My Chemotherapy Playlist

Over the course of 35 rounds of chemotherapy I gradually added songs to this playlist. Some are dark or sad, but all of them have something in common: they allow me to draw strength and resolve from my emotions. Many of these songs are my all-time favorites, others I just love for this purpose and they fit the bill somehow either by song title or sentiment. I’m not sure exactly what criteria I followed for including a song in the playlist, but many songs volunteered to be here. Together they tell a story about who I am, and about my life’s journey including the battle with cancer. For that reason this playlist is a potent sort of self-expression.

Here is the playlist on YouTube. I encourage anyone who wants to walk this life’s journey with me, to listen to the playlist as you cook dinner or take a long road trip. If you’re really dedicated you can follow along and read the below commentary, and even view the lyrics if the song isn’t familiar to you.

There are really three sections to this extensive playlist – chemotherapy can take a long time. Counting waiting room visits, it’s an all-day affair from early morning labs until the end of infusions in the evening.  The first section is darker and more contemplative, and it turns on the song Morning Fog by Kate Bush to the second section, which is more uplifting and inspirational. The third section starts with I Choose You by Sarah Bareilles and consists mostly of love songs. Love is a critical part of battling cancer; you need as much of it as you can get to keep up your strength and hopefulness.

With or Without You (cover of the U2 song) by April Meservy

My hands are tied, my body bruised, you got me with
Nothing to win and nothing left to lose

And you give yourself away

One of my favorite songs by U2, this cover was performed by April Meservy spontaneously in a raw, deeply emotional state and is one of my favorite covers.  It was used by Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford when they were skating in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.

Sometimes in life’s relationships you give parts of yourself away to keep the peace or to make other people more secure or comfortable. Part of loving someone is protecting their bubble or world-view, and by sacrificing part of yourself, you can let them persist in that state for a time. One day, though, you will open your eyes and realize that giving away parts of yourself is a slow death. 

To survive cancer I am losing some of my physical parts – my organs, my comfort, my hobbies, my independence – and the journey leaves me with nothing to win and nothing left to lose.  In the context of this song’s lyrics I think of chemotherapy and surgery, and I can’t live with or without them; and so this song was my first choice to open my playlist. Each time I go to the infusion clinic, starting with this song somehow gives me the strength to persist.

My brother-in-law JDZ lived in a house with me and my wife for years, and he was an enormous fan of U2, he listened to their music often and I just got used to hearing it in the background as the soundtrack to our lives. So I can’t even hear this song without him appearing strongly in my thoughts. He taught me a lot about finding joy and tranquility in life and in nature, even when the background noise makes those things very hard to find. Honestly I don’t have a whole lot of male friends in my life, and the ones I do have are all sensitive and thoughtful and comfortable sharing themselves and their thoughts. JDZ was a kind, steadfast, and selfless friend, and he was my brother. He left this earth way too soon and even after many years, not a single day goes by that he doesn’t appear in my thoughts one way or another. Every time I hear this song it triggers anew a deep sense of grief and loss. I am okay with the feeling of grief and loss because it tells me I have not forgotten him, and he will live in me for as long as I live.

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Penitent by Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega has been probably my favorite artist ever since my sister tricked me into listening to her first album by asking me to record it to tape but to supervise it carefully, as scratches on the record could cause it to skip and ruin the recording. Since then I’ve seen Suzanne Vega in concert a dozen times or more, and took a songwriting class session with her one time.  We share a birthday – July 11 – and also a tender, emotional way of self-expression.  And I think maybe lyrics like these helped make me be more honest with myself and others.

I chose this song because it is a lovely prayer to God that reminds me to humble myself to the ground, to look and listen for signs of God’s love in the world, and to respond. 

Now what would you have me do? 
I ask you please.
I wait to hear your voice,
the word you say
I wait to see your sign.
Would I obey?

Cancer is humbling and the temptation to retreat into pity and focus only on yourself is strong.  This song somehow gives me the strength to stay connected to people and the world, and to always reach out with love to help, heal, and comfort.

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Broken by Tift Merritt

Tift Merritt is a Raleigh NC native and has performed locally at various events for years. Her songs have been on my radar for years, heard over the radio or in local restaurants and taverns. I always enjoy her music and lyrics.

Now you’re broken and you don’t understand
What is broken falls into place once again
Hand of kindness, come and gather me in like a rainstorm
Again and again and again
I think I will break but I mend

I’ve always identified with this song since I have gone through a lot of my life feeling like I’m broken. There are lots of ways that I am different and not quite normal, and I don’t fit nicely into the regular mold of society.  When you get cancer you feel especially broken, and the idea of returning to wholeness is very attractive.  I find it comforting, the idea that kindness and love can mend all manner of brokenness.

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Manifesto by Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People

Don’t waste your hate
Rather, gather and create
Be of service, be a sensible person
Use your words and don’t be nervous
You can do this, you’ve got purpose
Find your medicine and use it

This is one of my top favorite songs. I first heard this song during a dance performance by Shellie Marie White Light and was shocked at how the song spoke to me. Nahko Bear is part Apache, Filipino, and Puerto Rican and I appreciate his songs and their deep personal and societal connection. Nahko and his family have suffered hard from the way native people are acted upon, and they often don’t have the freedom in life to choose their own path and reach their fullest potential.

In native traditions, medicine is a wholeness of spirit and all the things that can get you there. It is precious to me, the idea that everyone will find their spirit by following their own unique path – you can’t follow anyone else’s journey as a shortcut to your own wholeness. Life has so many distractions to get you to wander off the path into darkness: material things, fear-mongering politics, war, racism, television. Instead, you have to make positive personal, loving connections and use your discernment to only let things of real value guide you.  You have a special combination of talents that no one else has.  So find your medicine and use it!

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Moonshadow by Yusuf/Cat Stevens

I’ve loved this song pretty much since I first heard it from my high school friend Hunter W.  It’s meant different things to me at different points in my life, but right now I feel like next to my footprints in the sand, I’m leaving a wake of organs and removed body parts and wondering what will remain in the end.

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Demons (Imagine Dragons cover) by Boyce Avenue

So they dug your grave
And the masquerade
Will come calling out
At the mess you’ve made

This is such a perfect song as performed by Imagine Dragons it seems like sacrilege to put a cover of it in my playlist, but I switched it out because the original suddenly felt a little too noisy for the contemplative setting of the chemotherapy infusion clinic, and this mellower duet is an incredible cover and it just fit in the setting.

I have to be honest, I wasn’t a perfect kid growing up. There were couples who decided never to have babies after meeting me, and chaos seemed to follow me wherever I would go.  I’m sure all the good money was bet on me turning out to be a terrible person.  Even though I have great parents I always had a hard time obeying their rules or the rules of polite society; I had to work out every rule and principle by myself before importing it into my moral code.  Maybe I outright rejected the control that parents and society have on people. I never wanted to be controlled. I just wanted to find my own way and it was frustrating that everyone’s expectations always managed to get in my way.

One person in my life always took the time to carefully explain to me the extent of the messes I made, and gently inspire me to be a kinder and more thoughtful person.  That person was my best friend growing up and for all of life, my wonderful sister SG.

Despite all the best efforts of everyone involved, I still can’t pretend to be the best person ever. I’m never going to fit neatly into society’s mold, but I always try my best to make all my decisions with love and compassion.  This song helps me deal with all the demons of my past and the messes I’ve made along the way.

I wanna hide the truth
I wanna shelter you

One of the biggest messes in life is when you try to tell people your truth but they get angry or insecure, and they reject you, or tell you not to live that truth. So to shelter them you hide those parts of you by never mentioning them again, and before you know it, there is a whole room inside you that they will never know because you can never share it with them. The really sad and lonely thing about living is that no one in your life will ever really know who you truly are. That by itself is another kind of death that wears you down. Because of other people’s own demons, no one can ever really know the real you. That’s the place of darkness where your demons hide.

I know that all the people I know have their own struggles and demons, with differing severities and extents. I mindfully try and listen to all their self-expressions compassionately and without judgment. Judgment isn’t my job, thank heavens, and I absolutely don’t want it. By sincerely listening, I hope people will feel that I know them, I see them, and I love them no matter what. When demons are shared they can no longer live in the shadows.

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Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, cover by the Running Mates

I love Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks, and this song doesn’t really relate to cancer or chemotherapy, but it is one of my favorite songs and always brings me comfort.  I keep coming back to this cover version of the song and I just appreciate how the Running Mates performed it. It’s a powerful song about making bad decisions and losing everything you love.

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Hurt by Nine Inch Nails, cover by Johnny Cash

This is an incredible cover of the Nine Inch Nails song.  It’s a bit dark but a powerful song.  Johnny Cash was suffering from autonomic neuropathy when he performed this song, which I deeply connect with as my 16 rounds of chemotherapy have given me peripheral neuropathy, causing numbness and pain in my hands and feet, and it’s too painful for me to play guitar anymore.

Johnny Cash’s performance altered the song’s feeling, which was originally about self-destruction and he made it feel more like a man looking back at his life at the very end.  Johnny Cash died a few months after recording this song, and I think everyone appreciates him putting his indelible stamp on this work of art.

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In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company by The Dead South

Another dark sort of song, but it’s so cheerfully done that I enjoy this song a lot, especially the perky banjo. I always seek to be good company, wherever I get to be in the end.

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I’m Still Here by Jim Rzeznik

I won’t listen anyway, you don’t know me
And I’ll never be what you want me to be

This song appeared in the Treasure Planet film that we watched about a thousand times when my children were young, and it was always my favorite part of the movie.  As a Goo Goo dolls fan I was instantly taken in by this brilliant Johnny Rzeznik performance.

It was an unlikely place to find a song about people trying to mold you into the person they need you to be, while ignoring the person who you want to be. It really hits me in the feels.

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Quiet by Milck

They may see that monster, they may run away
But I have to do this
I can’t keep quiet

I absolutely love this song since hearing it around the time of the 2017 Women’s March in DC, and it is perfect to follow I’m Still Here thematically. Maybe the best way to cure no one knowing who you really are, is to find your voice and tell your story.

We are so scared of being judged for being ourselves, that we stifle our voices. Perhaps I’m more scared that I will pass on to the Sky World and no one on earth will have really known me because I’ve kept quiet.

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Warrior by Aurora

My friend Ras recommended Teardrop by Aurora in the comments of this blog post, and I think it is incredibly beautiful and have added it to several playlists. But for some reason, for this playlist I found a strong chemotherapy-related connection with this song. Thanks, Ras!

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Easy by the Commodores

Everybody wants me to be
What they want me to be
I’m not happy when I try to fake it

In the cancer center there is often a piano player that comes in and plays show tunes and instrumental standards. It’s often sort of background music and in all the time I spent doing this, you would never know from the looks of all the cancer patients that anything moved them, EXCEPT this time he played “Easy” by the Commodores and a miraculous thing happened: many cancer patients of every conceivable age were tapping feet and mouthing the words, “easy like Sunday morning…” and it seemed like a peacefulness settled on the place. This was such a beautiful moment that this little tiny memory will be a treasure for me.

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Blackbird by Emma Stevens, sung in Mi’kmak

This is one of my favorite songs by The Beatles, and Emma Stevens’ hauntingly beautiful cover in Mi’kmak is beautiful.

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Volver a Comenzar by Cafe Tacvba

This song was included in the PS3 video game Little Big Planet on a level that required multi-player cooperation and quite a few hilarious attempts to finish.  It’s a wonderful song about wishing you could return to the beginning of your life and make up for all your worst mistakes.  I’ve imperfectly translated it into English on alternate lines below:

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Half Acre by Hem

So we carry every sadness with us
Every hour our hearts were broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with us

Sometimes in life we are dealt a lot of crappy hands. We can dwell forever on everything we have lost, our unfulfilled dreams, and situations we barely survived. But dwelling on the past would let the wounds bleed forever. It would lead to distrust and hopelessness. Somewhere out there is a half acre you call home, where you can heal your soul and come back, created anew.

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Dios De La Lluvia By Ultimo Del La Fila

God of the rain, have mercy
on the beasts and on me, poor mortal.

My sister brought me this album back from Spain when she was studying in Seville.  This track is such a beautiful prayer to bring us back to more beautiful days.

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Prodigal Son’s Prayer by Dierks Bentley

My sister wanted me to learn this song so I could perform it with her, with me on the guitar and her on the banjo. I always deeply identified with the Prodigal Son, I have lived my life my own way and I can’t say I necessarily chose the wisest path. The song keeps bringing me comfort during the chemotherapy.

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Losing My Religion by R.E.M.

Losing my religion is a southern expression essentially meaning, I’m at the end of my rope.  The song isn’t actually about losing one’s religion, though maybe in the context of cancer some people might give up their religion. Mine is alive and well still.  This is more a song about being ready to give up on a relationship that requires a lot of effort.  But this is one of my favorite songs and one of the first I learned to play on the mandolin. This song and its dramatic title wanted to be here on the playlist and it fits nicely with the theme so here it is.

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Never As Good As The First Time by Sade

The rose we remember
The thorns we forget

I don’t need an excuse to include any Sade song in a playlist, but this song volunteered for duty.  It’s definitely the case that chemotherapy gets worse and worse each time, so truly it’s never as good as the first time.  You’re never going to know what fate is going to blow your way.

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No Roots by Alice Merton

I like standing still, but that’s just a wishful plan

As a military brat who had to leave his friends every six months or few years, I deeply identify with this song. I am lucky that do have roots, however: I am fortunate to have a very large and loving family from upstate New York, and I treasure the few days a year when we get to visit them all.

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Stay by Rihanna with Mikky Ekko

Somehow this became one of my favorite songs. It always reminds me of my friend Katrina, who plays it often on the jukebox on pool league nights.

You always need to remember there are many reasons to stay. And I do hope I get to stay around for a while!

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Stay by Kygo with Maty Noyes

This is the second song in a row called Stay, how weird!  I love this piano version of the song, the vocals are more infused with emotion than in the album version. 

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Dust to Dust by The Civil Wars

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Like I’m Gonna Lose You by Meagan Trainor, cover by Jasmine Thompson.

My friend Kat once sent me a link to this astounding cover. It reminds me to cherish all the moments I spend with my family and friends, and to give them the very best of me I can manage.

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I’ll Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab for Cutie, cover by Jaclyn Glenn & David Michael Frank

Fear is the heart of love

I’ve often thought this song is so tender and tragic, it amazes me that Ben Gibbard laid the track down in one take while in the middle of technical problems and it became one of the band’s enduring singles. It captures the depth of pain you feel sometimes when it occurs to you that someone you love could be gone forever from your life in an instant. I have a lot of dark thoughts about these kinds of fear of grief and loss, more so than I have about the possibility of my own passing. After the death of our daughter and after feeling decades of grief, at the prospect of feeling more grief I would selfishly much rather be the person who goes out first. It is an exercise of prayer to contemplate the meaning of 1 John 4:18, that perfect love drives out fear, though that would be a fear-of-God sort of fear rather than a fear of losing a loved one.

So my take-away is that we shouldn’t hold anything back, our hearts should be ever-trusting and open to love, and loss should never keep us from living, growing, and evolving, because we will hold each other again soon.

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Sky world by Theresa Bear Fox, cover by Teio Swathe

Theresa Bear Fox is a Mohawk musician who comes from the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation where my Mom was born. This version is in English, which is likely more accessible to readers. Do check out this link for the original version in the Mohawk language.

This song is written for people who are grieving, and it helps me cope better with chemotherapy somehow, to think of my daughter Maggie, uncles Greg and Bob and Eddie, aunts Sherrill and Joyce and Emily, cousins Allan and Mike, brother-in-law Jesse, and Grandparents Al and Lois and Alfred and Betty, and all my great-aunts and great-uncles in the Sky World.

I am made from the love of these people and their spirits and lessons will span the generations.

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Forever Autumn performed by Justin Hayward

I’ve loved Justin Hayward and the Moody Blues for as long as I can remember, but the love started in 6th grade in Mr. Carroll’s class in Huntington Beach, California when we read The War of the Worlds and afterwards, he played Jeff Wayne’s musical version for the class. I was instantly addicted to that album, and my favorite song was Forever Autumn. It was so forlorn and lost, and provoked such an emotional response that I always loved it. The sound of Justin Hayward’s voice led me to being a huge fan of The Moody Blues. A couple years ago, Justin Hayward performed at the Carolina Theater in Durham and I had to go. He performed Forever Autumn and it brought tears to my eyes. It was wonderful to see it performed live!

Throughout my life this song has comforted me during times of great loss, either death or the end of friendships and relationships. What makes us think that we have so much time? We really squander the most precious moments we have with people by taking them for granted. I wish I could spend all the rest of my moments with all those who are precious to me.

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The Heaven and the Sky by Millions Like Us

Songs don’t get much more obscure than this one. It’s been with me since my trusty Creative Labs Nomad was my first 6GB MP3 player.  I think they only printed about a dozen copies of this album, but it is a fantastic one. The title is kind of dark in the context of cancer, but it is what it is.  For some reason I find it comforting.

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Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, cover by Violet Orlandi

I’ve been following Violet Orlandi for years on YouTube and I always enjoy hearing her cover of probably the most famous Zeppelin song.

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Who Will Save Your Soul by Jewel

We’re so worried about saving our souls
Afraid that God will take His toll that we forget to begin

It seems to be a recurring theme here, but I do hope on the balance my good deeds will outweigh the trouble I’ve caused along the way.

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When I’m Gone performed by Iain MacKintosh

For much of my life I have treasured the songs and wit of the Scottish folk singer Iain MacKintosh.  This is one of the songs that begged to be on the playlist. It encourages me to treasure every moment in life as though it were my last.

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Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce

One of my favorite artists ever, I have been grooving to Jim Croce tunes since I was a kid and my parents often played all the albums on vinyl.  This is one of my mother’s favorite songs and it seems rather appropriate nowadays.

I was originally scheduled for my 2nd cancer surgery on September 8, 2022 but I had tickets to a concert at the Carolina Theater in Durham, where A.J. Croce performed some of his father’s songs. I would have had to ditch those tickets but the surgery was pushed back to September 16, 2022 and thankfully I got to attend that concert. It was bittersweet hearing those songs performed, especially Photographs and Memories, where a slideshow of Croce family pictures brought tears to my eyes. It was a moving performance. This song made it onto my playlist long before I knew about the concert though, I would never leave a Jim Croce song out of any playlist.

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The Riddle by Five For Fighting

This song was added to my chemo playlist by my oldest son Iain so that I could listen to it in the hospital.

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Happy Phantom by Tori Amos

The time is getting closer
Time to be a ghost
Every day we’re getting closer
The sun is getting dim
Will we pay for who we’ve been?

I have been a huge Tori Amos fan since the time of her first album. I remember once watching an episode of CSI: Miami, when the investigators looked at the songs on a victim’s phone and said something like, “obviously this belongs to a woman because the device is full of Tori Amos songs.” What a terrible assumption! My whole phone is overflowing with Tori Amos songs.

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Overkill by Colin Hay

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know will be alright

Perhaps it’s just imagination

After chemotherapy and the dexamethasone steroids, I can’t get to sleep thinking of implications and complications, and this song always comes to mind when I am stricken by insomnia. I was lucky to see Colin Hay perform as an opening act for the Barenaked Ladies a few years back.

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One Day by Matisyahu

Sometimes I lay under the moon
And I thank God I’m breathin’
Then I pray don’t take me soon
‘Cause I am here for a reason

As a child I always hoped and prayed that the world would become an even better place over the course of my lifetime. I was so very wrong. I am heartbroken to see so much backsliding, strife, division, hatred and reckless conflict in the world, and lately I’m more comforted at the idea of passing away before it gets apocalyptically worse. But I have a deep hopeful spirit and I know things will be all right. This song is so hopeful, and I have always felt better after hearing it.

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Bull In A China Shop by Barenaked Ladies

I’m a public embarrassment
I’m a bottle of diet poison

The Barenaked Ladies are one of my top-favorite bands, and I often feel like this song perfectly fits me. 

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Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked by Cage The Elephant

Oh, no there ain’t no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for good

Sometimes life goes so hard there isn’t time to rest when there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. I’m not sure how truly wicked I am, but maybe that’s why there isn’t any rest.

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Tom Ames’ Prayer by Robert Earl Keen

I ain’t askin’ for a miracle, Lord
Just a little bit o’ luck will do

I love Robert Earl Keen, I think I got turned onto his music hearing the song “Swervin’ In My Lane” on the radio on my morning commute. I’m somehow fascinated by the ways people pray to God. Some prayers sound like God is making a mistake and needs correction. Or like in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, maybe a huge number of people praying for the same person gets God’s attention and may warrant some intervention. There is a certain crass honesty in Tom Ames’ prayer.

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One Thing Leads To Another by The Fixx

This song made it onto the playlist because it’s fun and during a long cancer battle, one thing always leads to another.

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I Want A New Drug by Huey Lewis and the News

I have liked Huey Lewis and the News since my middle-school crush Cara introduced me to the band’s music, so it always makes me think fondly of her.  But when this song came up at random I realized with the chemotherapy, that I want a new drug that won’t make me sick, one that won’t keep me up at night or make me sleep all day.

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I Wanna Be Sedated by the Ramones

You can guess why this song was included merely from the title, but it really speaks to me during chemotherapy.  With my peripheral neuropathy, I have nerve pain in my fingers and toes so the line “I can’t control my fingers, I can’t control my toes” is so accurate it’s creepy.

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Morning Fog by Kate Bush

This song turns the mood of the playlist from dark and moody to light and positive. I have been a huge Kate Bush fan since I was a teenager, and Hounds of Love is my favorite of her albums.

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As I Lay Me Down by Sophie B. Hawkins 

Though I’m far away
I’ll whisper your name
Into the sky
And I will wake up happy

I love the romantic optimism of this song. Despite the hard times in this battle, I always wake up happy.

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Better by Regina Spektor

If you never say your name out loud to anyone
They can never ever call you by it

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Odds Are by The Barenaked Ladies

So get up, get up
Tell the bookie put a bet on “not a damn thing will go wrong”

This song is the most important song on this playlist. I love it, and it is so incredibly appropriate. It always makes me feel lighthearted and happy, like everything is going to probably be all right.  It also has a kick-ass music video.

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Closer To Fine by Indigo Girls

There’s more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine

I think sometimes I over-think everything, and this song reminds me to just live and love, persist in the moment, and find meaning and happiness there.

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The Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones

I often find myself singing this song to myself on the way to the cancer center for chemotherapy appointments. Most of the time even though I’m not looking forward to the side effects and symptoms, I’m all revved up and ready to go. I hop up on the table like a happy puppy… let’s go!

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Breathe by Michelle Branch

Every little piece of me, you’ll see
Everything is alright
If I just breathe

Sometimes when things feel hopeless you just have to tell yourself to breathe.

I love Michelle Branch songs, it’s hard to believe most of them were written when she was a teenager. That’s when our angst is turned up to eleven, so it makes sense.

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Smile By Uncle Kracker

This is a song that always makes me smile, and even in a chemo infusion clinic the magic still works!

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Live Life Live Well by Chris de Burgh

Things will work out in the end
When you just live life, live well
Take your time, look after yourself
Give love, give well
The only way to get there is to start by loving yourself

I’ve loved the songs of Chris de Burgh ever since Little Bert Montroy played me Don’t Pay The Ferryman, but although I love that song it’s a bit too dark for this playlist.  This one is much more uplifting and hopeful.

Most everyone knows the song Lady in Red. I am grateful to Chris de Burgh because his lyrics for some of his best songs formed and inspired me to be a good mate, a good partner, and a good father.

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Ay Que Pesado by Mecano

When my sister returned from a year abroad in Seville, Spain she also brought me an album by the group Mecano and I loved their music instantly. I’ve tried to make another imperfect translation of this song. The song turns on the Spanish phrase qué pesado which can mean “how heavy,” “how boring,” or “how annoying” or possibly all three in this context. In any case, it’s funny how our mind focuses too much on grieving our losses and not enough on being thankful for all we have going for us. Don’t think too much about the past or the future, life is waiting.

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Happy by Pharrell Williams

Of course this song is included because it makes me happy and is a rare song that inspires me to dance.

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Don’t Worry Be Happy by  Bobby McFerrin

Another happy song! It’s a little bittersweet to see Robin Williams appear in the official video of this song. I spend a lot of time lately not worrying and being happy.

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Shake It by Metro Station

It’s not fair of the playlist to have gone totally in the direction of perky dance songs, especially in an chemo infusion clinic, but maybe getting the blood moving is the best way for the drugs to work.

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Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson

More uplifting groovy music! Someone at the pool hall loves this song and it plays on the jukebox almost every week at league night. It reminds me of the fun of hanging out with my friends and having a good time.

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Le Freak by C’est Chic

Growing up in the disco days, this song always grabbed my attention when it came on. It is a snapshot of my childhood and I remember the fun of grown-ups dancing and grooving to the music. I always thought it was a good day when the adults took a break from being so serious about everything.

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Superstition by Stevie Wonder

This is by far my favorite Stevie Wonder song, I think it is brilliant. When you believe in things you don’t understand, like chemotherapy drugs, then you suffer superstition. One day we’re going to beat the cancer thing and we will look back and shudder when we think what patients had to go through to beat it.

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Disco Inferno by the Trammps

Not the deepest philosophical song ever written, but you don’t need to think when you get down.

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Funkytown by Lipps Inc.

When we returned from Japan and lived in Norfolk, Virginia, we got to spend some quality time with my Aunt Emy who was in the Navy, stationed nearby. She took us to movies and for some reason this song always came on the radio on the way. We all loved it.

Since we moved around a lot in the Army, it was a special treat to get to spend any time with our extended family and we couldn’t spend enough time with our fun-loving aunt to make up for all the time we missed.

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Long Tall Sally by Rick James

I’m a fan of Rick James and this is one of my favorite songs.

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Super Freak by Rick James

Another one by Rick James, I know it’s not cool to have two in a row from the same artist in a playlist but these kind of want to be together.

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Hey Ya! by Outkast

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Get Lucky by Daft Punk with Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers

This is a favorite song in our family but the kids once told me they were troubled by the lyrics when the robot-voice comes in and says, “We’ll rob a Mexican.” That just isn’t very nice. I explained that the Daft Punk voices are saying “We’re up all night to get lucky,” but now I can’t hear the lyrics any other way.

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I’m Sexy and I Know It by LMFAO 

This video is probably NSFW and in poor taste, but I love the enthusiasm of this song and its tongue-in-cheek approach to having a good time. I didn’t notice until just now that Wilmer Valderrama from NCIS is in the music video. Yep, I have a risqué side. Get used to it.

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I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred

It’s simply not possible to smile at this song and want to dance like no one’s watching. This is true even in a chemotherapy infusion clinic.

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Sex On Fire by Kings of Leon

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my friend Brandy singing this song at karaoke on Halloween, dressed as one of the PowerPuff girls. Well done! Permanent memory achieved!

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Hot Stuff by Donna Summer

This is one of the catchiest earworm songs I know from my childhood, and of course in modern days I can’t hear it without thinking of that wonderful scene in The Full Monty in the unemployment office. It’s one of my favorite movies. You do YOU, gents!

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Feel It Still by Portugal The Man

Another catchy tune I hear a lot in the pool hall every week, it’s hard not to dance to this tune.

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Hard To Handle by the Black Crowes

I love this catchy song and the confidence of the lyrics. The best way to hang on to love is to treat your partner better than anyone else possibly could.

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Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex

I love this classic tune dusted off in a high-energy style by Rednex.

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Jig of Life by Kate Bush

Never, never say goodbye
To my part of your life.
Oh no, no, no, no, no!
Never, never, never!
Never, never let me go!

Another amazing song by Kate Bush from her Hounds of Love album, it is especially appropriate for the chemotherapy setting and it practically begged to be included.

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It’s the End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M.

When one is feeling melodramatic, this catchy song always comes to mind. It is a perfect title for a chemo playlist, but despite its dark opinions it’s just too catchy to leave off the list.

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Bluesy Little Tune by the Asylum Street Spankers

This bluesy little tune
Playin’ all the time
Song that’s rollin’ through my head
Makin’ me feel fine

The Asylum Street Spankers are one of my favorite bands and I was lucky to see them several times in person before they disbanded. They are such a talented group but a lot of their songs are heavily NSFW. Not this one, though! It’s probably their cleanest song.

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Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles

Another of my favorite bands, and even though the song is written about a lady, it’s especially nice to imagine that chemotherapy and surgery won’t let me down. I would have all my playlist songs be by the Eagles, but they are too dark and snarky on the whole for chemotherapy.

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Chicken Fried by Zac Brown Band

It’s funny how it’s the little things in life
That mean the most
Not where you live or what you drive
Or the price tag on your clothes
There’s no dollar sign on a piece of mind

You know you’re in the right place in life when you get excited about the little things, and you prefer them to more complicated pleasures. This song has its heart in the right place and I enjoy its lively delivery.

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Hold On Loosely by .38 Special

This is a catchy song with a good message of not smothering the one you love. It seems to me that lots of people are too insecure and possessive in their relationships when really they should be less lazy and never stop being the best romantic partner they can be.

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Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas

I’m a huge Kansas fan but Dust In The Wind seems like it would be a downer on a chemotherapy playlist. This song is one of the most epic rock compositions ever made. And the message is right there out of the gate:

Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

Okay, maybe a little dark for the happy phase of the playlist. I like to think of the peacefulness that will come when I am happily past this battle.

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Dixieland Delight by Alabama

Another great band, and I realize that as a northerner transplanted into the south for 40 years or so, I have a lot of upbeat southern anthems in my playlist. I consider myself southern anyway: I was born in Aberdeen, Maryland at Kirk Army Hospital on the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. And even though my Carolina friends snort milk out their nose whenever I say it, that means I was born in the South.

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Dust In A Baggie by Billy Strings

In the last few years I’ve discovered Billy Strings and I enjoy his high-energy, very talented songwriting and performances. He wrote this song for a competition and I remember coming across a video of him performing it for friends, and immediately loving this song and his style.

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Dang Me by Roger Miller

I grew up listening to Roger Miller as early as I can remember, and loving every single song, his quirky lyrics and his contagious guitar style.

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Bad Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce

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Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey

Another of my favorite bands, and I will not stop believin’.

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Blood Makes Noise by Suzanne Vega

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I Choose You by Sara Bareilles

This song marks a transition to the third section of my chemotherapy playlist, populated mostly with love songs. This is probably my favorite Sara Bareilles song, and the music video made me cry.

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A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton

This song makes me vividly remember the angst you feel when the person you love is far away.

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Walking On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves

This has been a favorite song of mine since I was in middle school, it so perfectly captures the weightless, exhilerating feeling of being in love.

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Stuck Like Glue by Sugarland

This song always gets me up on my feet and into the mood to move and dance. The music video for this song is sorta creepy-stalky in a cute perky way… but the lyrics of the song tell the real story. Spend every day rekindling your love and making it always fresh and new. Love is never meant to tarnish.

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What I Like About You by The Romantics

This is one of my all-time favorite songs, it energizes me and makes me super happy.

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On Top Of The World by Imagine Dragons

If you love somebody
Better tell them while they’re here ’cause
They may just run away from you

Don’t hesitate to tell everyone you love how you feel about them and why. Life is too short to leave anything out!

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Los Amantes by Mecano

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Just What I Needed (The Cars cover) by Punch Brothers

This is the most amazing acoustic cover of one of my favorite songs by The Cars.

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Iris by Goo Goo Dolls

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Little Things by Bobby Goldsboro

One of my prized possessions as a child was a little foldable, portable turntable set and one of my favorite records was a Bobby Goldsboro record. Songs like Voodoo Woman, Watching Bobby Grow, See The Funny Little Clown, and Little Things were my favorites. My other favorite records were by Roger Miller and Jim Croce. I would sit and listen to them over and over again.

Another song about keeping love fresh by never forgetting the little things!

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How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees Cover) by Mackenzie Johnson

Another sweet cover of one of the best Bee Gees songs.

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Gypsy by Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega wrote this song at the age of 16 for a fellow camp counselor and released it on her second album, Solitude Standing. I think the first time I ever heard it, it was my favorite song of all time and still might be. Songs like this formed a kind of romantic sweetness in my little mushy teenage brain.

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Asylum Street Blues by Asylum Street Spankers

Another of my favorites by the Asylum Street Spankers (lyrics unavailable).

Waiting For A Girl Like You by Foreigner

Another song I spent the 80s listening to again and again. It encouraged me to be patient and not to rush too quickly into love but instead to wait for the right person to come along.

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All I Want by Toad The Wet Sprocket

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Always Something There To Remind Me by Naked Eyes

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Every Breath You Take by The Police

I realize this song is about a stalker, and it’s not a love song. I wouldn’t play it at my wedding, but I still love the song so here it is.

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Come And Get Your Love by Redbone

I’ve loved this song for a long time since it was the only hit song by an American Indian band I had ever heard of. I loved the incorporation of native rhythms and vocalizations in a rock song! I was thrilled when it appeared on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, with such a compelling, diverse set of songs included in the film. So much love!

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Burning Love by Elvis Presley

You can’t have a bunch of love songs without this one included. Props to Lilo & Stitch for a healthy dose of Elvis, including this great song.

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Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran

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Sweet Pea by Amos Lee

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No Ordinary Love by Sade

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Creep by Radiohead

Okay, so it’s another great stalker song.

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Fidelity by Regina Spektor

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All The Love I Have Inside by Chris de Burgh

When I started high school and moved to Virginia, our stuff hadn’t arrived at the house yet so I was sleeping on the floor with only a few prized possessions in my room, and I was listening to my Chris de Burgh album The Getaway. I used to love listening to this song over and over, wondering if love was like this song. This song was a formative event for me and it’s the essence of how I love.

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Change The World by Eric Clapton

One of the sweetest love songs ever written!

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Photograph by Ed Sheeran

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It’s OK by Nightbirde

Suggested by my friend Chelsea, this beautiful song is made more bittersweet knowing that Nightbirde fought a protracted battle with cancer and moved so many people with her music during her lifetime.

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11 thoughts on “My Chemotherapy Playlist

  1. This is amazing and inspiring! Suzanne Vega is one of my favorite artists, too. I only saw her live once but it was such a phenomenal concert. I love that you chose some really deep cuts. “Gypsy” was the first of her songs that I fell in love with. Thanks so much for sharing this list and your feelings about the songs. You learn so much about someone when you find out the music they love. I send you so much love and wishes for healing and comfort!

    • I agree, you really do reach into someone’s internal processing when you get to listen to the playlists on their phone/iPod/Spotify. I have friends and family that play songs off their playlist when we spend time together, and it makes me feel so much more in tune to them.

      I’m super impressed that you know Gypsy, it’s not a well known song, and it’s a loss. I find it very beautiful.

  2. This is a great playlist!

    My theme song during dialysis was Gypsy by Stevie and Fleetwood Mac. The lyrics “And it all comes down to you. Well, you know that it does and lightning strikes maybe once, maybe twice”. Always pushed me forward; I had to remind myself not to give up. I realized I am the lightning strike.

    The song I had played when I was being put to sleep in OR 35 on Feb. 15th 2020 at 8:41am was Pink Floyd’s Coming Back To Life. An amazing song to me, that talks about David Gilmour’s redemption of getting clean and sober from cocaine and committing to his wife. It’s always been a good song to get hope, plus the crazy good guitar solos. His acoustic version from Royal Albert Hall at Robert Wyatts Meltdown is very good.

    My daily album I would listen to from start to finish every dialysis treatment was David Gilmour’s On an Island. It is full of waltz and just transported me to another place. I hope you give it a listen!

    Hang in there! You’ll pull through and I owe you a beer when it’s all said and done.


    • I can’t believe I didn’t include any Pink Floyd in my playlist, Coming Back To Life is perfect! I listened to The Wall and Meddle the most. I never listened to David Gilmour’s solo work, I will remedy that now!

      Fleetwood Mac’s Gypsy is another of my favorite songs!

      I am uplifted knowing you got through that experience with such a good attitude and thankfulness intact. Your journey is truly inspiring to me. I look forward to having beer again one day, as I have been off the sauce for more than a year through the whole cancer journey. I would love to raise my first glass with you!

  3. Wow!! I feel as if I’ve gotten to know you even better, after all these years! I’m so glad you married our daughter and are father to 4 of our grandchildren. We Love YOU! I feel honored that you shared this with me as well as everyone else.

  4. I didn’t see one of my favorites. Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”. Give it a listen. I know you will enjoy it and have a new band to explore.

    • This is a great one!

      I’m a lucky man to count on all my fingers and my toes, all the people I love. I’m fast running out of digits for that kind of thing.

      I have a lot of friends who are Pearl Jam fans, I just never explored the music. I do have some time sitting on my butt these days recovering, I will listen to more! Thanks!!

      I miss our entertaining discussions over lunch! You have a unique and refreshing perspective on practically everything in life, and I’ve always placed a huge value on those memories. Also a lot of sage advice from the school of hard knocks. I look forward to many more in the future!

  5. Love these! I’ve read over all your choices and comments and have started listening to the playlist. Despite having absolutely zero musical ability, I love how music brings us together and is such an incredible means of storytelling. Here are a couple more you might like: “It’s Okay” by Nightbirde and “Born Bold” by Valley of Wolves.

    • I agree, sharing music is such an amazing way to understand each other better! “It’s Okay” is great! It’s so sad about Nightbirde, she was so inspirational. I take people’s cancer deaths much harder these days. “Born Bold” was great! New to me, and right up my alley. Thanks!!!

  6. Thanks for sharing! We’ve added your playlist to the rotation here at home.

    If you’ll permit, here are some of mine: (Gang Of Youths’ cover of David Bowie’s Heroes. David Le’aupepe channeling his inner Bono. We can all be heroes, if just for one day). (Aurora’s cover of Teardrop. Hauntingly beautiful performance by this Norwegian singer. Or she might be a mountain elf. Nobody knows for sure). (Cover of Blinding Lights by Teddy Swims. It makes me think of warm Summer nights and bonfires). (Cover of Kodaline’s All I Want by Stevie McRorie. He pours so much emotion into this song). (Brighter Than Gold by Louis II. When you get up in the morning and p*** excellence). (Winter by Joshua Radin. It reminds me of Denmark and walking in the snow. Yes, got it from Scrubs). (Cover of Wicked Game by Chris Kläfford. One of the few Swedes whom I will acknowledge as talented). (Imagine. Another Chris Kläfford cover from the same Kitchen Sessions. I’m a Chris fan). (Should Have Known Better by Sawyer Fredericks. A very talented young singer/songwriter. He turned away from the mainstream pop circus as he just wanted to write and sing his own music). (Pianomand by Kim Larsen. The most famous and well liked singer and songwriter inside of Denmark. He’s singing to his friend, who left before he did. This one always makes me tear up). (Leave A Light On by Tom Walker. There’s always someone listening).

    • I will totally permit! I love learning about my friends through the music they like, and I’m at a place in my life where I have a lot of time sitting in a recliner during the day trying to get better and trying to better myself at the same time. What better way to spend the time then listening to new music? Thank you so much! I will have a good listen and comment!

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