“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred,” writes Walt Whitman in his epic 1855 poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” continuing, “And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more beautiful than the most beautiful face.”
Ironically, both the line and title were not in the original edition of “Leaves of Grass.” The term “electric” was not in common currency; it was added in the 1867 edition. Whitman captured a rare public sentiment during a time in American history when honoring the human body in such a risqué manner was both bold and risky.
What Whitman was calling for, in part, was a celebration of form. By feeling your body that intensely, you change your relationship to your environment. At times, the boundaries between internal and external space are blended with such meticulous care that the contours are hard to spot. That was the exact idea: A transcendent experience is possible during the ecstasy of embodiment.
While Whitman employed poetic flight to explain this rapture, we can feel it now when working out. Whether you’re just returning to the gym, arriving for the first time or simply keeping a dedicated regimen alive, every day we get to live this beatific feeling when moving and sweating together.
But while we pay lip service to change all the time, actually implementing it is another story. Unfortunately for us, our brains quickly stick with patterns we become accustomed to. This happens in our workouts, diet, relationships—every facet of existence is beholden to this neurological trend.
Yet we’re also capable of great change. Many changes we have no say in. Events occur; we react. But then there are changes dependent purely on our desire to shift our reality. That sort of power is inside each of us, which is the focus of this month’s playlist.
Change is a common theme in music. In that spirit, all 20 songs address the concept of change. This is no genre-specific collection. Change affects everyone; a wide-ranging soundtrack is called for.
There are a number of classics here. You’ve undoubtedly heard the selections by David Bowie, Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder. The Marvin Gaye track “Change What You Can” is early Motown material. The playlist stays on the soul trip, with tracks by Thundercat, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones.
Then we move into reggae and hip-hop, starting with Jamaica’s Protoje and his upbeat “All Will Have to Change.” A classic by Notorious BIG is followed by newer hip-hop tracks by J. Cole and Phonte. That section ends with a soulful offering by John Legend, featuring one of the most change-oriented artists in rap, Snoop Dogg. (If you need proof of that, his last two albums were reggae and gospel.)
From there, we go into one of my favorite songs on the topic, Blind Melon’s “Change,” which carried me through my junior year at college. (I was fortunate enough to see them perform live at Rutgers University shortly before Shannon Hoon’s untimely death in 1995.) Tracy Chapman’s gorgeous 2005 track of the same name bleeds into a cover of Cy Coleman’s “Why Try to Change Me Now” by Fiona Apple. This set closes with Fleetwood Mac’s unforgettable “Landslide.”
The playlist ends with two songs that kicked off the set. First is Brazil’s Seu Jorge covering Bowie on “The Life Aquatic” soundtrack. To close, two wide-ranging takes on Sam Cooke’s classic: First, the young rock band from Michigan Greta Van Fleet and then Alabama-based St. Paul & The Broken Bones. As the song says, a change is gonna come. Best be ready to ride it out.
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