When I sit at my desk most days, I try to convince myself that it’s not winter – that the sunlight I see scattered across my view would make me sweat if I went outside. I know that if I snuggled up to my window, my nose to the cold pane, and looked down, I’d see the piling up of snow. Someone recently told me, “Every year, I forget that spring will come, and then it sneaks up on me, without fail,” and I hold onto the promise in her words. Without fail.
I teach myself to settle into the winter routine. I let myself be irritated by the small things: the loud knock of my radiator, waking me up at 3 AM, the pool of brown water that leaks from my broken kitchen sink, the patch of snow I trudge through to do my laundry. I make ritual of repetition. I read the same books, call the same friends, cook the same recipes. I tell myself I’m in the process of perfecting it all as I wait for the freedom that comes with spring.
I’m reminded of the book The Argonauts, in which Maggie Nelson writes about these kinds of rituals:
The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again – not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life.
There’s one especially important revisitation that fills my days: listening to my favorite covers. I rewatch Joy Crookes, surrounded by lush plants and cast in a magenta light, at a place that could be humid, holding a guitar on her lap and singing words I’ve heard many times before, “Now you’re lost / lost in the heat of it all.”
Covers are the musical equivalent of a warm, hearty soup or a cheesy carb: a comfort food. “Lost” is one of Crookes’s most intentionally produced covers, while some are thrown up on Instagram, self-recorded nods to songs and artists and feelings that need to be shared. These covers reinvigorate the old, breathe new life into something that I thought I already knew. With a cover, not only do I get to participate in the ritual of returning to a performance I love, but I also know that the artist chose it because they love it, too. Because it’s something she can’t get out of her head either, something she returns to in her work and her life.
Covering Frank Ocean’s classic Channel Orange track “Lost,” she sings about cities (“Miami, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Spain”) where you might wander and lose track of time. When she closes her eyes, I imagine she’s getting lost in her head, too. The video came out last June, as part of a “Live in Lockdown” set that Crookes released during the virus’s summer wave, and I can hear her longing to escape.
“Girl you know you’re lost / lost in the thrill of it all,” she sings as she makes eye contact with the camera. For a minute, I am convinced that I’ve felt the thrill, that I’m the girl she’s talking to.
When I look for my favorite Joy Crookes covers, I find YouTube videos going back seven years. The same artist, almost a decade younger, sitting in her bedroom and singing “Hit the Road Jack.” In the background, her name “J-O-Y” is cut out in bubble letters and taped to what can only be assumed to be her childhood bedroom wall. Even without the magenta lighting or camera work of her “Live in Lockdown” series, when Crookes sings, I’m transported, knowing she loves a song as much as I do.
On election day in the US, Crookes, who is from London, posted a cover of the Marvin Gaye song, “Mercy, Mercy Me” to her Instagram. The caption reads: “it’s weird and sad that 50 years later, Marvin Gaye’s words still hold so much relevance in the world we live in now.” I read that and felt exposed. She spoke to my need to hold onto the promise of a shifting cycle, of a coming spring, of a beloved song. We’re all just learning the same lessons.
Covers go beyond sustenance, beyond carrying us through the cold winter as we wait for spring. In revisiting and replaying, in coming back over and over, we are crafting for ourselves what matters most.
The other day, I opened my Instagram after an evening filled with these rituals I’ve created. There Joy Crookes was, at the top of my feed, singing: “I thought that I was dreaming / when you said you loved me.” The opening to Frank Ocean’s 2016 song Ivy, captioned “does frank ocean count as a form of therapy.”
I remembered the first time I heard this song, where I stood, how one earbud in my headphones didn’t work. How I couldn’t wait to get home to listen properly. I can measure the person who heard Frank’s crooning in one ear against the person getting ready for bed, winding down the day with Crookes’s interpretation. She’s right: this practice, it’s therapeutic.
And Maggie Nelson is right, too: I am building a life of revisitations. The spring, it will come, and soon enough it will be winter again. I will forget and relearn all the rituals I build up come January. I’ll find myself, midwinter, scouring the internet for that song I could never forget, the one I love as much as the person who sings over it. It will sneak up on me, the fact that I’m not just willing the time to pass, but finding pleasure in the repetition. Without fail, I’ll press play one more time.