by Paul Fuhr
For me, recovery wasn’t an epic throwing of the switch. No, when I gave up drinking, I didn’t suddenly find myself hurtling down some different track. Sobriety has been a series of slight course corrections and subtle changes in my own personal weather.
Zephyr is a playlist about that shift in the air. Each track is not only about recognizing change but, by the playlist’s end, each song has (hopefully) gradually nudged the listener in a completely different direction from where they started.
“Hey Now” – London Grammar This track has always been as haunting as it’s been compelling—a song about living in the moment yet ever-mindful of the heartache and wreckage behind. It’s the sound of desperately yearning to connect with someone and something.
“Backchannels” – Shearwater I’d like to think that every addict’s brain has the same dark back-chatter as mine does, constantly threatening to undo everything I’ve worked so hard to maintain. This song speaks to that low-level noise that tells you to throw it all away.
“There, There” – Radiohead Included if only because of the lyric “There’s always a siren singing you to shipwreck,” but it’s so much more than that. It reminds me that just because I’m in recovery, it doesn’t mean I’m automatically safe and secure. I have to work for it and be aware that alcoholism is always messing with my compass, tugging at my true north.
“Never Look Away” – Vienna Teng I’ve always been impressed with the way singer-songwriter Teng’s delicate, smoky voice balances out her beautifully complex, Rubik’s Cube/puzzle-box lyrics. This song in particular speaks to my personal recovery in how it moves from wayward-submarine depths to dizzying-height catharsis.
“Coming Down” – Dum Dum Girls Stark, bleak, grounding. This track is the slow plummet of a feather—in this case, I tend to think of it as me first settling into the idea of sobriety.
“My Silver Lining” – First Aid Kit When this melody isn’t burrowed into my brain for days at a time, the lyrics insist that recovery—like life—isn’t full of hard reboots and try-agains. It’s simply about finding the simple beauty of life as it continues to take things away from you. “There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on,” they say, following the jumble of emotions (“Regret, remorse, hold on, oh no I’ve got to go”) that, for me, informed early recovery.
“Duck and Cover” – Glen Phillips I’ve always had a soft spot for this track, which probably has little to do with recovery but everything to do with escaping the atomic-blast devastation of relationships. Still, when Phillips says “there’s nothing too special about getting hurt but getting over it, that takes the work,” it’s especially important for alcoholics like me who’ve done nothing but actively hurt themselves and everyone around them. It’s almost anthemic to me in how it promises that “everything comes out the way it should in the end”—even if that’s not entirely positive.
“Ordinary Feeling” – Here We Go Magic Less about my sobriety than what I was like in my drinking days (“Half the time I’m lying, pushing, pulling, trying—making good excuses for my laziness”), this beautifully layered track meditates on how I was more plugged into the heightened, exaggerated versions of everything instead of realizing that “all I really need is ordinary feelings.”
“Me Around” (Demo Version) – Michael Penn While this track from singer-songwriter Penn is a darkly humorous, if not deceptively complex song about outlasting one’s welcome in a relationship (something I can identify with having been the main character of this song more than once), I’ve always thought the rough-hewn, almost-finished quality of this demo version somehow adds an extra weight to everything.
“Voice” – Doe Paoro This gorgeous, driving track deliberately boils and churns like a cloudbank, thinning out as sunlight makes its way through—a song that’s reminiscent of how sobriety gradually reached me. And almost as quickly as it began, the song is suddenly over, as if demanding that it be played on endless repeat.
“Chasing Kites” – iamamwhoami A bobbing, dreamy ode to not only all the time I alcoholically threw away “chasing kites,” but the fact that there’s hope on the other side of it all: “A storm is drawing near, come meet me when it’s cleared.”
“At My Most Beautiful” – R.E.M. By the time this track was released, R.E.M.’s sound wasn’t even remotely close to the jangle-folk it’d become known for in the 80s. “At My Most Beautiful” comes from “Up,” the band’s first record following drummer Bill Berry’s departure, which imbues the song with not only melancholy, but a distinct sense that the group was struggling to find its identity—which, not coincidentally, is exactly how I felt in my first days of recovery.