In The Happiness Playlist, Mark Mallman offers a compelling memoir covering a time in his life influenced by his decision to listen to “happy” music in order to recover from grief.
Mallman is a veteran Minneapolis musician known for his headline-catching marathon performances (he once had 75 musicians back him for two days while he performed one song continuously, with only bathroom breaks). Here, he writes about his grief over his mother’s death—an event that sparked panic attacks, crying jags and nightmares—and shares the somewhat unfocused daily routine that resulted: hanging out in nightclubs, seeing movies, relying on a support network of friends and fellow musicians.
Mallman’s writing style is direct, clipped and staccato; his words are vivid bursts of observation, often hypnotic: “White-noise tinnitus rushes out of my faucet brain. The sound of washing dishes. Strong breezes. Lips that shush the baby. Coming from somewhere beyond the drop ceiling is a swamp of a tune.”
As we follow his journey, we grow to like his menagerie of friends—hipsters and street philosophers straight out of central casting—as well as his ex-girlfriend Annie and his father, who lives alone in Milwaukee and is constantly in touch with Mallman, ending every conversation with “I love you.”
Like a catchy song, the book’s rhythms are upbeat, despite Mallman’s pervasive grief. He mentions a few of his “Happiness Playlist” tracks—spanning 1960s oldies to current rockers, pop to punk to R&B (Minneapolis, after all, was Prince’s hometown)—but never offers a full list or solely credits his playlist for his recovery. He notes that therapy, time passing, a positive support system, all contributed. Yet, he writes, “I can say with great confidence that happy music unsticks the muck from the boot heels.”
In all, his story suggests that surrounding ourselves with positive reinforcement can help us shed the veils that darken our lives— a lesson we arrive at after a life-affirming and thoroughly enjoyable read.