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 J.R.R. Tolkien 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 J.R.R. Tolkien author of The Hobbit & The Lord of The Rings. A novelist & father of modern high-fantasy Tolkien was also a noted philologist, language-creator, poet, and scholar. Buckle up and pull out your 20-sided dice, you’ve got a legend in the car.

1. Mariah Carey – Fantasy Oh, you don’t grin like an idiot when this song comes on??? Really? You’re the lone person on the planet completely unaffected by Mariah in her prime laid on top of a Tom Tom Club classic…sure. If you say you feel nothing at hearing this song you’re a goddamned liar. Sauron himself lacks the willpower necessary to resist turning the volume dial to the right when this comes on, especially if you’ve got some open road in front of you. Tolkien elevated high fantasy in the 20th century, now he gets to live it. (Feel free to go with the remix featuring ODB based on personal preference)

2. Blackalicious – Cliff Hanger Guy and girl meet, they get to talking, they decide to go questing for a lost scroll, guy wakes up drugged and has to do battle with a “herd of wild barracudas” before entering a lost city of gold. You know, classic story, we’ve heard it a million times. Definitely among the most singular narrative tracks ever recorded in hip-hop. Listening to it is like having a Saturday afternoon grindhouse picture projected in your head that you can only hope will actually be filmed one day. Epic high-fantasy storytelling and a poetic attention to rhythm & cadence? This is totally Tolkien’s jam. I’d also love to get his take on the coda featuring a sampled Stokely Carmichael speech in light of his depiction of the Haradrim people of the Southlands…

3. Animal Collective – #1 If I’m being honest I need to admit that I have no real experience of what it’s like to have Satan croon lullabies to you after you’ve downed a bottle of vintage absinthe…but I don’t imagine it’s too far from this. Do I show my age in saying the opening bit reminds me of that Wayne’s World dream sequence cutaway? Anyway, the production, the backing vocals, that voice. Things just got weird between you & John Ronald Reuel…

4. Blue Sky Black Death – Away With Me This one reminds me of Frodo’s second and final departure from the Shire at the end of the LOTR, which is really pretty sad even though it’s the best thing for him. It really brings home the fact that after everyone spends a thousand pages vanquishing an evil that threatens the known world and forging some of the most important relationships of their lives they all break up and go their separate ways. Said another way, this song is like a musical representation of the end of Time Bandits.

5. Don McLean – Babylon The arrangement and instrumentation on this one definitely puts me in mind of at least the idea of medieval/Shire folk tunes. Interesting then that McLean is more or less singing the 1st part of Psalm 137. Whatever the case it’s beautiful & sad & would have a made a worthy accompaniment to to the death of Boromir. Maybe not a first-pick driving song, but given your company, I have confidence.

6. Led Zeppelin – Ramble On This one’s almost too easy. Aside from being probably the second best song off of what’s probably Zeppelin’s second best album and having a title & theme perfect for a driving playlist, it also makes direct reference to Tolkien’s work and hey, I think he’d appreciate that. (And let’s be real, John Paul Jones probably sleeps with a copy of the The Silmarillion under his pillow). Gollum never gave up the search for hisprecious. Follow the song’s injunction and never give up on yours.

7. Cocteau Twins – Alice If the title alone doesn’t put the possibility of some Carroll-esque fantasy shenanigans in your mind then Elizabeth Fraser’s airy high soprano will. True, it’s not Enya, but I can definitely feel some Elvish vibes flowing through this tune. Who knows what can happen if you throw this on the tape deck? I’m only saying this because it will be so powerful, but you need to resist the urge to make a singalong attempt, it’ll just embarrass all parties.

8. Joanna Newsom – Sawdust and Diamonds Look at this album cover for one second and tell me you don’t think Tolkien would be into this. I mean, if you’ve ever plucked a harp, munched a turkey leg at a ren fair, or recited Gandalf’s You Shall Not Pass! speech into a mirror the chances are that you’re way into what Newsom was doing on this release. Here, in my fav cut from the album, she lays down a 10 minute epic of cascading strings and poetry-notebook/free-association lyrics that would be straight-up laughable if she were a less talented artist. As is, it’s…sublime.

9. Terry Riley – Eastern Man First thing, you might want to set Tolkien at ease by mentioning that this is not a tune about the warriors of Khand and their service in Sauron’s legions. Instead we’ve got meditative chant from a dope composer & a pillar of the minimalist school. Get in the right lane, toggle the cruise control, and abandon conversation…you won’t need it. P.S. Check out Terry Riley. There’s no way this dude wasn’t in the rolodex as a last minute replacement in case something (God forbid) happened to Ian McKellen and they needed someone to step up and play Gandalf on no notice.

10. Kid Cudi – Solo Dolo (Nightmare) This is Frodo’s anthem. Weighed by the burden of the ring-bearer he must leave the Shire and everything he’s ever known to head to the fires of Mount Doom in order to prevent the forces of darkness from devouring Middle Earth. He has the Fellowship with him, but like all good mythic heroes he must fight the final battle alone, grappling invisible with Gollum inside the sulfurous Crack of Doom. I don’t have nobody. When Frodo arrives above the lava pit he knows he must destroy the ring…but he can’t, he’s seduced by its power. Why must it feel so wrong when I try to do right. He finally makes it back home, but after dealing with even more drama realizes his quest has left him too broken to stay back in his old life, forcing him to board an Elvish ship to the Undying Lands, never to go home again. Cold cold world wasn’t fit for me…

11. Grouper – Heavy Water /I’d Rather Be Sleeping – I’ll be real with you and admit that the album cover forDragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, on which this song appears, scares the hell out of me. Like, I legitimately find it hard to look at. That said, I still get hyped when it pops up in iTunes or Spotify because, hey, I get to listen to this gem. The yearning, the beauty of Liz Harris’ voice, the fact that you can barely make out the lyrics and how that manages not to matter…yeah, this one makes the list.

12. Dan Davis – Neodammerung OK, true, most of your disdain for the Matrix Reloaded is totally justified. It was bloated, drunk on special effects, and featured that human rights violation of a scene that crosscut between a rave in Zion and Keanu Reeves getting busy. But I have to argue that all of its failures were redeemed by its followup The Matrix Revolutions which might be the closest thing we’ve had to a relevant American opera in the last 20 years. The incarnation of Smith, the journey to the machine city, the inevitable final battle, it all comes together to end epically with this.

 

wh_gandalf_nerdking1Wes 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 Kenzaburo Oe 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 Japanese novelist, social commentator, and Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe. In a career spanning more than 50 years Oe has returned again and again to topics such as the atomic bomb attacks on Japan in WWII, the modernization/democratization of Japanese society in the 20th century, human dignity,  and his relationship with his oldest son (the composer Hikari Oe). A major force in the revitalization of Japanese literature after the war Oe continues to be vital & prolific well into the 21st century.

1. Bonobo (Ft. Andreya Triana) – The Keeper [Banks Remix]  If Vincent D’Onofrio had just kept driving into the terrifying unknown he discovered in the desert during The Thirteenth Floor, I imagine this is the song we would’ve heard on the soundtrack. Somewhat random reference? Sure, but I think it’s plenty apt and I’m sticking with it. From Black Sands Remixed, the collaborative rework of Bonobo’s 2010 album that rivals, if not tops, the original. There’s a lot to choose from, but this has to be my favorite track on it. Some seriously soulful vocals, otherworldly electronic flourishes, and that beat…

2. Simple Minds – Theme From Great Cities EXT. – DAY Judd Nelson puts a cheerleader’s diamond stud in his ear, walks across a football field, and has his fingerless-leather-gloved fist freeze framed defiantly in the air. Thus ends The Breakfast Club…but not before Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) swells on the soundtrack, capping one of the most important films of the 80s with an iconic musical moment that’s still putting smiles on people’s faces to this day. Unfortunately, that’s the only tune by Simple Minds that very many people not from Scotland are aware of, which is a shame…because they did some great work. Among that is is this energetic/futuristic instrumental track, included here as a nod to the resilience and vitality of Hiroshima.

3. Serge Gainsbourg – Requiem Pour Un C… I’m not 100% clear on what Gainsbourg is talking about in this song, but a cursory Google Translate of the lyrics (combined with the fact that one of the words in the title is redacted on the official release) gives the general idea that it’s nothing too nice. That said, if you were allowed to pick a backing track to be played by a live band every time you set foot in a casino, I’d be hard pressed not to choose this one. As a noted lover of French literature I think Oe would appreciate this one. Especially given that (apocryphal?) story about him and an exchange with Yukio Mishima’s wife at a party back in the 60s (Google it).

4. New Flesh For Old – 186000 Miles There are many noteworthy moments in the 2001 turntablism documentary Scratch, but maybe the most beautiful is a short sequence cutting between DJ Krush laying traditional flute music over this track and the mesmerized reactions of the crowd listening to him do it. Here’s the stuff late-night driving classics are made of. Fun fact, Oe’s oldest son’s name, Hikari, is Japanese for “light” the approximate speed of which in miles per second is referenced in the track title.

5. The Game – Like Father, Like Son Among the most prominent of the core themes that Oe’s returned to throughout his career has been the relationship between father and son, specifically a son born with developmental disabilities, as his first child was. From the young father who struggled to decide between allowing his newborn to perish or agreeing to a procedure that would save the child (but leave him severely impaired) in A Personal Matter, to the meditations about the non-verbal young man who possesses incredible musical talent in The Silent Cry, Oe continually circles back to the singular relationship between boys and their fathers. The Game made something beautiful you can ride to while thinking about it.

6. William Walton – Two Pieces For Strings: Passacaglia: The Death Of Falstaff OK OK, true, he beat that “pan & zoom on a still photo” trick to death so savagely that Apple named it after him in iMovie, but damn if Ken Burns can’t make a compelling documentary about various pillars of American identity. For The War, his monumental work on America’s involvement in WWII, he chose this piece from William Walton’s score for the 1944 film adaptation of Henry V  as the main musical cue…and if you’ve seen the series you won’t forget it. Oe was a young boy during the conflict, lost his father to it, and has spent much of his career reflecting on the catastrophic bombings that brought it to an an end. He writes from what’s, in a sense, the opposite experience of that examined in Burns’ series, but read his Hiroshima Notes and the deeply sorrowful strains of this piece might come to mind.

7. King Midas Sound – Meltdown Isolation and emotional desperation never sounded so chill. This song isn’t particularly conducive to conversation, so maybe  it’s best saved for if you’re picking someone up from a red-eye flight, but it’ll work anytime. Laid back in the extreme.

8. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Performed by Sumi Jo & The Wiener Philharmoniker) And taking the award for the most mellifluous song bearing the most ominous title we have what’s probably Mozart’s most famous aria (The Vengeance of Hell Boils in my Heart). This on the list not only because it’s stupidly gorgeous, but also because Mozart was one of the most important composers in the musical development of Oe’s son Hikari (often played by Oe and his wife to help soothe the baby to sleep). To this day Oe tends to write in his living room while Hikari composes and listens to music nearby.

9. War – Galaxy “Hey guys, you know how that new movie Star Wars is smashing box office records and infiltrating pretty much every aspect of pop culture right now?…We should totally make an 8 minute horn-heavy track that capitalizes on that and includes lyrics about Superman, Batman, and being raised in ‘solar cane’”. At some point in 1977 one of the members of War dropped that suggestion in the studio and this funktastic glory was unleashed into the universe, praise be unto The Force. An eternal windows down, cruise control, stereo blasting, summer highway song.

10. Shoji Yamashiro – Kaneda Careful, it’s real easy to get carried away and start driving erratically when the chanting crescendos late in this song. My favorite cut from the classic soundtrack for the most influential anime film ever. As an author who’s spent so much of his career grappling with the A-bomb and its effects on Japanese bodies, minds & culture I think Oe will dig this one, a musical high point from one of the finest pieces of cinema to deal with those same themes, if only indirectly. Recorded by the Geinō Yamashirogumi collective. Play it LOUD.

11. Black Chow – Purple Smoke Playing this track on college radio never failed to get an enthusiastic call-in requesting info about the song. That was nice, but I never had more to offer than title & artist because hell if I know what’s going on here other than recognizing solid cruising music when I hear it. From the brilliant 5-year-anniversary Hyperdub retrospective (highly recommended…P.S. Black Chow = 2/3 of the members from King Midas Sound, included above).

12. Liam Clancy – The Valley of Knockanure War sucks. This is a universal truth, no matter how frighteningly often we seem to forget it. Oe, deeply affected by the war he experienced as a child and what it meant for his country in the decades after, certainly recognizes this. Here one of the best ballad singers in the history of the game tackle the sad legacy of unarmed young men gunned down during the Irish War of Independence. It’s a short track that doesn’t need to be a second longer; it accomplishes everything it needs to.

 

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 Margaret Atwood 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 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.

 

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

Working Writers Series: Wes Hazard

Welcome to our new many-part series where we chat with Working Writers who have not had success in the traditional sense. No major awards, no books in print, maybe only a few or no publications, but are still writing. Our goal is to give voice to a wide range of writers, to learn from their experiences, and to open a discussion about living the craft. If you fit the description and want to be involved, please send an email to us at TMRworkingwritersseries@gmail.com.

Our first interview is with poet Wes Hazard.

weshazard_pubshotFirst off, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a stand-up comic and poet born and based in the Boston area. I’ve been doing comedy for 8 years now, having performed regularly since I was undergraduate. I began writing poetry just after I graduated when I started taking various workshops at an extension school and some adult education centers. After two years away from a formal education program I began pursuing my MFA at Emerson with a concentration in poetry, graduating in the spring of 2011. In the time since I’ve continued to write poetry, do stand-up, and work a day job. Over the last year I began to attend and perform at a lot of poetry open mics & slams. It’s been a fantastic experience. I myself continue to read my work, rather than slam it, but I find that my performance background in comedy thoroughly informs my reading, my presentation, and my understanding of the audience. I’ve never been published in a journal or review (and in fact have only ever submitted anything twice) but just about an hour ago I sent the final draft of what will be my first chapbook, A Month of Sundays, to my designer for a debut this week at my first feature reading, at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge on the 20th. I’m very excited about the book, the show, and what I hope to do with my writing this year.

I’ve recently been having discussions with people who say that poetry must – must always – be heard from someone’s voice. What’s the difference of reading a poem in a journal, or collection, and seeing it performed as Slam?

Well first I’ll have to second your experience and say that this is a discussion I’ve had on and off with many people over the years in workshops, at readings, over beers, and at slams. Eventually you’re going to get into a “read vs heard” debate, though I hesitate to even call it that. I certainly don’t wish to feed into what I see as the false opposition that some people like to assert between poetry that’s read on the page and that which is performed on the stage. There is, however, clearly a difference between the two experiences. Reading a poem in a journal obviously gives you much more time to spend with the piece. You can go back, read it again, see the punctuation and line breaks, repeat it to yourself, look up words or references that stymie or interest you, etc. As such, the poet can, in general, afford to indulge themselves a bit more, maybe be more oblique, esoteric, languid. That’s certainly not to say that they should or that a performance poet can’t do just the same, but I think the format allows for it more. As an audience member at a slam, I definitely expect the poet to engage me immediately and make me feel something with each piece they deliver (there’s usually a 3 minute time limit at open mics and competitions so it can definitely be a tall order). They’ll only have that 3 minutes rather than basically unlimited time I can spend with a journal piece, but being there, in the flesh, tapping into the energy of the room, they also have a lot more in their toolbox. They can gesture, modulate their voice, look me in the eyes, employ silence, and use all sorts of other sound & vision queues to get me where their piece wants to go. You lose some things; you gain at least as much. At the end of the day though, words translate to sounds AND images. If I read a journal piece I still hear the words in my head, so I think there’s ALWAYS a voice involved, no matter what. I collect lit quotes as writing prompts or just nuggets for thought and something Octavio Paz said in his book “The Other Voice” comes to mind: “The Poem is a rhythmical verbal organism, an object made of words said and heard, not words written or read.”

What subjects/themes do your poems embrace, and do those bleed over into slams, or into your stand-up?

My writing tends to tackle whatever I’m feeling most urgently about, and I imagine most writers are much the same in that regard. Looking at my work over the years, and especially after having just spent 2 weeks really immersed in my stuff while prepping my chapbook, I’d say the main themes are technology, religion, their relationship to each other in the 21st century, and the comedy theater that basic human relationships provide on a never-ending basis. In my stand-up I definitely address these things, but not in a particularly self-conscious way. My stand-up is more autobiographical, more story based than my poetry tends to be, though my poetry is, I think, very true to my life as well. The biggest relationship between the two is that I try to do everything with humor; it’s just my default approach to life. Sure, not every poem I write is crafted to make a reader or listener laugh (and even if it is it’s not necessarily effective) but that’s where my heads at most of the time.

In terms of the craft of stand-up influencing my performance style when I’m reading my poetry: Oh yeah, big time. If nothing else stand-up will teach you a lot about respecting the audience’s attention and what you need to do in order to hold on to it. I mean, that’s obviously a requirement on the page as well, but performing live I think you need to appreciate that everybody has their own life and their own set of things they could be doing aside from coming out to see you. I don’t take that lightly, and strive to give people a show, in whatever scenario it is that I may be on stage. As I said, I don’t consider my readings on stage to be slam poetry in the strictest sense (though the line can get pretty fine at times). Slam is something I definitely want to begin doing in earnest, but for right now I think I’m a reader on stage who uses a stand-up skill set to enhance that. For instance, if I’m doing a longer poetry set and I have the time, I tend to inject a fair amount of patter between pieces that gets the audience engaged, sets up the work I’m reading, eases emotional transitions between poems, etc.

Now, you said you haven’t submitted very much to journals or reviews, has there been a reason for that?

In a word: laziness. Yes, that’s probably been it more than anything. I decided to enter an MFA program for many different reasons. But certainly not least among them was the structure that such a program would provide, an environment where new work was constantly demanded of you. That’s something which I’ve found is just built into standup because of the nature of the club & open mic circuit. You take a bit around for weeks and weeks to different mics, building on it, tightening it, etc until it gets to some semblance of “done” (though that’s debatable). Over that time other comics see it over and over and over again. The audience may change, but I tend to regard fellow comics as a core part the audience I’m performing for (they’re great arbiters of what’s funny & original). After a while, I certainly feel a pressure and a desire to move on from each bit and focus on the new stuff. That older, tested, material is still there, and still valued and can be used at any moment, but it’s not what I’m most excited about. In this way I find I’m really channeled into writing more and more stuff for stand-up, it just sort of happens. That’s what the MFA program provided me, that “it just sort of happens” of creating new poetic work. I fully realize that many people would scoff (perhaps rightly) at the notion of “needing” a formal (and damn expensive) academic program to kick them into writing poetry, and believe me, I understand that, but for me, where I consider myself a comic first, it was a good choice.

When I graduated from my program I found I no longer had that, and to be honest, my writing output significantly declined for the better part of a year. But then I started attending poetry mics & slams for the first time and I found that the live aspect, the talking with other performers, the act of being on a circuit, that gave my poetry writing what performing comedy constantly has always given my standup, an arena where new work (at a high level) is expected and necessary.

This getting into the groove of writing again is causing me to generate a lot more material, which in turn is giving me more ammo, so to speak, to go out and submit to journals and such. I enjoyed my MFA program, and I think I got quite a bit out of it, but since I’ve finished it I’ve had a lot more time to look at my creative and professional goals and dedicate more of time to getting serious about them. A large part of it is just getting older and realizing just how much you need to do if you’re going to get where you want to be. Going forward I’ve dedicated myself to working harder than I ever have to produce the kind of art that I want to produce (both in writing and comedy), more of a focus on submissions and publications is part of that.

After an MFA, I know it is rough to maintain a full time job while also finding time to write. How do you negotiate your time between work and writing?

Finding time to write can definitely be tough, and for me it’s been a bit of a discovery. I think the main thing is to make sure that writing is a part of your life, as a necessity. For me it’s been that way with stand-up since I started. I’m compelled to go to open mics and other comedy shows. I experience a definite sense of malaise if I go more than one night without getting a set in, as a result of that you sort of build your life (or what remains of it after a work day) around performing and working on your material. It’s not so much time management as fulfilling a need. In the past year I’ve started to feel the same way about poetry (again, it was a craft that I took up well after I’d been doing & loving comedy) and now I find myself sacrificing socializing & leisure activities in order to write to the same degree that I already do in order to tell jokes. Like anybody, I wouldn’t mind getting more sleep, but I’m pretty happy about the enhanced focus of the last year.

How long have you been working on A Month of Sundays, and can we expect to see and hear your old or new work, a mix?

I’ve doing the nitty-gritty work of putting together the actual chapbook (poem selection, ordering of pieces, talking to a designer, etc) for a month now, but the poems have been in progress for some time. This is my first publication after years of writing so I had a decent amount of material to choose from, and I chose to include the work that I was most proud of. Some of the pieces are more than 2 and half years old, one piece was finished 4 days ago. Going back to the beginning of our discussion, I chose to include the work that I find works best on the page and not necessarily my favorite stuff to drop at a mic.

You can follow Wes Hazard on twitter at @weshazard