It'll Change Your Life, I Swear: Appreciating the Garden State Soundtrack


Making a playlist has become an integral part of the music listening experience. They capture a mood, represent a time, symbolize a place, or simply enhance the experience of getting fucked up on a Friday night. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am meticulous (okay fine, anal) about making playlists. Even if I had no hand in the creation of the music, curating a playlist lets me show my musical taste and turn others on to new sounds. It sounds really pretentious, but it’s all about making sure everyone has a good time. It’s a relatively pain-free exercise.

Curating a soundtrack is pretty much making a playlist on steroids. Trying to do the film/show justice by selecting songs that tie into the themes and values of it WHILE ALSO doing so on a budget WHILE ALSO accruing the rights to those songs through contracts is a headache. I find it incredibly fascinating. When done poorly (like in movies like Envy and Spiderman and TV shows like The Newsroom), it can ruin it. Yet, when done correctly it can raise the piece to a higher level. Forrest Gump, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Entourage and Mad Men exemplify this notion, but one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard belongs to Garden State.

Before he wrote, directed, and starred in Garden State, Zach Braff was known for his leading role in Scrubs. His stint as JD proved he had talent. They were fully realized in Garden State. His script captured the twentysomething feeling to be lost on life’s path and the numbness/loneliness that goes with it. His portrayal of Andrew Largeman demonstrated his dramatic range, nailing the over-medicated numbness and eventual anger/resentment the character has. His direction created iconic images like the wallpaper shirt, screaming into “The Abyss” (both shown above), and the experience of being detached while on ecstasy:

While a very impressive film in its own right, Braff curation of the Garden State soundtrack brought everything together. It’s an interesting relisten ten years removed from its release but it stands the test of time.

The opening “Don’t Panic” by Coldplay sets the standard for all songs that following: laid back, yet symbolic of the crises of young adults. “In the Waiting Line” by Zero 7 tries to explain the numbness created by the 9 to 5 lifestyle, assuaged by the dreamy, psychedelic production. Nick Drake’s “One of These Things First” tackles regret and the what-if uneasiness. Former Men At Work(!) frontman Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” deals with heartbreak. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” gives a face to loneliness. Many people my age use music as their coping mechanism, and to hear these themes across the film and in this soundtrack was comforting.

The Garden State soundtrack also launched the careers of some great talentss. Who knows if we would ever hear The Shins without Braff’s inclusion of “New Slang” and “Caring Is Creepy” into the film. They became synonymous with 2000’s indie rock all because Samantha convinced Andrew that “it’ll change your life”. The film was the also the breakthrough for Iron & Wine, whose cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” to this day remains one of my favorite covers (seriously, give Our Endless Numbered Days a million spins). Finally, Frou Frou, notably the breakout project of Imogen Heep, closed the movie triumphantly with the dramatic “Let Go”. The song begs its listener to find peace with oneself with its evocative chorus:

(So let go) so let go
Jump in
Oh well whatcha waiting for
It's all right
Cause there's beauty in the breakdown.

Who knows how the film’s legacy will carry on. It’s quirky, a trait that seems zeitgeisty the same way a beeper or swing music in the 90's does. Twentysomethings get older and stop feeling these feelings (I think/hope). But Garden State was never meant to be a film for the masses: it’s for those overwhelmed by the infinite abyss. Those who are homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Zach Braff captured the quiet desperation that happens in our twenties. It’s ironic that people who feel so out of place can share this soundtrack with so many people just like them. If you have some free time this weekend, I recommend the film and the soundtrack. It'll change your life, I swear.