This post is a direct sequel to my September 2018 post The Apollo Mixes, which is a direct sequel to my 2014 post What Started as Whisper Slowly Turned Into a Scream.
Meet Me in Outer Space was the title I gave the second mix I ever made for Blair. It comes from the opening lines of “Stellar” by Incubus. We had just recently used the big L word for the first time, and the mix was a way for me to express that. It wasn’t the first time I had ever been in love, but it was the first time that the idea of it didn’t scare me. I felt ready for it. Blair considered this mix a marked improvement over the first mix I made him. I opened it with a version of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” that he hadn’t heard before. I anchored it around Ani DiFranco’s “Smiling Underneath” and Ben Lee’s “Gamble Everything for Love.” I made Adam Lambert’s “Music Again” the penultimate track because it put things in a way that only a song could: “you make me want to listen to music again.” The mix was a few tracks too long, but it was the best one I made while Blair was still alive.
This summer marked ten years since Blair died. That makes seven years since I started making him mixes, and six years since I realized he had been dead for longer than I had known him. Ten is an uncomfortable milestone. It came and went without my noticing it right away. I anticipated it coming, and reflected back on it when I realized it passed, but the date itself no longer holds the weight it once did. I’ve escaped its vicious gravity. I don’t mean that to sound like I’ve grown cold and detached. It’s a date I’m still wary of. Sometimes it still feels as though late July might once again come around and break me. But I have made a conscious choice not to let it control me. The grief still has its moments of slipping through, but it no longer has the all-commanding power it once did.
I never wanted our relationship to be solely defined by a devastating loss. That’s why I started making these mixes. At first, it was something to focus my grief on. It gave me the means to carry on a relationship that no longer occupied the same physical space. So many of these mixes have strived to articulate through music what it feels like to still love someone who no longer has a body. A few years in, I switched to making the mixes on his birthday instead of the day he died. It was my way of taking power away from July 23rd. It was my way of celebrating life instead of grieving death. It was my way of making something new instead of mourning what was lost. It’s become a tradition that I look forward to.
You can listen to each mix by clicking on the title.
I originally intended this year’s mix to become an homage to that first one, remixing Meet Me in Outer Space into something new. But it became something entirely its own. Every year I start out with 50+ songs, then I widdle and rearrange until I’m almost satisfied. Then I add more and delete others and shuffle it up again. I listen to the beginning and endings of songs over and over to make sure they flow. Streaming music has made it harder to clip the endings and adjust the volume where needed, so I try to make it work for both. I’m still including songs I think you would have liked. I’m sure there are more than a few songs that you wouldn’t, but your taste was never easy to nail down. That was one of the things I loved best about you. Even now it inspires me to stay open to discovering new things. You never know when a song might find you.
I really love how this mix turned out. The ebb and flow of it hold up nicely. It treads all of my familiar themes of death, grief, longing, and outer space. I followed the formula in starting in a darker place and working my way toward the light. Maybe it’s my own subtle way of feeling the feelings but reassuring myself that it’s going to be OK.
And the world has come between us…
When I first discovered Amythyst Kiah, I knew I had to include one of her songs on here for you. I also found myself listening to a lot of Kate Bush this year. I opted for the Placebo cover of “Running up that Hill” because of its atmospheric take. The song has always had big queer energy to it. It has a sense of longing for something that’s just out of reach.
You don’t want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware I’m tearing you asunder.
Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts.
And if I only could,
I’d make a deal with god,
And I’d get him to swap our places…
I never got to talk with you about my love for Patty Griffin. You had recommended her album Living with Ghosts to me, and I never got around to listening to it until after you died. I have her in regular rotation now and I’m grateful to you for introducing me.
Of course you already know this Tracy Chapman song. I’m pretty sure you know every Tracy Chapman song. I remember you putting her song “New Beginning” on the Apocalypse Love Fest mix you made (which was a part of the zombie survival kit care package you also made for me). “The Promise” is pretty straightforward. The song came on the radio while I was in an airport, and I immediately thought of you. These mixes are how I find my way back year after year after year.
Your warm embrace
I’ll find my way back to you
If you’ll be waiting
I pulled the title of this mix from Vienna Teng’s “Stray Italian Greyhound.” It’s about finding hope when you least expect it. She blew me away at one of her shows in the city, and I’d like to think you would have connected with her music. She has found its way onto more than a few of these mixes for a reason. She has a special way of putting things. Love is never finite, it’s always growing and evolving. It embodies an energy that will never find its final form.
What do I do with a love that won’t sit still?
To know the space between us
You missed a really strange year, and that might explain this mix. It’s definitely among the darkest and angriest I’ve made since starting these. A raging pandemic flipped the world on its head and I think the mix reflects the existential mess of it all. I opened it with Anathema’s manic urgency before cutting to David Bowie’s “Lazarus.” I would have loved to hear your take on Bowie’s farewell record. This song in particular is such a raw and haunting contemplation of mortality.
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I love the idea of chasing a former clarity. Finding a sober way back to an inebriated revelation. The word apocalypse stems from the Greek word Apokálypsis and meaning “lifting of the veil.” But what happens when lifting the veil reveals another mystery? Ignorance is bliss, paradise is an illusion, and we’re all just trying to find our way.
All the nights spent off our faces
Trying to find these perfect places
What the fuck are perfect places anyway?
I listened to a lot of Deftones in quarantine. I had never really given them a chance before. Their music has this noisy psychedelic spirituality to it that really reflects my own vague notions of faith. Especially when it feels like half the world has descended down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories while a few powerful individuals benefit from the chaos.
There’s a new strange
godless demon awake inside me
There’s a force divine
terrorizing the angels I keep
while we dream
I ended this mix on a powerhouse trio of songs. Chaka Kahn’s “Ain’t Nobody” had a great moment on Rupaul’s Drag Race this year, and it might be the first time I ever really listened to the song. It felt fitting like a much-needed pick me up towards the end of an emotion-heavy mix.
Then there’s Pink. Or P!nk. Whatever. Her lyrics are always raw and messy. They’ve got their great moments and their cringe moments. “Timebomb” has both. But I found the message at its core to be really powerful. Love is not a finite resource. We don’t have to hold it all inside or be afraid of running out. And it really does have a way of getting back to you. After my last relationship devolved into us walking on eggshells around one another, this song helped set me free from that mindset. I can love whomever I choose, and I will always have more to give.
It’s only love, give it away
You’ll probably get it back again
It’s simple, it’s a silly thing
Thrown away like a boomerang
I wish we all could lighten up
It’s only love, not a timebomb
Then there’s the last song. I wish you could have seen Love Simon. It was a far cry from representing all of the queer stories that deserve to be told, but damn it hit the right notes for me. I wanted to recreate that Ferris Wheel moment here. It was a mess of a year and we deserve a sappy, super-gay, feel-good end-credits moment. This is my ode to the unique power and wild nature of queer love.
Well, everything has changed
And now it’s only you that matters
I will find any way to your wild heart
It’s gone from light to gray
But I’ll move those clouds away
Letting the sun shine through
In this ode to you
What more fitting way to open an Apollo Mix than with an ode to the sun? I tend to kick these mixes off with a sense of longing; a lamenting of the distance between us. This time I wanted to kick things off with a celebration. And ode to opening our hearts to one another, to risking heartbreak in our unending quest for connection. This is my ode to you.
I whisper your name
And fly away
I will wait for your return
I couldn’t have the whole mix be happy songs. That’s not how this works. It’s gotta be a blend of all the feelings. Patty Griffin brings the quiet sadness lingering underneath. Goira brings the rage boiling over. Sia pays tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Hozier and Mavis Staples celebrate Nina Simone and artists who have used their voices to empower the oppressed.
It’s not the song, it is the singin’
It’s the heaven of the human spirit ringin’
It is the bringin’ of the line
It is the bearin’ of the rhyme
It’s not the wakin’, it’s the risin’
I remember putting this Rise Against song on one of the first mixes I made you. It’s been a favorite of mine for over a decade now. It’s where I pulled the title for this year’s mix. The dreams left behind, the unfinished songs, the things we meant to say before we ran out of time. Losing you was one of the worst things that ever happened to me, but finding you was one of the best and no one can ever take that.
Take my hand
And we’ll live inside the dreams we left behind
Take my hand
As we move from this place to a better life
I wanted to close this out with another ode to queer love in fiction. Tina Turner’s “The Best” was used several times to great effect in Schitt’s Creek, including the finale. I wanted to try and channel the power of that. We both grew up in decades that did not tell the queer love stories we needed. To see something that I was shamed for be celebrated like that will always overwhelm me. I know we didn’t get our own heartwarming series finale send off, but we deserved to. We deserved every moment of happiness that we shared. We can’t re-write the script, but we can lean into the good moments that made it all worth it. That might be all that we ever get, but I will never not be grateful for it.
And we still have this. We still have music. We still have the stars. We still have our story. We still have Apollo and Starpunk. We still have each other’s back if the zombie’s attack.
I love you David Blair. Happy Birthday.