Get amped for first period: Music for the commute to school

When I taught in New York City, I took the subway to work so I read books pretty much every day during the commute. Now, like most teachers, I drive to work. For the past 2+ years, especially during the 2008 election cycle, I’ve been addicted to NPR. I realized it was making me depressed so, I’m making a concerted effort to listen to more music. Early returns are positive.

Here are some of my strategically picked commute-to-school mix tape selections. Treat yourself at the iTunes store.

 OPENING TRACK:  This Year by the Mountain Goats

Teachers, the lyrics of the chorus say it all: I am going to make it through this year if it kills me. This track lifts me, and its gutsy, affirming adolescent confusion rings truer than similar tours de force Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” or Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen.” I don’t need a brutal year or day to feel this song.

Runner-up: “Clash City Rockers” by The Clash; “2+2=5” by Radiohead

RESILIENCE: The Distance by Cake

My ultimate do-not-give-up song. It’s a little less earnest than the far more popular “Eye of the Tiger’ and I like it for that. The images conjure a driver pushed beyond reason to complete some sort of wild, undefined road race— a fitting stand-in for working in classrooms.

Runner-up: “Hold On, Hold On” by Neko Case; “Hold On Hope” by Guided by Voices

HYPED: Fight the Power by Public Enemy

Spike Lee knew this track was a brilliant opener when he placed it at the front of his masterpiece Do the Right Thing. Over 20 years later it’s still unmatched for its intense call to action. Play it in the car. Play it while you stare at the mirror,Rocky-style. Get pumped. Get mad. Get focused. Get in the fracas.

Runners-up: “Get By” by Talib Kweli; “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga (I don’t care!)

 WINTER DOLDRUMS: One More Cup of Coffee by Bob Dylan (backup vox by Emmylou Harris)

The best dead-of-winter song ever. Lots of Dylan propels me through the cold months of driving to and from school in the dark. I have some kind of discount pack double-CD of Desireand Blood on the Tracks and both work remarkably well for those winter commutes. “One More Cup of Coffee,” though, is the standout.

Runners-up: “Way Down in the Hole” (The Wire theme song) by Tom Waits; “King’s Crossing” by Elliott Smith

 JOYGlad Girls by Guided by Voices

Hell yeah! I got a decent night’s sleep last night and I’m psyched to see my kids today. I’m rolling my windows down. I’m cracking a grin and wearing sunglasses. Triumph is mine. This is my soundtrack.

Runners-up: “Dancing with Myself” by Generation X; “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” by Cat Stevens

SUMMONING STRENGTH: Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire

It’s Monday and I don’t drink coffee, so I need a jumpstart. Give me raw, pulsing emotion over driving drums and swirling, ethereal violin. Their modern agita feels earned and intelligent, and that’s what I need when classroom battles overwhelm. This is probably my most listened-to driving song in the past five years.

Runner-up: “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young

GOOFY: Dragostea Din Tei by O-Zone

If this Romanian-language gem can’t give me a few smiles, someone needs to check my pulse. The music video is also priceless, with our Moldovan heroes cavorting in and around an airplane.

Runners-up: “Circus of Enlightenment” by Vic Thrill and the Saturn Missile; “Butter Beans” by Little Jimmy Dickens

LOVE: I Hear a Symphony by The Supremes

It’s going to be a rough one, so I’m dialing up some happy memories. This song played for Colleen’s and my first dance at our wedding. Bury the bleakness. Surround myself in love like battle armor. Because when the bell tolls, I know I’m in for a long one.

Runners-up: “Love Song” by The Cure; “Desdemona” by Eggstone

WELLING EMOTION: The Trapeze Swinger by Iron & Wine

Sometimes, once I’m away from my students, I’ll really feel my heart breaking. This song leans into the feeling and lets the sadness breathe. It’s long and you can get lost in the simple, repetitive melody. I love it.

Runners-up: “Operator” by Jim Croce; “Do You Realize?” by Flaming Lips

CLOSING TRACK: Track 8 from Sigur Ros ( ) album

This 12-minute song has no lyrics except “Esilo no filo.” It’s one of the best pieces of driving music ever and nothing really can follow it. It’s worth a driveway moment to reach the drum-shattering climax.

Runners-up: “Beat Surrender” by The Jam; “Only in Dreams” by Weezer

WHAT SONGS GET YOU TO SCHOOL?

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