Just about a year ago to the day, I created a Spotify playlist called Pip & Provis. In my vanity, I must write about it.
Just kidding, of course, it’s not vanity that particularly motivates me to write about the playlist but rather that I consider it to be something important in my life. Like most people our age, I spend a good many hours of my week listening to Spotify. And in my case, much of the time, I have this playlist on.
The title of the playlist is in reference to two of the main characters in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations: Pip, who is the focus of the bildungsroman, and the heartwarming convict Provis, otherwise known in the novel as Abel Magwitch.
Great Expectations is a fine book and I’d encourage everyone to read it. For me, it also possesses a fair bit of sentimental value because it’s the book over which James and I grew to be such good friends in our senior year English class. We bonded throughout the year over good literature in English and trying to stay above water in Calculus, and there was the unspoken anticipation of college far away from home that we knew was on the cusp of altering the trajectory of our small town lives.
We reveled in the likes of Siddhartha, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Hamlet, but it was undoubtedly our undertaking of Great Expectations that has stuck with me the most. Dickens’ characterization is vivid, and we brought the characters to life with the imaginary plots we’d make up that deviate from the script. Miss Havisham, Joe Gargery, Jaggers, Estella, these are just names in a Dickens novel but they almost feel like people I know because I imagined them walking and talking as real people so often.
With all due respect to Dickens and to James, I’m not sure if I would have given the playlist the title that I have if there wasn’t another reason. In my freshman dorm, there was this girl named Pip. She was really pretty—definitely the Kate Middleton of that year. Yes, I stayed in the same dorm as Will and Kate did their freshman years at St Andrews, and though I was never particularly fond of having people point that out to me time and again I really can’t pass on the analogy here.
I probably spoke 10 words to Pip all year in the dining hall, our friend groups didn’t overlap and I rarely saw her out, but since the only Pip I had ever familiarized with before was Dickens’ Pip she naturally slotted into my mind as the Pip to my Provis. If the stars aligned, in accord with the plot of Great Expectations, I could become her benefactor. If I could do 18 over I would’ve tried to get to know her better, but alas you don’t get to do 18 over. If she ever came across this blog she’d probably be wicked weirded out, but whatever, that is the inspiration for the playlist name and my intentions were good.
So those are the motivating factors behind the name, and it was to be a fitting name because I was going to comprise it of mostly emo, postcore, and postrock ballads that I’ve grown to love as the years have gone on. They’re melodic songs that, to me, are just beautiful sounds independent of the content of their lyrics. The lyrics also just so happen to dwell on the past, as music generally does and by nature we are forced to do as well, so the title makes sense in that it alludes to my past.
“I’ll Take You Everywhere” by Penfold off of their 1998’s Amateurs & Professionals kicks us off—really the epitome of emo at the time with its slow build-up including the opening lines, “Painted skies and shining stars remind us of the hours/We spent at the dining room table drawing pictures of nothing important” followed by the crescendo at about 4 minutes concluding with the simple yet hard-hitting, “This place is not the same without the smile of your face/And if you were here then I would take you everywhere”.
In a similar vein, “Never Meant” by American Football off the self-titled comes in at song number four with their harmonial chops on full display. “There were some things that were said that weren’t meant” repeated over and over in the background before the crushing “So let’s just pretend/Everything and/Anything between you and me/Was never meant”.
Addicted to finding the irony in situations and actions, this playlist had it for me. In contrast to the title of it, consisting of inside jokes in high school and an inside joke to myself half a world away, the songs are very much not jokes that prompt my mind to gravitate to people and places in time that aren’t jokes either. The songs are melodious and aesthetically kind to my ears—on some days they can pack a punch, too.
“Jesus Christ” by Brand New takes me somewhere dark. “Grace Cathedral Park” by Red House Painters puts me on a hill far away. “Heartbeats” by Jose Gonzalez makes me ponder what might have been. This is, after all, what music does and why we are so often entranced with it.
Interestingly enough, the playlist has devolved into 383 songs taking up 24 hours & 53 minutes of time. In addition to myself, Jason and Max have, at one time or another, added songs to it. Jason made the last addition to it with “Reconnect This” by Misser two days ago. It doesn’t consist of just sad songs, but happy ones as well spanning the realms of punk, pop punk, shoegaze, straight up pop, and I’m sure some terminology that I’m not too familiar.
At one moment you could be listening to a 7-minute instrumental, and the next it’s pretty heavy. When I discover a new band I like, sometimes I’ll just impulsively add a few of their tracks to the playlist. It doesn’t always flow like you think it should—nor does life.
I’d like to think it’s not a playlist that suffered from an erosion of an identity, but instead a transformation of one. At nearly 400 songs, 25 hours, and jumping all over the musical map, it is a bit of a clusterfuck. To which I say to the playlist, buddy, welcome to the club.
In the future, it’ll probably make sense to cut it or at least properly categorize the songs by their genres. As it is, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride, and that’s a project that I know Jason—the co-collaborator of the playlist for all intents and purposes—would enjoy undertaking with me.
But for now it’s alright. Much like a journal or in this day in age a Twitter account, seeing what song we added this day or that gives us insight into who we were thinking about and what we were thinking about. Like this blog, it’s cathartic. The songs become conversations we don’t have to have, no one needs permission to add songs to the playlist, and we gain more and more insight into each other—the people we value. And at the end of the day, it’s just a way to put good music in one place and share it with one another.