So You’re Picking Up Maya Angelou from the Airport.

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By Alison Balaskovits

So, you’re picking up one of your favorite literary figures (poetry or prose, living or dead) from the airport before taking them to dinner and conducting an interview. You’re a huge fan and you’re super excited about the assignment, but also a bit nervous. Relax. The main thing you need to be concerned with is having a kickass playlist going on the tape deck when you roll up to the terminal and I’m here to help. I offer no guarantees, but with some deductive reasoning, digital crate digging, and intuition I think we can manage something that leaves everyone comfortable, happy, and bobbing their heads.

Below is a 12 track set that I think should get you from the airport and back again with some stops in between. You can play it in sequence, but it will work on mix-mode as well (this might even be better). The important thing is to have it already playing when you pick them up and to not discuss it at all unless they bring it up first. Basically, play it cool and act like you’ve been there before. I can in no way guarantee that they’ll actually dig this, but I have my hopes. Worst case scenario, just have NPR locked in as station preset 1 in case things get desperate. Best of luck!

Your passenger this week is none other than the legendary Maya Angelou. Poet, memoirist, journalist, activist, dancer, singer, ICON. Quite simply she was, and remains, essential. Her accomplishments and importance are too numerous and too enormous to list here. Just get ready for a hell of a ride.

1. Singing Sweet – When I See You Smile Given all the tragedies, losses, and challenges she endured in her remarkable life it’s amazing to notice just how often Angelou was smiling (if not beaming) in the many photographs of her taken over the decades. Through everything she experienced she never deviated from her own dictum: I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it. For her, a song as beautiful as her smile. Just try not to spend too long in a state of awe-struck disbelief over the fact that this is a dancehall cover of a hit tune by Bad English.

2. Brownstone – If You Love Me WaterfallsOn Bended KneeFantasyCandy Rain…it’s pretty clear that the 1995 Top 100 chart represents an indisputable annus mirabilis for Modern R&B. As a culture we can only hope to scale such heights again. And not least among the bounty was this one from Brownstone. The song is infectious and unforgettable on its own, but as far as I’m concerned it reached icon status as a central element it the Holly Hunter / Queen Latifah rollin on E lesbian club dance sequence in Living Out Loud which will be recognized as a top-10 1990s movie moment in history books 1,000 years hence.

3. Fuentes All Stars – Pégale a la Nalga I have no idea what’s going on at the beginning of this song. Is the dude having a seizure? Catching the Holy Ghost? Presiding over an auction? Whatever it is, I dig it. Your average Toyota does not allow much room for dancing while seated, but I’m sure you’ll find a way…you’ll need to. Any passenger who refuses to move with you to this one can be promptly deposited on the nearest curb/exit-ramp. Not to worry, Dr. Angelou is definitely down. P.S. I got curious and Google translated the title, it seems to roughly mean “Hit him in the ass”. Sounds about right.

4. Cymande – Dove 11 minutes of effortless cool, plain & simple, from Cymande (among Spike Lee’s favorite soundtrack adds). There won’t be any talking while this song is playing. You and Dr. Angelou won’t need language. Just lean your seat back a bit, stiff-arm the wheel and go where the track takes you. Warning: chanting will likely ensue.

5. Louis Jordan – Beans and Cornbread This is quite simply the greatest song ever recorded about two anthropomorphic food items getting into a brawl. Always fun, always energetic, this is a solid trip-starter. Also, speaking of Spike Lee soundtracks: it’s a little iconic due to being prominently featured during a scene of utter (and fairly comic) mayhem in Malcolm X (if you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember it well.) It’s a fairly sure bet that Dr. Angelou would dig the Louis Jordan, considering she covered his Run Joe on her only official full-lengthmusical release. I dare you not to be singing this to yourself 3 days later.

6. Rashaan Roland Kirk – What’s Goin’ On’/Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) She wrote seven autobiographies, but make no mistake Maya Angelou never took her eyes off the injustice, the strife, and the resilience in the face of both that she saw around her in both America and the wider world abroad. Still, she met it all with grace and the conviction that things can (and will) get better with our hard work and willingness to change. I dig Kirk’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic jams because he honors their original depth and truth without losing his own essential joy.

7. Common – The Food (Ft. Kanye West) Put aside the fact that Dr. Angelou referred to herself & Dave Chappelle (on whose show this track was recorded live) as “soulmates”, or that she appeared on Common’s song The Dreamer, and you’re left with a ridiculously chill cruising song that manages to incorporate some super-sly shots at pop cultural/consumerist sacred cows. This one makes the playlist on a musical level, no question. But the biographical extras don’t hurt either.

8. Lyn Collins – Think (About It) Sure this is basically a James Brown song with a guest vocalist…but there could never be anything wrong with that, so crank this! Hard funk, in-you-face lyrics, female empowerment, endlessly sampled (Dj E-Z Rock I’m looking at you). Hell yes, play it twice.

9. Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda If only every journey down the interstate were as mellow, expansive, and as full of possibility as this, the title track of Alice Coltrane’s 1970 release. A perfect light-night tune, no one in history has ever managed to switch this off past 11 p.m. If you acquire a single harp record in your entire life, make it this one.

10. Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night Angelou often spoke of how the rhythms & mysteries of the blues acted upon her writing and how important the music was, not only for African-Americans but as part of the DNA of the country. This song, originally an Appalachian folk tune, but most famously recorded by blues legend Leadbelly, was covered by Nirvana for their 1993 MTV Unplugged set and it just might be the most searing moment from that entire series (for real, check out 5:08 in the clip when Cobain finally opens his eyes). I can never listen to it without thinking of Angelou’s Insomniac.

11. Wendy Rene – After Laughter I’ll admit, this isn’t necessarily the most road-friendly song out there. For one it doesn’t have the kind of intense & pulsing beat that you generally appreciate on the open road. Beyond that, it’s difficult to stay in your lane when your sight is occluded by open weeping. Still, this is one of my fav tracks of all time and Rene’s raw emotion is compelling to the nth degree.

12. Latyrx – Lady Don’t Tek No Look back at her life and you can really only come to to one conclusion: Maya Angelou was a superhero. Sure, she suffered, she knew loss, and she battled doubt…but so did Peter Parker. To overcome everything she experienced in her long life while never retreating, while never pitying herself in the face of steady racism, sexism, and tragedy took someone with undeniably singular character and resolve. The fact that she had the talent to share her experience so effectively with the rest of us, well…we’ll just have to be eternally thankful for that. If there were a movie about Dr. Angelou as a superhero this just  might be in the opening credits sequence.

 

weshazard_pubshotWes Hazard is a Boston-based writer, stand up comic and radio DJ. You can follow him on twitter @weshazard and check out his work atwww.weshazard.com 

So You’re Picking Up Adam Smith from the Airport

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By Alison Balaskovits

So, you’re picking up one of your favorite literary figures (poetry or prose, living or dead) from the airport before taking them to dinner and conducting an interview. You’re a huge fan and you’re super excited about the assignment, but also a bit nervous. Relax. The main thing you need to be concerned with is having a kickass playlist going on the tape deck when you roll up to the terminal and I’m here to help. I offer no guarantees, but with some deductive reasoning, digital crate digging, and intuition I think we can manage something that leaves everyone comfortable, happy, and bobbing their heads.

Below is a 12 track set that I think should get you from the airport and back again with some stops in between. You can play it in sequence, but it will work on mix-mode as well (this might even be better). The important thing is to have it already playing when you pick them up and to not discuss it at all unless they bring it up first. Basically, play it cool and act like you’ve been there before. I can in no way guarantee that they’ll actually dig this, but I have my hopes. Worst case scenario, just have NPR locked in as station preset 1 in case things get desperate. Best of luck!

Your passenger this week is none other than Adam Smith the Scottish philosopher and academic, widely recognized as the father of modern economics. Smith was a noted lecturer and considered himself primarily a moral philosopher but his name is indelibly linked to The Wealth of Nations, an econ text that’s been praised or dismissed (or both) by just about every school & faction of economics since it was written. Buckle up! Let’s talk about $$$$$$$.

1. The Clash – Magnificent Seven He’s your guest & passenger so you probably don’t want to get right up in Smith’s face with an outright critique of the worst of capitalism’s excesses and degradations. If you’re going to do it all I say at least throw a mean groove and some Joe Strummer proto-rap vocals in the mix.

2. Devo – Going Under OK, I’ll admit I’m putting this in here largely because I’ve always wanted to live out this particular scene of conspicuous consumption & night driving from the Heart of Darkness episode of Miami Vice with a fellow passenger…and I would be honored to have Smith by my side here (though he’d likely consider the gold chains and Ferrari to be excessive). Devo’s intentions were different, but in context you can consider the title to refer to mountain of debt you’ll be dealing with if trying to maintain this lifestyle with a writer/professor’s income.

3. Big Country – In A Big Country You’re driving Scottish-born Smith along our endless highways on his very 1st visit to America. You really can’t afford to not include this, the biggest track by the hottest Scottish group of the 80s. It’s always been a mystery to me why Big Country never broke bigger in the states. This was a top 10 here and both this and their next album were smashes in the UK. Vagaries of the market I guess… Notice how they get their guitars to sound a lot like bagpipes? Smith will, and it’ll be appreciated.

4. Freeez – I.O.U. Cash is, intrinsically, a debt. Who knows exactly why we as a society decided to print elaborate designs & pictures of dead people on our individual IOU slips, but why ask questions when you can rock your body to this? As good as when Double K was working it into his set in Beat Street.

5. The Thamesmen (Spinal Tap) – Gimme Some Money The genius of Spinal Tap is that no matter how much they ratchet up the spoof factor, no matter how outrageous or winking the lyrics become, their tunes are always as catchy as anything they’re poking fun at. Here, with their sights set on early R&B/Skiffle-era Beatles jams they deliver a homage to the noble & acquisitive drive for capital that free markets so gloriously foster. Smith would be proud. And don’t lie: you laugh every time you hear the “bad checks” line.

6. Tracy Chapman – Fast Car If you haven’t sat in the back seat on a late summer night’s cruise while shouting this word-for-word with friends then you’ve lived a woefully diminished existence up until now. The good news is that it’s never too late, act now! Hear it once and you’ll never forget the guitar riff, hear it a hundred times and be filled with sorrow over the existence of embedded poverty cycles.

7. Easy Star All-Stars – Money Want to feel better about not having any of the titular item? Easy. Just dim the lights, follow the audio-instructions included at the beginning of the track, and let this dub cover of Pink Floyd’s classic ride. You’ll be OK.  A lot’s changed in the 224 years that Smith has been gone. Roll up the windows and get ready to blow his mind.

8. Wiley – Numbers in Action RIP Michael Jackson. 5 years gone and I am DEFINITELY still a fan, so Wiley and I have that in common. But aside from the repeated professions of his persistent fandom for the Moonwalker this tune makes the list for being a fantastic deep-bass driving song with a healthy respect for diversification among one’s hard currency holdings (he emphasizes dollars and pounds, but I’d also suggest acquiring some yuan & rubles in the current market).

9. Calloway – I Wanna Be Rich As a true child of the 80s, born under the sign of Reagan, tthe chorus to this song was one of the first chunks of pop music that I ever committed to memory. “I want money/lots and lots of money/I want the pie in the sky…I wanna be RICH!” I knew these words before I knew the Pledge of Allegiance or my own phone number. God Bless America.

10. RuPaul – Supermodel Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased. (The Wealth of Nations Chapter V.) It’s quite clear that both Smith and RuPaul share the same reverence for the value of labor. Whether you’re laying the foundations for a robust national economy with reliable growth that provides for the needs of its citizens or you’re striving to be the baddest diva to strut the runway: You Better Work!!!

11. James Brown – Living In America Smith dropped The Wealth of Nations in 1776, ushering in an economic revolution just as America was beginning her own transformation an ocean away. 209 years later Rocky Balboabeat the crap out of 9-foot-tall Ivan Drago in Drago’s home country, thus asserting the primacy of free-market capitalism over the Soviet planned economy. It was a beautiful thing. There is however no triumph without sacrifice, and The Godfather of Soul’s performance of this song in the movie precedes one of the most heartbreaking defeats in sports cinema: The death of Apollo Creed, American hero.

12. Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M. Any playlist for the foundational theorist of modern capitalism would be a fraud without this track that both affirms his assertions about the power of the market while exposing its brutal realities. It’s the little things (the every-other-bar flourish on the iconic piano sample, the effortless invention of the titular slang, the otherworldly string washes in the background) that served to make this one a hip-hop classic. Smith was a popular lecturer who had astronomical, moral, & historical academic pursuits in addition to his work on political economy, but he would no doubt have to accept the cold hard late capitalist assertion that “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”.

 

weshazard_pubshotWes Hazard is a Boston-based writer, stand up comic and radio DJ. You can follow him on twitter @weshazard and check out his work at www.weshazard.com 

So You’re Picking Up Philip K. Dick from the Airport

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By Alison Balaskovits

So, you’re picking up one of your favorite literary figures (poetry or prose, living or dead) from the airport before taking them to dinner and conducting an interview. You’re a huge fan and you’re super excited about the assignment, but also a bit nervous. Relax. The main thing you need to be concerned with is having a kickass playlist going on the tape deck when you roll up to the terminal and I’m here to help. I offer no guarantees, but with some deductive reasoning, digital crate digging, and intuition I think we can manage something that leaves everyone comfortable, happy, and bobbing their heads.

Below is a 12 track set that I think should get you from the airport and back again with some stops in between. You can play it in sequence, but it will work on mix-mode as well (this might even be better). The important thing is to have it already playing when you pick them up and to not discuss it at all unless they bring it up first. Basically, play it cool and act like you’ve been there before. I can in no way guarantee that they’ll actually dig this, but I have my hopes. Worst case scenario, just have NPR locked in as station preset 1 in case things get desperate. Best of luck!

Your passenger this week is novelist, short-story writer, philosopher, and hyper-prolific sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick whose explorations of identity, reality, perception, drug culture, conspiracies, faith, & post-hippie NoCal culture have resonated for decades after his death with a deep and loyal fandom, literary canonization, and multiple blockbuster film adaptations. Gulp. Here’s to an incredible journey.

1. Peace Orchestra – Who Am I The only answer that most of Dick’s protagonists are able to give to the titular question of this track at the end of his works is Hell if I know. Good thing you won’t have to worry about anything as heady as that as you jump onto the freeway at midnight as this curls out of the stereo making you feel at least 120% cooler about yourselves than you actually are…it’s just got that kind of power. Bonus points for being featured throughout the Animatrix, an underappreciated part of a modern classic film universe that I speculate Dick would’ve been enthralled by.

2. Dr. Octagon – Blue Flowers Revisited Dick was a noted devotee of classical music and his death in 1982 came well before hip-hop had become a national force. That said, if he’d lived long enough I can pretty easily see Kool Keith (aka Dr. Octagon aka Black Elvis aka Dr. Dooom) being his favorite M.C. It’s not everyday you’re going to find a lyrical genius who appreciates science fiction, psychological dissociation, conspiracy theories, and the artistic employment of paranoia as much as you do. Blue Flowers Revisited gets the nod not only for being the perfect track for creeping through the hyper-neon streets of a near future dystopian metropolis, but also because the title never fails to make me think of Mors Ontologica, the sky colored source of A Scanner Darkly’s Substance D.

3. Liars – A Visit From Drum Thick dread that you can’t quite place or reconcile: from Joe Chip’s suspicions about his thanatological status in Ubik to Bob Arctor’s fear over his receding identity in A Scanner Darkly this is a psychological territory that Dick mined throughout his career. With this track the Liars more or less made the soundtrack to it.

4. The Velvet Underground  – The Black Angel’s Death Song In an extreme surface sense The Velvet Underground (New York, heroin) are the musical anthesis of much of Dick’s (Cali, speed/psychedelics) writing. Definitely not with this song. They were definitely on the same wavelength here. The cascading vocal delivery, the hovering presence of a fundamentally unknowable extra-human force, the way you enjoy it even though it kind of terrifies you. Oh yes. The perfect way to ride out into the night with alongside one of the most talented Americans to ever put pen to paper.

5. The Big Pink – Sweet Dreams Too many pop/rock/indie covers of hip-hop/ R&B songs exist purely because of irony. They’re often as catchy as the originals but it’s often impossible to shake the smirking “isn’t it crazy that we’re playing mandolins while belting out the lyrics to a nightclub banger?!” sentiment lurking underneath. This isn’t one of those songs. The Big Pink plays this Beyonce hit totally straight, adding a creepy melancholy that will have you questioning the nature of perception & reality along with the best of Dick’s protagonists. Caution: Dick will likely be inclined to write 100 pages of exegesis connecting the group’s name to the dazzling “pink beam of light” that twice visited him to impart mystical knowledge.

6. The Flaming Lips – In The Morning of the Magicians You can pretty easily (lazily?) spin The Flaming Lips as the perfect contemporary group for Philip K. Dick enthusiasts. After all, they make albums about androids, robots, psychedelics, religious mysticism, & sci-fi in general. But include this here first & foremost because it’s an ideal wee hours cruising song, hell, your passenger may even be asleep after picking him up from a red eye flight. If not,  think he’d agree that there’s no better way to greet the dawn than with a song referencing a left-field classic on occultism & conspiracy theories.

7. Burkhard Dallwitz – A New Life It’s only two minutes long and it’s the music played on the main menu screen of the Truman Show DVD so it’s possible I’ve heard this more than maybe any other track ever recorded. Personal bias aside, this one makes the list for the possibility/gravitas/metamorphosis it hints at, never beating you over the head. Probably put this one on repeat and loop it 3-4 times for the full effect. Those strings in the last half…something is on the horizon, let’s just hope it’s good.

8. Panda Bear – I’m Not Usually when I acknowledge the possibility that reality as we know it is an accident of perception & that my firmly held conviction of selfhood is quite probably a total sham it’s an…unsettling experience. This song works miracles by making that thought acceptable…if not downright pleasant. You’re going to have to do your best to maintain control of the vehicle instead of easing into a meditative trance of acceptance at 70 mph. Good luck.

9. Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me This one’s a risk given Dick’s well noted surveillance paranoia (though at least some of that was based on legitimate threats). But in the end I think he’ll end up enjoying some of the finest that 1980s mainstream novelty pop had to offer. Would this have gotten released if Rockwell wasn’t Motown founder Berry Gordy’s son? Quite possibly. Would it have featured Michael Jackson doing the chorus in the weirdest/awesomest uncredited vocal performance of the decade? DEFINITELY NOT. You pretty much owe it to history to do a duet w/ Philip…full blast.

10. Disco Inferno – Starbound: All Burnt Out & Nowhere To Go “By now the epoch of drug-taking had ended, and everyone had begun casting about for a new obsession.” These words from Valis capture much of the feel of Dick’s later Northern California-bound, theologically oriented later work where various characters still hungover from the sixties had to deal with the deterioration of their bodies, minds, & realities. This is post-rock those people can get with.

11. F*** Buttons – Okay, Let’s Talk About Magic Play this at your own risk. You might just end up finding yourself swelling with a fierce, if undefinable, sense of noble purpose. Once the drums come in you’ll be ready for amission…whatever it might be. I’ve never been so hyped listening to distortion, use the force wisely.

12. Sufjan Stevens – Impossible Soul Buckle Up, this is going to be more than a bit epic. 25 minutes of tape effects, autotune, self-reproach, a children’s chorus, and spiritual affirmation across what could’ve easily been 5-7 distinct songs jam-packed into a single/magisterial stunner. I’m down. One of the more blatantly faith-affirming releases on the indie scene in a while. I think Philip K. would appreciate that, he definitely appreciated the essence of faith when he wrote “Faith is strange. It has to do, by definition, with things you can’t prove.” That never once stopped him from obsessing over it.

 

weshazard_pubshotWes Hazard is a Boston-based writer, stand up comic and radio DJ. You can follow him on twitter @weshazard and check out his work atwww.weshazard.com 

 

So You’re Picking Up Virginia Woolf from the Airport

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By Alison Balaskovits

So, you’re picking up one of your favorite literary figures (poetry or prose, living or dead) from the airport before taking them to dinner and conducting an interview. You’re a huge fan and you’re super excited about the assignment, but also a bit nervous. Relax. The main thing you need to be concerned with is having a kickass playlist going on the tape deck when you roll up to the terminal and I’m here to help. I offer no guarantees, but with some deductive reasoning, digital crate digging, and intuition I think we can manage something that leaves everyone comfortable, happy, and bobbing their heads.

Below is a 12 track set that I think should get you from the airport and back again with some stops in between. You can play it in sequence, but it will work on mix-mode as well (this might even be better). The important thing is to have it already playing when you pick them up and to not discuss it at all unless they bring it up first. Basically, play it cool and act like you’ve been there before. I can in no way guarantee that they’ll actually dig this, but I have my hopes. Worst case scenario, just have NPR locked in as station preset 1 in case things get desperate. Best of luck!

Your passenger this week is Virginia Woolf author of Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves, an outspoken feminist force in interwar England, and an enduring icon of modernism. Incredibly gifted and deeply troubled she produced some of the greatest literary examinations of the self, consciousness, human communication (and its limits) while continually struggling with her own mental health, all while being a vital member of the legendary literary/artistic circle The Bloomsbury Group. You ready for this?

1. Mulatu Astatke – Yègellé Tezeta (My Own Memory) In her twenties Woolf was one of the participants in theDreadnought Hoax wherein she and other members of the Bloomsbury Group disguised themselves as a royal entourage from the Kingdom of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and (via some shockingly simple deception) received a state tour of the capital ship of the Royal Navy. Justified modern discomfort with cultural appropriation & blackface aside…that s#!1 was hilarious. Fitting then to include this lively tune by Ethiopian jazz master Astatke which, even if its title wasn’t a nod to one of Woolf’s favorite literary subjects, was made big in America by inclusion in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, a movie about a road trip to investigate the past. Cue it up!

2. Massive Attack – A Prayer for England Woolf lived the last few months of her life during the height of Germany’s near-nightly bombing raids on southern cities in the UK. She lost her London home in the destruction and at that point in 1941 the Third Reich was at the height of its power, having dominated much of continental Europe. To say things looked grim is beyond understatement. This track, one of the most memorable by late-era Massive Attack (Sinead O’Connor on vox!), captures the sinister potential of the era while still allowing plenty of hope.

3. Bjork – I See Who You Are Iceland’s national treasure never fails to deliver and her 2007 album Volta was no different. The slipperiness of identity, the difficulty of knowing another human being beyond the surface (or even fully comprehending the surface) was a problem that Woolf could never stop returning to. She might as well get a chance to explore it with the aid of some sparkling electronica. I hope your sound system has a solid low end, you’re going to need it because the bass on this one is delicate and heavy.

4. Prince – If I Was Your Girlfriend The pscho-sexual contortions and possibilities that are loaded into this tune bear an essay-length unpacking (at least). That’s something Woolf, author of the gender-blasting Orlandowould appreciate…in addition to the serpentine groove of The Purple One’s late 80s masterpiece. Recorded in the high-pitched sped-up vocal persona that Prince named Camille this would surely have been Orlando’s theme song had R&B and 20th century recording innovations been available in Elizabethan England.

5. Missy Elliott – The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) The sorrow that I feel for the fact that I’ll never actually cruise through late-night London traffic with Ms. Woolf while this pumps out of the stereo is deep and irreconcilable. Still, we must forge on. A lot of characters look out of a lot of windows with a lot of longing and melancholy in her work, she’d feel this one. One of the finest debut singles of the 90s, no question. Plus, what state was Missy Elliot born in??? I’m not even gonna say it…

6. Sophie B. Hawkins – Damn I Wish I was Your Lover I imagine Peter Walsh from Mrs. Dalloway leaned over the steering wheel of his car, weeping, while parked at a deserted Burger King long after the drive-thru has closed, lamenting Clarissa’s decades-old rejection once again. No good for him, them’s the breaks. But you and Virginia can have a grand old time singing along to this anthem as you ease on down the road!

7. Leo Delibes – The Flower Duet Right up there with Vivaldi’s Spring and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata this tune has probably never failed to make it on to a Time-Life-esque 50 Most Beloved Songs in classical music compilations. So yes, not a highly original pick, but there’s a reason for that enduring popularity: This song is what angels do Pilates to. It also brings Vita Sackville-West (Woolf’s dear friend and sometimes lover) to mind. Among many other things she was a renowned gardener, so the floral theme is apropos, and then there’s that whole Catherine Deneuve / Susan Sarandon scene in The Hunger that this appeared in… This one’s a lock.

8. Interpol – The Lighthouse With their debut album, Turn On The Bright Lights Interpol fed the fires of more high school drama club angst than had been known since Robert Smith bought his first tube of eyeliner. It was a magnificent and towering achievement. Two albums later found them exploring the same melancholy with a more subdued contribution from the rhythm section in this song, which (intentionally or not) references the title of one Woolf classic in its own and another in its plaintive chorus “Let the waves have their way now…” Crying in a darkened bedroom after chess club…re-live the glory!

9. U.S. Girls – The Island Song Considering this song’s instrumental would fit right in on the Drive soundtrack this is a solid car playlist pick. With the vocals it’s something even more special: a track about yearning and loneliness that packs and equally forceful “Fine, I don’t need you…get the hell out” vibe. You’ve got to appreciate that.

10. Kate Bush –Wuthering Heights A song by a precocious and wildly talented English artist about the magnum opus of another precocious and wildly talented English artist appearing on a playlist for the listening pleasure of a precocious & wildly talented English artist. Well, you can justify this song’s presence with that particular Russian doll of reasoning if you’d like. Me? I just really dig the idea of warbling “Heathcliff! It’s me Cathy, Come home!” off-key at max volume through the moonroof alongside modernism’s greatest novelist (suck it James Joyce!)…

11. Radiohead – How to Disappear Completely A pensive meditation on the self and the difficulty of genuine human connection with references to water and hints of an impending departure. I debated whether to include this one, but most car rides with a good and thoughtful companion end up with stretches where you both embrace the silence and let your minds go where they will. This one’s for Rhoda in The Waves.

12. The Waterboys – This is The Sea 2004: I sit down in a movie theater to watch the surfing documentary Riding Giants with no more knowledge of the sport than repeated childhood viewings of Point Break & Airborne. I walk out with a profound respect for the history & challenge of wave riding (plus a more markedly spiritual reverence for Point Break). Part of that was definitely due to the pitch-perfect crescendo this song provides right at the end of the movie. A catalog of intense personal struggle that ultimately embraces hope through an extended water metaphor about transitioning from a river to a sea. I’ll just leave this here.

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weshazard_pubshotWes Hazard is a Boston-based writer, stand up comic and radio DJ. You can follow him on twitter @weshazard and check out his work atwww.weshazard.com 

 

So You’re Picking Up Tracy K. Smith From the Airport

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By Alison Balaskovits

So, you’re picking up one of your favorite literary figures from the airport before taking them to dinner and conducting an interview. You’re a huge fan and you’re super excited about the assignment, but also a bit nervous. Relax. The main thing you need to be concerned with is having a kickass playlist going on the tape deck when you roll up to the terminal and I’m here to help. I offer no guarantees, but with some deductive reasoning, digital crate digging, and intuition I think we can manage something that leaves everyone comfortable, happy, and bobbing their heads.

Below is a 12 track set that I think should get you from the airport and back again with some stops in between. You can play it in sequence, but it will work on mix-mode as well (this might even be better). The important thing is to have it already playing when you pick them up and to not discuss it at all unless they bring it up first. Basically, play it cool and act like you’ve been there before. I can in no way guarantee that they’ll actually dig this, but I have my hopes. Worst case scenario, just have NPR locked in as station preset 1 in case things get desperate. Best of luck!

This week your passenger is uber-talented Pulitzer Prize winning poet Tracy. K. Smith. As a musical base for this particular list I’m using Smith’s most recent volume of work Life on Mars (and, to a lesser extent, her preceding book Duende) along with a recent opportunity I took to see her read. We can definitely work with this.

Life on Mars is an incredibly worthwhile and nuanced work that bears multiple readings, but for dashboard DJing purposes I’m going to boil it down to a handful of convenient (and woefully inadequate) terms. Namely: loss, hope, outer space, social justice & David Bowie. Definitely David Bowie.

Here we go:

1. Joy Division – Disorder

Insanely reductive genre cohabitation allows us to refer to both this song and Bowie’s output between The Man Who Sold The World and Lodger as “70s British Rock”, so at a trivial level there’s that. More importantly this is a jumpy and impassioned tune that it’s impossible to sit still through — perfect energy music. There’s also the appreciation of the cosmos held in common by Smith and Joy Division, as evidenced by the band’s choice to usean image of a pulsar’s radio waves for their album cover. If, against all reason, the song is a bust, you can always have a nice chat about the recent internet hoax involving Bowie supposedly having done a cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart with New Order in the 80s (if only!). P.S. Try not to let the fact that the lyrics reference cars crashing get to you.

2. Janet Jackson – Alright

Crank it. Totally appropriate for either barreling along the freeway unimpeded with the windows down or seat-dancing in an effort to forget your troubles while crawling through rush hour apocalypse. Off Rhythm Nation 1814, undoubtedly the most socially conscious new jack swing album ever recorded, a fact that you can use for cover should anyone question you playing this (at least that’s what I always do…)

3. Madvillain – Shadows of Tomorrow

Much respect to Guion Bluford, Ronald McNair, & Mae Jemison, pioneers all. But Sun Ra is the patron saint of African-American space travel. The cryptic, space-obsessed jazz visionary & peace prophet is heavily sampled here musing about time and the harsher realities of our earthly existence. This, layered over an insistent beat while Madlib and his alter-ego Quasimoto trade verses, is the perfect cruising jam to shake out any possible jet lag cobwebs.

4. Parliament – Presence of a Brain

Toggle the cruise control, lean the seat back and let this one take you where it will. The title alone is flattering to any passenger and particularly accurate here. Aside from that, who can disagree with George Clinton? You just don’t argue with a man whose hair has been 83% yarn for three decades.

5. Camaron De La Isla – Al Verte Las Flores Lloran

If you name one of your poetry collections Duende I’m going assume that you’re a fan of, or at least quite amenable to, flamenco music. Even if that’s not the cause it won’t make much of a difference because anyone possessing a beating heart can’t help but get caught up in this tune. The guitar is fierce (RIP Paco De Lucia) and though I personally can only catch bits of what Don Camaron is singing about, there’s no doubt that the manmeans it. Roll down the windows for this one, you’ll need the extra room for the air castanets.

6. Africa HiTech – Light The Way

We’re going to keep going on the Sun Ra/outer space mother ship with this 2011 single. Africa HiTech here uses a much shorter Sun Ra sample and accomplishes the notable feat of crafting an incredibly hopeful and light-filled track from a song titled The Sky is a Sea of Darkness When There is No Sun. Your soul will smile. It was neck and neck between this and another AHt cut from one of their EPs, The Sound of Tomorrow, which is equally appropriate for this drive. If you’re feeling hesitant I say either include both or use this one for the AM and that track for nighttime.

7. Brian Eno – Baby’s On Fire

Most of the Bowie music directly referenced in Life on Mars either just precedes or postdates his full-tilt shiny boots glam phase, but I feel good about dropping this gem here. Truth be told, I first heard it watching the Velvet Goldmine DVD in high school, there with vocals by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. This version preserves the entire legendary guitar solo and, you know, ISN’T voiced by the guy playing Dracula on NBC.

8. Warpaint – Ashes To Ashes

Bowie gets covered a lot. After all the stuff Seu Jorge did for the Life Aquatic soundtrack, and Vanilla Ice’s vivid interpolation of his collaboration with Queen, this is probably my favorite instance of that happening. If you hit traffic while it’s playing you simply won’t mind.

9. The Band – Don’t Do It (2000 Cahoots Outtake Version)

Alternate Take, a poem about art helping to make art, is dedicated to Levon Helm. That, and this song’s intrinsic awesomeness, mean it has to be here. Originally a Marvin Gaye track (courtesy of Motown titans Holland-Dozier-Holland) this was recorded by The Band for the 1972 live release Rock of Ages. I like this shorter/chunkier version from the 2000 re-release of Cahoots more though. (Note: This cut is definitely necessary in the unlikely event that you have to go off-road and cut through an untamed patch of Arkansas back road to make it to dinner).

10. Osvaldo Golijov – Balada/Quiero Arrancarme Los Ojos

I only ever heard this because my library is in the same town as the composer’s house. Modern day opera, steeped in flamenco, presenting the last days of Lorca. Beautiful music. I suggest playing these 2 tracks in sequence (the 1st is very brief). Chills are possible. [Note: The CD is readily available but individual tracks of this are a bit elusive streaming-wise. The above link isn’t for these tracks specifically, but it gives a solid taste.]

11. Cliff Martinez – Will She Come Back

Loss and hope and faith in space? I don’t think we can have this conversation unless you’ve watched Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Russian sci-fi classic Solaris. It’s the best romance flick I’ve ever seen that also happens to take place in a space station orbiting an alien world that reads & incarnates people’s dreams. Oh man, the whole soundtrack is pretty stunning, but this piece in particular…man. Deep space! Longing! George ClooneyPolish speculative fiction legends! The discussions you can have based on this track alone make it a must-play. Keep in mind though: this is NOT a high-energy tune.

12. David Bowie – Subterraneans

Bowie (as lyricist, inspiration, & public figure) weaves in and out of Life on Mars in ways that are as sorrowful as the demise of his centuries-old vampire inamorato in that movie The Hunger and as joyful as the “Magic Dance” sequence in Labyrinth (if you ignore Jareth’s bulge). When it comes to Bowie classics that you might include on a driving playlist you could curate a whole boxed set if you wanted, but here I’m going with something much more reserved (mournful?) than say Golden Years or Moonage Daydream. The last track on Low, this mostly instrumental cut works best as a closer for when you’re just pulling up to the terminal for the drop-off journey. Not quite “sad”, but definitely final, it provides the perfect sense of an ending.

Like I said, no guarantees, but I think you’re on good footing here. Drive safe and play it loud.

 

weshazard_pubshotWes Hazard is a Boston-based writer, stand-up comic & radio DJ. You can follow him on Twitter @weshazard