What do Bible characters have on their 2021 Spotify Wrapped list?
Thanks to Spotify’s patented year-end “Wrapped” feature, we all can now know our audio aura. Whatever the heck that is. Mine’s swirl of orange and blue kinda looks like a Tide Pod. But as I stopped to look at my 2021 music habits in review I sensed a trend. My musical tastes are becoming more like my father’s (I’ve listened to Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” a lot apparently). And that got me wondering about my forefathers and foremothers.
If Biblical figures were around today, streaming music on an app that offers near larcenous rates to musicians, what would be on their Wrapped lists? I made some guesses and, while no one can fully capture the musical palette of people who never encountered recorded audio, I think I may have come close to the tunes that best express their stories and struggles.
Avraham Avinu recalls his days in Ur (B-52s’ “Mesopotamia”), his covenant with the divine (“First Cut is the Deepest”) and his complex relationship with his son Isaac (Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”). I think he also dig some cantorial music, Brooks’ take on a 2,000-year-old man and Barbra Streisand — who wouldn’t kvell? Of course he likes the Dan, as the father of all Jewish fathers might be expected to.
Introspective, long-suffering and stalwart in her old age (hence the appearance of Elaine Stritch’s version of “I’m Still Here”) Sarah finally has Isaac and becomes the Jewish people’s matriarch. But for fear of being supplanted by Hagar and Ishmael, she expels them. “Jolene” speaks to this fear, if not the cruelty of her actions. If Sarah were around today, I somehow see her winding up in Florida, an active part of her retirement community and the local shul. Perhaps I’m reading too much into my own family history.
Harry Chapin was made for Isaac’s issues with his father. In his musical tastes, the trauma of his binding looms large. But, he also loves him some venison — ergo 7txxn’s song “Deer Meat” — and was probably miffed that Jacob tricked him with his favorite food. He likes Bruce Springsteen because of course he does.
I imagine Jacob, perhaps the most cancellable person in the Tanakh, to go for something like Oasis and Steve Miller (and probably The Killers). His top songs reflect his journey from least favorite son of his father to his first encounter with the divine, his long servitude to Laban (“Rude” by Magic!), his bout with the angel and his inflated pride in his progeny. Of course he’d pick some songs with his name in them.
In the year 2021, Leah has no shortage of chart-toppers with which to lament Jacob’s neglect of her. In fact, one of these songs — the 10-minute “All Too Well” from “Red (Taylor’s Version)” — is about a guy named Jake! The Bible’s Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, which may have something to do with what the Tanakh describes as Leah’s “soft” or “tired” eyes, a topic Neil Young once sang about — albeit in quite a different context. Eventually Leah finds her joy elsewhere, through her children. But before that I think she had a riot grrl stage.
My first instinct with David was jock rock. But then, after his youth as a shepherd, we must remember he became our greatest psalmist. Naturally he loves the tuneful spirituality of Sufjan Stevens and the lyrical virtuosity of John Darnielle. Obviously he listens to Joanna Newsom for her harpwork. Still there is something of the over-the-hill football star in David, so I think his top songs reflect the arc of his life, from the pump-up tune he would have blasted before slaying Goliath on down to tunes ripe for his disastrous affair. (He’d probably like the gut punch of “Rulers make bad lovers/You better put your kingdom up for sale” on “Gold Dust Woman.”) In the end, though, he makes his peace with God, just like Leonard Cohen did.
Yael is known for driving a tent peg through an enemy general’s head; her top songs look a lot like Judah Macabee’s.