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Ben Lee’s ‘Songs That Point the Way Forward’ Playlist

With everyone sequestered and self-quarantining due to the coronavirus, we’ve asked our favorite artists to come up with playlists that keep you entertained. Here’s Ben Lee:

Not sure exactly what thread holds these songs together, except that they all seem to value the human spirit. They are each full of connection, honesty and harmony. They are alive and connected at a time when we sometimes feel numb and disconnected. Enjoy them. They point the way forward. They teach us things we need to know and hear and remember. These songs move my heart. I hope they move yours too.

“Murmuration Song” – Eric Bachmann
On my birthday last year, I took mushrooms with a bunch of friends. It was cathartic and tender. This song came on my shuffle and I started to weep. Bachmann has always been the master. This proves it once again.

“$1000 Wedding” – Gram Parsons
I first heard this when Evan Dando made me a cassette in the ’90s playing songs he loved. It’s a heartbreaking tale. But more importantly, it is truly compassionate. It reminds us that love will make each of us buckle in good time – “The fiercest beasts could all be put to sleep the same silly way.” Such humanity.

“Paris 1919” – John Cale
Pure glamor. This song makes me feel insecure and yearning for connection with smart, artistic people. Cafe Du Margot. Salons. Cafe culture. The point of culture is surely to share our highest values withy each other.

“Ballad of Spider John” – Willis Alan Ramsey
Willis Alan Ramsey was a Birmingham AL songwriter who made one perfect record. When he was asked later in life if he would make another soon, he replied: “What’s wrong with the one I made?” This album is perfect. And his attitude reflects the contentment of the artistic spirit we should let ourselves feel more often.

“Exactly Where I’m At” – Ween
“I’m on stage, it’s all an act, I’m really scared that I may fall back on the abstract. It would be exactly where I’m at.” Who hasn’t felt the oppression of persona? The gentle calling into abstract and mythological thinking? This song makes me feel brave and helps me keep faith that there is a net in the unconscious that will indeed catch me as I jump into the psychedelic somewhere.

“She May Call You Up Tonight” – The Left Ganke
Romance. Intrigue. The unknown. Desire without possession. Young love. We need to stay in touch with these feelings so our hearts don’t harden.

“Answer Me, My Love” – Swamp Dogg
I don’t even know what kind of music this is. I like to play it to people to confuse them and blow their minds. I know Justin Vernon was involved, and that explains some of it. But there is something bizarre and alchemical going on here. A type of lunacy. I adore it. Madness is undervalued. We need it.

“Head and Heart” – John Martyn
I think Ione introduced me to this – it was in a film she did called The Rachel Papers. The kind of request lovers make in secret. The best kind of request.

“John Jones” – Van Dyke Parks
Discover America is an album of post-modern travel. Darren from the Avalanches turned me onto it years ago. I now keep a signed copy framed on my studio wall. It reminds me of the cheeky American dream. John Jones is a Trinidadian themed tune, much like a lot of the album. It feels exotic and raunchy. The spirit of the Wild West is alive and well in this cadence.

“Didn’t Know What I Was in For” – Better Oblivion Community Center
I’ve always love vulnerability, but as I get older, its the main characteristic I look for in a song that will become a permanent part of my psyche. This one got me from the moment I first heard it. What a tender sentiment – haven’t we all felt that? The sting of innocence lost. I feel the pain of this realization when it hits the chorus, but also the sweet sorrow of growing up. I like this a lot.

“Indian Summer” – Beat Happening
This song reminds me that sexy feelings and childhood flowed together effortlessly. Calvin Johnson always understood this and was able to articulate the turbulence of the awakening of these feelings in tune after tune. His best songs are long, repetitive and super horny, and you never want them to end.

“Jokerman” – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan has always been secretly funky, and this song is my favorite of his groove-based tunes. “Shedding off one more layer of skin, Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within.” Dylan’s songs are always innately mystical, and sometimes when you don’t have to pay attention to the brilliant lyrics because there is a killer groove, you can get drawn into his trance more easily. I’ve noticed a wave of young songwriters who take pleasure in dismissing Dylan as archaic. Well, fuck em. They are missing drinking from the sweetest well. Harmony Korine once told me “The only American artists who matter are Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan” and it’s hard to argue with that logic.

“I Need a Teacher” – Hiss Golden Messenger
I got turned onto this kinda recently. It’s humble. I think the next era of rockstars will be grounded, less ego, ready to serve. This song is an invitation to the humble future, the only kinda future we can embrace if we want to survive as a species.

“Lights Are Changing” – The Bevis Frond
So much rock n roll is hellbent on speed and self-destruction. I love this tribute to cautiousness. There are deep lessons in the resistance that artists like Nick Saloman had to get on the rock n roll carousel of touring and promotion. These days everyone wants to be famous. I am reassured that there are artists who had no interest in such pursuits.

“Closer to the Bone” – Kris Kristofferson
I love Kris Kristofferson and the generosity of songs like this one. It takes a real man to express sweetness and optimism. There is a real freedom in the expression of hope. This tune takes me there. “Comin’ from the heartbeat, Nothin’ but the truth now, Everything is sweeter, closer to the bone”

“Les Barricades Mysterieuses” – Scott Tennant
I first heard this song in the Mallick movie “Tree of Life” which I first absurdly saw on a tiny screen on a plane. It is probably my favorite movie, and this song is partly why. It makes my heart hurt in the best way. It feels like a memory, and innocence and heartbreak.

“Better Days” – Graham Nash
“When your love has moved away – You must face yourself and you must say – I remember better days.” In one way or another isn’t that what we are living through right now? Life has changed, we are separated, we are lonely for each other. There is no simple answer, no band-aid. But we must honor our love, our history, our ancestors, our connections. I love the honesty of this song. We have some challenges to face together as a species. We need to reflect and admit that though we are where we wanted to be, we “are not where we belong”