Déjenme Llorar: Thank-You Letters To The Songs That Held Me 2009-2019

   By Phoebe Smolin | Nov 11th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

To all of my friends, who are also songs:

I am right here because of you.

Here is on the floor of my Silver Lake apartment listening to “Me Voy” by Julieta Venegas on repeat because, once again, it’s all too relevant and here we are (life why you gotta be so cyclical?); here is at the end of the decade that saw me through the bulk of my twenties, scrambling to turn love into money but never quite getting the hang of it. Here is home, and the way I’ve come to understand it across latitudes. Here is a sound that rings of one moment and every moment since – you are that sound, you are my here.

To all of my friends, who are also songs: let me briefly explain how we got here.

It must have been about 2007 when I was sitting in my childhood room listening to the radio at the tail end of my dad’s show (shout out KPFK/public radio), when a song came on that happened to be Bebe’s “Siempre me quedará.” I was deep, deep into my punk phase at that point (and probably angry that I wasn’t old enough to get into the X show that night) and that should have been the last song to perk my ears. But for some reason that raspy whisper, that language I only kind of understood, and that strange way of putting a melody together hit me deeply. I wished I’d made that song. I proceeded to obsess over it, scouring Google with vicious searches for the lyrics until the bigger story revealed itself to me. I swapped out the Sex Pistols for Café Tacvba and Julieta Venegas and found a strange sort of solace in the entire musical history that surrounded them – an obsession that would eventually become the profound remapping of my sonic environment. And that is how this insanely contentious-to-categorize musical world (that I’ll call Latin Indie for simplicity’s sake) found an unassuming teenage Jew from Los Angeles.

When I found Club Fonograma, I found a heavenly vortex on the Internet that made me feel a little less alone. It was my everything for a while, my favorite place, teaching me how to think critically about the music that I resonated with and didn’t know why, giving me the tools and the words to understand my position and privilege when I listened to it. The site introduced me to the songs that would be catapulted from their existence as isolated sounds to things that I would love deeply, that would start movements in some cases, that would be there to catch me at any given moment.

Over the last decade, what began as an obsession became my entire life. And there are certain songs that, within this batch of absolutely confusing and gorgeous years, I’ve kept coming back to, as if they themselves were places. Little homes I’ve come to feel safe in for some reason or another. I’ve grown with them, I’ve heard them echoed in the songs that succeeded them. I’ve cried to them (with them?) after terrible days, and revelled with them after the good ones. These are the songs that may not have been critically praised – or even acknowledged – but they’re the ones that I needed. They’re my favorite places, my sweetest friends. And so, when tasked with reflecting on ten highly formative years, I feel duty-bound to simply thank them.

So, to all of my friends who are also songs, this is for you.

Dear “Los Adolescentes” (Dënver), 

I remember the first time I heard you. In the middle of my first snow, alone in my Massachusetts dorm room, feeling that nebulous kind of sad that comes with knowing you’ve lost something but aren’t quite sure what it is. And then I heard that electrifying opening riff, followed by Mariana’s sugar-smooth voice coming in with those simple-yet-profound lyrics perfectly encapsulating the feeling of the in-between, which is very much where I was (and have been many times since). I proceeded to jump on my bed, rejoicing in the fact that something – this song – made everything feel okay for six minutes. Even when you resolve into dissonant synth-chaos, you hold it together – a lesson I’ve kept with me ever since. There is no greater teacher than that. Thank you.

Dear Fonogramaticos Vol. 10: Nosotros Los Rockers,

I never fully admitted to myself how vital you’ve been to my personal soundscape over the last decade because there’s a certain assumed shame that comes from loving a copy. An inherent cheapness to it. But you, you are a masterpiece. When Julieta Venegas and Ceci Bastida covered Rita Indiana, I’d found the tropical indie rock rave that I didn’t know I needed. El Medio’s cover of “Tus Amigos,” making what is a totally absurd song sound sweet, is genius. Astro’s spacey cover of Los Espíritus is, to me, exactly how it should sound. In twenty-hour tracks you taught me the value in being open to new ways of seeing, and you made that acceptance sound so, so, so good.

Dear Abrázame” (Los Rakas, Uproot Andy mix),

I really didn’t want to like you. When I first heard you in the middle of an indie stupor that I took way too seriously, you were not something I wanted to let myself like. But you started sneaking your way into my mornings, the mixes I made for my friends, the bad college parties I DJ’d, the grimy Los Angeles after hours I saw too many times. You, for ten years, have not left me alone and have not let me hate you the way I wanted to and I am writing this to tell you that you win. I give up. You can’t choose who you love.

Dear Yo Sería Otro” (Dávila 666),

In 2011, when you came blaring through my crappy speakers telling me “jugar con fuego tiene fin” I agreed with you, but decided to keep doing it anyway. You, with that savage sweetness that defined the Dávila, the punk rock call and response that felt as holy as it was confusing, that dirty punk attitude that reminded me of what my priorities were. As soon as I heard you I had a feeling I was doomed (and I was). I followed you and that addictive hook of yours to Boston from Western Massachusetts to see you live and everyone thought I was insane. You led me into the arms of many bad decisions, and were always there to pick me up on the other end. You introduced me to the people who would become my family. You became impossible to unhear, and I’m so grateful for that.

Dear Pa’ Respirar” (Bomba Estéreo) [via a very stylish Vincent Moon one-take]

I can’t tell you how often I come back to you. Brought to you in an anxiety flurry, you are the first thing that sounded like actual peace to me. Me being in the world I’m in, it’s hard to admit that this version of you (what some would call a Bomba deep cut) surpasses anything else that Bomba Estéreo has ever done. Don’t get me wrong, I can get down to some life-affirming Amanecer bangers and Blow Up dancefloor throwbacks, but knowing that this pure, genuine, raspy solace is behind all of those makes me want to peel back the pump-up club sirens and hear you again. You gave me my first taste of the Andes, filmed on top of Monserrate in Bogotá during an overcast sunset – a place I’d proceed to romanticize until I found it a couple of years later only to learn that I wasn’t romanticising anything – you were just right. You are beautiful in the way that the vastness from the top of the Andes is beautiful and also terrifying, how the endlessness of it all is unsettling because of how small you are within it. You, you are that moment where I feel like enough.

Dear Rie Chinito” (Perotá Chingó),

I found you through this simple video shortly after my grandfather died in 2012, and about two weeks before I moved to Chile. I don’t know how, or what propelled you into my life at the time it did, but it was serendipitous. All I wanted was harmony in a time that was relatively dissonant. And there you were. Exactly what I needed to hear. I hope you don’t mind that I played you once in a bar in Valparaíso – I know it probably didn’t sound that great but it felt so good to sing. Once I literally tumbled my way down the tallest part of the Andes to meet you in person (sorry for how bad I smelled that day). I never understood why more people here don’t listen to you more. But I think they might find you someday soon and wonder the same thing.

Dear Sacar la Voz” (Ana Tijoux ft. Jorge Drexler)

You changed everything for me. When you were released, I was in the middle of an idyllic summer in New York City, living with wild musicians, working away at my super liberal media internship, and knee deep in what was becoming a lifelong obsession with music that can restructure society’s DNA. I was also beginning to realize the root of my interest sprung from a very personal place (as they often do). Always a quiet kid, I’d find unconventional ways to be loud – my clothes, my essays, my songs. You validated everything (on top of just being an incredible musical moment). With the line, “Sacar la voz, no estoy sola estoy conmigo,” you reaffirmed that I already had everything I needed. On a larger scale, you exposed that one of the barriers between the ‘powerful’ and the ‘powerless’ is also silence – a barrier that crumbles the louder the collective voice gets.

Dear Derecho de Nacimiento” (Natalia Lafourcade)

Building on what I began to learn from Ana, when you were released in 2012 you gave me further proof that I was not totally out of my mind for believing that music had magical powers. Written as a hymn for the student movement in Mexico, I heard this for the first time when I was living in Chile, when many of my friends were also involved in constant protests against an oppressive education system. It was insane how something so similar could be happening so far away. It was outrageous that something so human could be made inaccessible. It was amazing how all of these voices I’d already loved for their sweet songs about life came together to show us another side of their craft in this video. You made everything feel so entirely connected. And you still do.

Dear Jardines” (Chancha Vía Circuito ft. Lido Pimienta)

When I heard you I had no idea that music could sound like this. I’d found a song I wanted to live in. Between Lido’s voice and Chancha’s intricate, creeping beats I found myself ripped from my reality which, at the time, was at a desk in North Hollywood, and reconnected with a poetic sense of existence that I’d lost touch with in trying to synchronize with the rhythm of capitalist America. Hearing you invoked a feeling I felt was left in my bones by my ancestors for me to find at that exact moment. Nothing ever really was the same after that. You led me to some of the people who’ve become my family over the years, and you’ve led me back to the shamelessly human part of myself.

Dear Jamaica” (Ela Minus)

You were one of those songs I hid in. When you came out I was in the process of navigating one of the most evil relationships I’ve ever known, something that ripped me so far from myself that no one was sure I’d ever come back. Most of my moves were highly surveillanced by my partner at the time. I’d become aimless in a lot of ways, living purely to tip-toe around this person’s disapproving outbursts. I’d become convinced that so much of what I’d loved before was irrelevant. But there was something about you that woke me up. “No hay luz sin oscuridad,” you sweetly repeated with a quiet strength. There are so many songs I’ve loved because they aggressively confronted society’s ills loudly and obviously. You were my own quiet revolution, my first dance with my own shadows that I gladly dance with every day now, thanks to you.

Dear Give Me Some Pizza” (Nathy Peluso),
Some loves can be simple. Not everything is the end of the world. You, in all of your ridiculous realness, came into my life to remind me of that. That cravings hurt because they matter. That they’ll only get louder if we don’t listen – or, in this case, sing to them in the key of a distant Ella Fitzgerald after a long night. You are fearless in your realness, and you’ve saved so many awkward silences since you were released and for that I love you (and pizza) forever.

Dear Te Guardo” (Silvana Estrada),

You are where memory activates – echoing so many of the trovadoras before you while feeling so, so distinct. When I heard you for the first time it was raining in Los Angeles, you’d been sent to me by a friend in Mexico with no words, just urgency. I lost track of time for a minute. Coming from the mind of such a young person you sound like you contain the ages. Hearing you at a time where the musical climate leans in favor of the all holy autotune, digital glitches, and juicy bass drops was refreshing. A reminder that there are still so many layers to who we are and what this moment sounds like – that the decades after this one promise so much light, that the profound wisdom of the youth is not to be underestimated.

Dear Convéncete” (Princesa Alba),

Unlike a lot of the songs here, I’m writing to you mere months after hearing you for the first time. You’re new, but that’s not how it felt upon hearing you. You immediately recalled the moment I heard Teleradio Donoso for the first time: urging me off of my bed and onto the proverbial dancefloor somehow all of a sudden in love and unsure with whom. That is the magic of a flawless pop song. That is the magic that the Chilean pop scene exposed me to ten years prior to hearing you. I listen to you and immediately feel like I’m at the end of a 90s rom-com, butterflies in my stomach, dramatically panning out to some ambiguous skyline while I twirl on a football field. That lightness, especially lately, is invaluable.

Dear This Is How You Smile (Helado Negro)

I don’t mean to make the rest of the songs feel bad but the whole of you, glittery being, have been my greatest friend this year. From the soft realness of “País Nublado” to the permeating drone weaving in and out of melodic glitches on “Fantasma Vaga,” it feels as if you are the album that I (and a lot of us, really) have been waiting to hear for an entire decade. You are proof that there is a way to find sweetness amongst the dark pieces that make up our reality these days. It’s been a strange year, a heavy-yet-revealing end to the decade, and you have been by my side every day in all of your glitchy glory assuring me: “quédate que hay luz.”

I will, I promise.

As Christopher Small (Musicking, 1998) so simply put it: “to take part in a musical act is of central importance to our very humanness.” So, to all of my friends who are also songs, thank you. Without you, there is no me.

Here’s to another ten,

Love,
Phoebe


Phoebe Smolin is a nerd from Los Angeles who lives to create and understand spaces of sonic exchange. She fell into the music industry by accident 7 years ago, and has since been working as a publicist, label coordinator, artist manager, producer, curator, connector, researcher, among whatever other title makes sense in the moment. Working with artists and arts organizations from Latin America and beyond, the heart of her professional adventures has always been a drive to bring creative expression to the forefront, and to help make often prohibitive industries easier to navigate for artists. 

IG: @phoebelousmolin
Twitter: @phoebesmolin

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful piece of writing... Some songs have more soul than a human being, you get it right

    ReplyDelete