Love in a Hopeless Place: Songs That Got Us Through 2011 (Part One)

by: Lindsey Dietzler

Note: This is the first of a two-part feature on the Songs of 2011. Check out tomorrow’s piece by Mariann Devlin.

Disclaimer: I listen to a lot of music, and this was a very tough list to compile, but these are the songs of 2011 that helped me pull through. There are quite a few songs I really loved that did not make this list because they were not as emotionally as important as the list below. In the same vein, there were a lot of songs not from 2011 that also helped me get through the year that are not featured here.

I grew up listening to music constantly as a child. My mom was into 80s and 90s dance music and my stepdad listened to a lot of Tom Petty and The Cars. Music became my number one coping mechanism to deal with tough times at a pretty early age. Without the following songs, I would not have grown as much as I did or have been able to work through and survive some seriously difficult times last year. I have said time and time again, music saved my life and 2011 was no exception.

20. “My Country” by Tune-Yards

How come I cannot see my future within your arms?

I used to be a very involved activist in the queer rights movement. But as I began to come into my gender identity as a transman, I started to see just how problematic the larger narrative of the mainstream fight for queer rights was, and those things that were once symbolic were no longer important to me. This song definitely speaks to how I feel living in this country, but it also speaks to how I feel about the queer community (the racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, etc.) and how resources and energy are allocated very unevenly, both nationally and locally.

19. “Balance” by Future Islands

And you can clean around the wound, but if you want it to heal, it just takes time.

Over the past couple of years I have been learning how to grieve the passing of my sister and recently my mother. For a long time I tried to rush the healing process thinking “I should be over this by now,” but you never get over something like that. You have to work through it, and that takes a lot of time, patience and trust in yourself that your process is not wrong.

18. “Putting The Dog To Sleep” by The Antlers

Prove to me I’m not gonna die alone.

This song was especially powerful for me as I was working through the loss of my mother. I had spent a long time avoiding my emotions and had been scared to get close to other people after my sister passed away. My mother died alone, and I didn’t want that for myself. I wanted to heal so that I could love again and have meaningful relationships with others.

17. “Book Of Revelation” by The Drums

And I believe that when we die, we die, so let me love you tonight.

On my journey to learn to feel again this year, this song reminded me to keep in perspective the importance of living in the present and not taking others for granted. We can make plans for the future, but at the end of the day we are not guaranteed another. Especially in the wake of loss, we need to make the most of each day as it comes and not get caught up with living in the past or the future.

16. “Arcade Blues” by Neon Indian

Take me from these arcade blues.

I have always been a big nerd and loved video games growing up. As an adult, they have often served as a distraction from what I am actually feeling, another form of dissociating from my experience. I usually end up feeling worse after burying myself in them for any given amount of time. This year I had to force myself to stop playing video games when I wanted to dissociate and find healthy ways, like writing, to stay present.

15. “Marry The Night” by Lady Gaga

I won’t give up on my life, I’m a warrior queen, live passionately tonight.

This became a bit of an anthem for me last summer. It was about learning to live again despite all the heartbreak I had experienced that spring. It was about finding strength and picking myself up even though sometimes I didn’t want to. It was about finding a new love and passion for exploring Chicago and getting myself out there. It was about embracing my inner fag and dancing the night away.

14. “Vagabond” by Beirut

Now as the air grows cold, the truth unfolds, I’ve been lost a long time.

While I always look forward to fall every year, the holiday season can be a bit hard for me to stomach and the anniversary of my sister’s death is in the beginning of December. The winter helps to remind me that I need to slow down and reconnect with myself. This song reminded me that even though I spent the better part of the year searching for answers outside of myself, that only led me astray. In order to find your way home, you have to find yourself.

13. “Rising” by Son Lux

Are we bursting from the ashes?

Even after you think you have lost it all, life offers new beginnings. Sometimes it is necessary to feel like all has been lost so we can appreciate what we already have as well as the new doors opening before us. Nothing can be more liberating than coming out of the darkness and casting light on a new, unknown world.

12. “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” by Kelly Clarkson

What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter, footsteps even lighter.

I used to listen to Kelly Clarkson with my sister all the time so I will also have a special kind of love in my heart for her. My mother committed suicide two days before my birthday last year so I really find a connection to the anger in this song. We had a really complicated and unhealthy relationship, and even though this song found me very late in 2011, it’s helped me channel some of my anger and pain into a positive anthem of perseverance. Her death represents a new beginning for my life.

11. “Gathering Stories” by Jonsi

And then I heard you, you made me long for, to be a part of, something that I can’t see.

Leave it to Jonsi (lead singer of Sigur Ros) to always make me appreciate all that is beautiful in life. No matter what we go through on an individual level– we always have to remember that we are a part of this world, this universe– that we are all connected to one another and everything in it. Together we write the stories of our past, our present and our future. Together we live out our stories.

10. “We Found Love (ft. Calvin Harris)” by Rihanna

We found love in a hopeless place.

Sometimes you just need a great pop song to sing and dance to at Chances to let it all out. This is that song. The way the music escalates allows for so much tension to build before finally being released once the music apexes, and you lose your mind on the dance floor. This song also reminds me that even during our darkest times, we can find love and friendship.

9. “Make It Stop (September’s Children)” by Rise Against

Who will rise to stop the blood? We’re counting for, insisting on, a different beat, yeah, a brand new song.

Nothing in this world breaks my heart more than young queer kids committing suicide because they are bullied at school and/or at home. This song is a call to action. It begs us to create a better world for queer youth to grow up in. It offers hope, compassion and understanding. This song puts into perspective what should be the priorities of the queer community — fighting to end bullying and subsequent suicides, fighting to end homelessness, fighting to end homo/transphobia, fighting for education and understanding.

8. “Before The Bridge” by Future Islands

I hope you have what you need, I hope the moon is listening.

One of the many things Future Islands taught me last year is that even though you can love someone, it doesn’t mean you should be a part of one another’s lives. And even though it might not have worked out, you can still appreciate that connection, cherish what you had and wish the best for the ones that you love.

7. “Myma” by Girls

I want to see the light of love, I’m looking for meaning in my life.

This was, by far, one of the more heart-wrenching songs of 2011 for me. It was definitely the song that spoke to me the most literally, and just knowing that someone else shared a similar experience was very powerful for me. Navigating through the darkness and learning to find a new sense of the word “home” really did help me find love and meaning in my life.

6. “Hikikomori” by Zola Jesus

Oh, I know I’m home.

“Hikikomori” is a Japanese term that refers to people who have chosen to withdraw from society in order to deal with various issues in their lives. This song helped me realize that if I was going to begin to heal, I had to look inward. I had to make some changes in my life and my personal interactions. I had to learn to check in with myself and listen to my body instead of always rationalizing everything. I had to learn to stay in once in awhile instead of going out every night. I had to learn to rely on myself.

5. “Minnesota, WI” by Bon Iver

Never gonna break.

Sometimes when you’re in the thick of dealing with a loss like that of your mother or your sister, it can seem like the darkness is all encompassing. This whole album really helped guide me through that darkness but this song kept me from really getting swallowed into the swamps of sadness. There is always something beautiful to look forward to at the end of the tunnel; we just have to stay strong.

4. “Intro (ft. Zola Jesus)” by M83

We were the lights, the deserts, the faraway worlds, we were you before you even existed.

People always tell me they can’t imagine how they could ever deal with the loss I have experienced in my life and I always say, “You do it because you don’t have any other option.” This is not only one of the most epic and beautiful songs I heard all year, it offers a sense of belonging and connection to something greater than ourselves. We carry on because we have to and because the universe guides us — even through the most difficult times.

3. “I Don’t Want Love” by The Antlers

I should have built better walls, or slept in my clothes.

This year I decided that it was important to me to reconnect with my emotions. I had spent the last couple of years building wall after wall to protect myself from ever being hurt again. When I heard this song, I immediately connected with it. I knew that if I ever wanted to feel love again, I had to admit to myself that I didn’t want it at all. This song has continuously served as my reminder to check myself when I feel like I am becoming too guarded.

2.  “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine

I am done with my graceless heart, so tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.

Learning how to feel compassion for myself was by far the greatest thing I took away from 2011. I have spent my whole life beating myself up for my mistakes, my flaws, my emotions. But feeling shame only perpetuates negative behaviors and creates a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Feeling compassion for myself has eased my anxiety and allowed me to shake a lot of negativity out of my life.

1. “Midnight City” by M83

The city is my church.

I actually first heard this song when Nico posted it to their Facebook wall, [1] and I listened to it about 20 times in a row before I had to force myself to stop. This song came into my life at a time when I desperately needed to find things that made me feel positively. I was biking down the Lake Front Trail one night listening to this song, the moon looming big and bright in the sky, reflecting off the water, with the Chicago skyline towering behind me, and somehow I just knew that everything would be okay.

Lindsey Dietzler is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer. He is a co-founder of Video Action League and founder of CAMP: A Queer Sports League. Dietzler received his Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies from Columbia College Chicago. He is currently working on organizing a new queer/philanthropic dance night in Logan Square. Dietzler enjoys dancing, riding his bike and snuggling with his cat.

[1] Says Nico: Dietz, you are so welcome. That song heals people.

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