So You’re Picking Up Margaret Atwood From the Airport
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 Margaret Atwood, Booker Prize winning novelist/poet/critic/essayist/activist Margaret Atwood. Buckle up. She’s been slam dunking all over the page for decades, consistently wowing & challenging us with her explorations of power, survival, gender, the environment, politics, science, & her home country of Canada (to name only a few). Here we go.
1. Prince – The Future
Prince’s soundtrack album for Burton’s first Batman went to #1 and featured some of his most radio-friendly work between Purple Rain and the name change. Still, relative to his other hits of the era these don’t get heard much anymore. We should all work to change that. The lyrics fear a future not too far from some of Atwood’s speculative fiction but even more importantly you might get a chance to talk about her Jungian breakdown of Gotham’s finest.
2. Junior Boys – Work
Etching away/ ‘til the end of the day… with 14 novels, 15+ books of poetry, essay collections, literary criticism, librettos, children’s books and more to her credit Margaret Atwood understands WORK. No better song to cruise to while plotting your next project. You’re going to have the urge to floor it at 3:47, only do so if it’s safe. BONUS POINTS: Junior Boys = Canadian.
3. James Newton Howard – Those We Don’t Speak Of (Ft. Hilary Hahn)
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is a way less awful movie than people give it credit for. A big part of the reason for that is the score by James Newton Howard. Even without the film’s secretive ruling society, permeating sense of dread, and fight for survival through the wilderness (all prime Atwood territory) the track’ brooding first half followed by Hahn’s brilliant violin make for some cinematic driving…especially if you can find a creepy wood-lined 2 lane road.
4. Joanna Newsom – Sawdust & Diamonds
You ever played air harp alone in your room in front of a darkened mirror? Don’t worry, you will. Get ready to be emotionally invested because this cut won’t let you have it otherwise. Does your car have a moonroof?
5. Verve – Neon Wilderness
A lot of towels have been wedged under a lot of dorm room doors as this song played. There’s a reason. After Bittersweet Symphony kicks the door in this song lurks in Urban Hymns’ middle section just waiting to taxi you off to Xanadu. It’s the perfect companion for a lull in conversation one come along. Relax, it’s part of the normal ebb of conversation. Especially avoid trying to bridge this to Wilderness Tips in discussion.
6. Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir – Erghen Diado
I’ve been listening to this song for years and I still have no idea what they’re singing about but damn if it doesn’t sound urgent & beautiful. The vocal gymnastics are ridiculous and this would probably fly if done totally a cappella but the drum beat really puts it over as a go-to highway track. Crank this.
7. Philip Glass – La Passion D’Avenant (La Belle et la Bête, opera)
Singing teapot my ass. This is where it’s at if you want music for a big screen Beauty & The Beast movie adaptation. Almost 50 years after Jean Cocteau dropped his gem Philip Glass composed an opera to accompany it. The libretto consists of the movie’s dialogue and if you grab the Criterion Collection version on DVD you can watch the film synced to the opera (recommended). This one’s kind of a heartbreaker (made weird by the fact that it’s the lament of Belle’s douchey jilted human suitor). As a librettist herself I think Atwood might dig this one.
8. Student Body Presents – Rush Hour
This is the only “rush hour” I ever want to have anything to do with while driving. If you however happen to find yourself mired in the real thing on your journey from the airport this might help to ease some of the violent impulses. The production is as laid-back as can be (I’m shocked it hasn’t ended up on one of thoseLateNightTales post-club chillout compilations) and the vocals… Well let’s just say I’ve heard way too muchDiamanda Galas in my day and these are some of the most bizarre vocals I can recall. Is it slam poetry? Modern jazz scatting? An ever-so-slightly deranged woman reading passages from her dirary? Whatever the case they’ll draw you in for repeated listens.
9. Newcleus – Automan
Simply the best electro song ever recorded about a doomed android/human relationship. I don’t know how to breakdance, you probably don’t either. But I dare you to try and not make at least an attempt while listening to this (hands on the wheel!). You might be an unwitting replicant if you don’t like this, but I believe it touches on some of Atwood’s major technological/futuristic concerns, so it has that going for it too. Enjoy.
10. Iron Maiden – Rime of The Ancient Mariner
It’s a risk I’m taking. Atwood’s inclusion of Metallica on this short playlist that she curated shows she appreciates classic metal acts. And it doesn’t get much more classic than this 13 minute stunner off of Powerslave. Incorporating actual verses from the Coleridge classic this album closer goes through several shifts and mood changes that will have you guys both fist pumping into the roof of the car and crooning along with Bruce Dickinson about the sad fate of those who’d dare flout nature’s majesty.
11. Michael Nyman – The Other Side
In Oryx And Crake Atwood explored the possibilities and dangers (to say the least) of genetic engineering. 1997’s Gattaca remains the most elegant, grounded and human U.S. film to tread that same ground. Ethan Hawke’s resolve, Jude Law’s remove, a flawless script and some spot on production design (seriously, it’s like Apple got asked to make a mock-up of the “not-too-distant-future” in their own image) all make the movie a landmark of onscreen speculative fiction. But you might remember Michael Nyman’s score most of all which is fairly remarkable in that it manages to be so notable while perfectly complementing the movie, rather than obscuring it. Here we have probably the most memorable individual track and you might need some tissues whether you’re familiar with Gore Vidal’s best acting role or not.
12. Joni Mitchell – Woodstock
The concert was almost 50 years ago, but this song hasn’t lost a step. CSNY’s version was a bigger hit and powerful in its own right but I’ll take Mitchell’s version any day. Mitchell and Atwood might have well crossed paths at the open mics of the Bohemian Embassy cafe in Toronto back in the 60s. Regardless, their work still overlaps in its perceptiveness about what humanity stands to lose if we keep racing down some of our more wayward roads.