’s arms, another’s arms


19. Low—Victoria Bigelow

Explanation:


You showed up at my door

Restlessly in search of something I can’t offer

You pled for something more

And I’m too scared to tell you what I want


‘Cause when you come around I go way far down

I sink ever deeper now

Yes, I go low

Something in the way that I loved you in my day

And I’m too ashamed to say that now I just don’t

But I don’t want to die alone

20. All’s Well That Ends—Rainbow Kitten Surprise

Explanation:

The colder the night, the warmer your hands hold

Held in your arms, the hole in my head grows whole


And I don’t wanna die alone, but I don’t wanna die at all

I’m not gonna keep you by the phone, dear, hang up when you’ve had enough

Too much to talk

Call me when you’re coming down, call me when you hang

All is well that ends well, but all is well that ends


21. Silver Lining—Mt. Joy

Explanation:

Lots of time our condition in life feels chronic. This song is here to remind us that sometimes events in life come on too acutely to risk not telling the ones we love how we feel about them.

And wear your silver lining

Wear it close to your skin

And tell the ones you love you love them

Teach only what you know, and oh, you better know it well


From Mt. Joy:

“I saw a lot of young people passing away way too soon, and it was sort of a reaction to that.”


With Love,

Matthew

Fenway Park July 2008. Left: Mom. Right: Me.

48 views
COntact us
  • Grey Twitter Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon
  • Grey Facebook Icon

© 2020 by We Went to College Together.