A few days ago, I was buried up to my neck in volcanic sand.
Literally, and by choice! My sister and I spent a very restorative weekend at a spa, to celebrate her upcoming wedding and to shake off a winter that had been a challenge for each of us. This particular spa has imported natural volcanic sand from Ibusuki, a city in southwest Japan, and for a cool $30 they will have someone rake a hot, heaping quantity of it atop your body until you cannot move. Then you lay there for 15 minutes, letting the mineral-rich sand work its supposedly detoxifying magic and, if you are like me, expelling such an ungodly amount of perspiration from your face that an attendant who sees maybe a hundred people through this process each day remarks with slightly concerned awe, “Wow, you’re really sweating.”
For the first few minutes, I felt like a corpse. By the end, though, as I wriggled out of the earth and once again stood upright, I have never felt more like a freshly sprouting flower in springtime. (Albeit an exceptionally sweaty one who had to sit on the bench for five extra minutes of observation because she’d been deemed a fainting risk.)
The earliest weeks of springtime have such a distinct feeling that I decided to make a playlist to soundtrack them. Late March/early April is a time of rebirth but also of the friction and occasional struggle of transition — the lime-green shoot emerging from the dirt; the chrysalis stage before the butterfly. It’s the April-is-the-cruelest-month part of “The Wasteland.” It’s the “little darling, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter” part of “Here Comes the Sun.” It’s this perfect little 24-word poem by Anaïs Nin that I always find myself thinking of this time of year:
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
Flowers are a recurring motif on this playlist: Waxahatchee’s blooming and then withering lilacs “marking the slow, slow, slow passing of time”; Hurray for the Riff Raff’s bemused cataloging of poetic plant names (“Rhododendron, night blooming jasmine, deadly nightshade…”). So, too, is rebirth and that worthwhile risk to bloom. Perhaps selfishly, I sneaked in one song in about “smoke floating over the volcano,” but that’s from an album I find speaks to a lot of these themes anyway, Caroline Polachek’s excellent, recently released “Desire, I Want to Turn Into You.” My perennial favorites Nina Simone and the Mountain Goats make appearances, but don’t say I didn’t warn you in my introductory “11 Songs That Explain Me.”
Speaking of which! Thank you so much for all your wonderful submissions when I asked last week for a song that describes you. I wish I could have included every one of them, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites below. So many of your responses were such vivid reminders of the humanizing power of music and the bone-deep connection we all have to certain songs. It was great to get to know more about who’s out there reading, too. I feel like we’re building something special together.