In mid-December I opened my email and discovered a surprise: a playlist, automatically curated by Spotify, that included the 101 top songs I had listened to for the year.

Curious about what might be on it, I clicked the link, and scrolled.

It impacted me right away. The songs dated from my time in San Francisco earlier this year to the seven countries I’ve visited since in the 9 months total (!) I’ve been traveling. This is not just one lifetime’s worth of sound, but several.

La Catedral de Tango
Dancers at La Catedral de Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo taken during my first week abroad.

Though many of the songs were from my Concept 07: Love DJ mix that I played at my going-away party in March, the rest summed to hours of memories: people, places, moments, experiences, emotions, losses, triumphs, and hopes – like the tracks I listened to on repeat before I left, pushing me through endless days of life-liquidating errands, blind to what was to come. To hear those songs felt like time-traveling.

In collective year-end retrospectives the dominant theme socio-politically seems to be, “F-ck 2016!” Certainly there is validity to that in terms of the struggles we’ve all faced in our shared experiences.

But taking off my “political” and “social” hats for a moment and reflecting on my personal lived experience for the past year, my 2016 has been beautiful. And I mean that in the way my dear friend, mentor, guide, and brother Jamie McEntee sometimes uses it:

“Beauty is about as much terror as we can handle.”

That’s about as close as I can come to expressing my feelings on what it’s like to look back on this past year of my life – in a good way, of course. It simply doesn’t all fit into my brain. On the other hand, if I were to try to open my heart to the emotions I’ve felt, I would surely explode.

And my body, well, my body cowers in a sort of fear, as in, “I did that? How???” I think of it sort of as a precursor to humility realizing that, in the words of Mary Stevenson’s famous “Footprints” poem, sometimes I have been carried through more than one kind of challenge.

For you, the reader on the outside, I can provide just a few small windows into what it feels like to be doing this. That is one goal of this blog, The Lost Pilgrim.

In addition to words, I also try to put some of my feelings into my photography. Through those images, I attempt to convey not just what a scene looks like, but what it feels like to be there. I’ll say more about this in a future post.

Now, thanks to Spotify, I can add one more dimension of communication: what this journey has sounded like in music. (Post continues below…)

Of course, these songs will never mean to you what they do to me. Nor can they. Nonetheless, the songs remain the same.

There are songs to which I fell in love, walked unfamiliar streets, celebrated good news, mourned loss, spent hours with strangers who would soon become lifelong friends, fought gravity expending pre-trip anxiety on cold mornings in the gym, and lifted off on flight after flight to the unknown, like I am now somewhere over Japan.

And those are just a few of the songs of the 34 I’ve included. 34 also happens to be my lucky number. 🙂

For those who don’t wish to play this on a browser, you can click this link and have it load in Spotify (subscription required). Here are some other notes about the playlist, as well:

There’s no real order. But the first 10-15 are my top of the year. The first 5-10 definitely. In general it’s alright to listen on “Shuffle” though.

There are also some very NSFW rap songs on the playlist. Dubstep too. These might be jarring to those who don’t listen to those styles of music. I don’t usually either, but they sure are good for lifting heavy things. Please feel free to skip those songs if they’re not your thing.

To highlight “Took A Pill In Ibiza” specifically… for those friends curious about why I’d include such an obvious pop hit. During my two months in my beloved Medellín, Colombia, that song could be heard playing in the party-lined streets at least 3 or 4 times per night. The catchy, squawky, synthy melody will forever be burned into my sense memory of what it was like to be alive in that long moment, which in some ways has not ended.

As you might hear, many other songs represent my unforgettable time in South America, as well.

Finally, the playlist opens and closes with intention. The opening song is my tribute to George Michael, a musician who made some very meaningful contributions to my life, and who passed away on Christmas Day.

Though I love so many of his songs like “Monkey” and “Faith”, “Freedom ’90” has been a constant companion for more than half my life. Perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, I used to listen to it on airplanes, during takeoff at the beginning and end of my summer vacations from college. In other, less elevated moments, it has never failed to bring me joy.

George Michael Photo
George Michael, 1963-2016

May Mr. Michael rest in peace, with my deepest gratitude for all that he and his gifts have given to me. <3

Similarly, thank you to every single person who contributed to my life this past year in every way, especially in sharing and enjoying with me the music that appears on this list.

PS. For those who’d like to hear my top DJ mix of the year, I’ve listened to this one about 20 times. It’s the only mix I’ve ever listened to that feels as good as DJ’ing for me:

Dance Spirit – Live @ Desert Hearts 2015

And honorable mention to my friend and brother, Jason Lee, who made me this mix as a going away present. I’ve listened to it over and over, including on my original plane flight to Argentina:

Jason Lee – “Bon Voyage” (2016)

Do you know a traveler who might benefit from The Lost Pilgrim? If so, please share! And if you’re a new visitor, please remember to subscribe in the blue box on the right on web, or below on mobile.
~ Will

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