Involuntary Memories (Part 1)

Per Hermann Ebbinghaus: “Often, even after years, mental states once present in consciousness return to it with apparent spontaneity and without any act of the will; that is, they are reproduced involuntarily. Here, also, in the majority of cases we at once recognize the returned mental state as one that has already been experienced; that is, we remember it. Under certain conditions, however, this accompanying consciousness is lacking, and we know only indirectly that the “now” must be identical with the “then”; yet we receive in this way a no less valid proof for its existence during the intervening time. As more exact observation teaches us, the occurrence of these involuntary reproductions is not an entirely random and accidental one. On the contrary they are brought about through the instrumentality of other immediately present mental images. Moreover, they occur in certain regular ways that, in general terms, are described under the so-called laws of association.”

Involuntary Memory #1 by April

In the spring of 2012 I found myself traveling down Highway 101 towards San Francisco whilst this song played on the radio. The day was bright, my rental car was clean (and had a yellow exterior, or am I making that up?), and I was simultaneously anxious and excited. I had come to California as part of a (fairly) big leap of faith. I wasn’t escaping a dust bowl. I wasn’t trying to make it “big” in Hollywood. I wasn’t aspiring to become a championship surfer. And yet, I was evolving. I was becoming the director of a summer camp.

For the past 2ish years I had been working as a counselor for a large medical giant that probably secretly owns the city of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. If they don’t own the city then they are probably building an entire system of underground tunnels so that they can build a city under the city where they can rule supreme after the apocalypse.

The pay was good, the co-workers were smart and fun, the clients were my cup of tea. The system however, was soul sucking. You were expected to see no less than 6 clients in an 8 hour day. There was a perpetual motion machine of paperwork. My office was windowless. There were constant conversations about chart reviews, treatment plans needing to be signed, and always the threat of visits from the state during which we would be required to present “good charts.” Good charts had nothing to do with the quality of therapy provided. Good charts meant that all of the paperwork was present and accounted for, signed legibly, and all treatment reviews fit into specific timelines. You could be a terrible therapist and have “good charts.” You could be a mediocre therapist and have “good charts.” I didn’t give a shit about “good charts.” I wanted to HELP PEOPLE.

In short, my soul was dying.

So, I left. I took a flying leap and decided that I would leave my full-time job with benefits so that I could work as a director of a therapeutic summer camp without really knowing what would happen when camp ended in August. Perhaps a few rousing games of capture the flag were all that were needed in order for my soul to climb out of the file cabinet where it was gasping for air underneath a pile of “good charts?”

“Somebody I Used to Know” appears repeatedly (and subconsciously) on playlists in my music library during various years and months. April 2016, there it is. March 2015, oh…hello! April 2018, you again? I am still not sick of it.

Each time I hear it I am immediately back there.

I am walking up and down hills to meet someone for breakfast who I didn’t know, but then immediately felt like I had always known as soon as I met them. I give them as much music as I possibly can because their ear holes might just be the same model as my ear holes, and I can’t believe that such a thing is even possible. Translation: We like the same types of music. Almost exactly. Why was this person not my neighbor growing up so that we could have shared a pair of tin can telephones and listened to oldies radio together?

I am meeting a woman who has also taken a leap of faith to become a camp director. She impresses me with her fierce and unwavering ability to enjoy food. Regardless of age, background, race, waist size, sexuality, or level of education I have known many women who live in fear of food. Fears of ordering too much, eating too much, eating in front of others….there are endless (and boring) combinations when it comes to the ways women have been conditioned to hate food (and themselves).  We order dinner. We order dessert. We order a second dessert! She is fearless and unafraid of caloric intake and I love her immediately (even though I almost barf as we travel back to our hotel later that night on BART).

I am meeting up with a high school friend who has just come from her clog dancing lessons. I haven’t seen her in decades. She is changed and the same all at once. But most importantly, she is (just like Paul Simon says) “still crazy after all these years.” While we are meeting for a drink, a solar eclipse takes place and everyone rushes outside to see the slivers of light reflected onto the sidewalk. It is May 20th, 2012 (thank you Google Gods for allowing me to pin down the date) and I am alive!

That summer, my first summer running a camp, one of my campers (who is quite musically adept) “hates” “Somebody I Used to Know.” He sings songs constantly. He sings “Payphone” by Maroon 5 while we’re swimming in the pool. He drums on his chest to “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen while we eat lunch. He also brings in a photo-shopped picture of himself with a weed wacker, but that’s really neither here nor there, (although it is one of the highlights of the summer). But, whenever we hear “Somebody I Used to Know,” he says, “Ugh! I hate this song.” I ask and ask, but he can never explain why. Now, 6 years later I still don’t get it. It’s a really good song. Number 1 in fact, for the year 2012. It was a song that was playing the year my soul took Liz Phair’s advice and went “west (young man).” It was playing as my old therapy job became a job “that I used to know” and I moved into a more enjoyable phase of my working life. It keeps showing up on my playlists because it is a damn good song and I am still not tired of it. That’s when you know you’ve written a true pop hit. When it plays over, and over, and over, and people still love it just the same as the first time they heard it.

In short: Thank you Gotye!

P.S. How many takes were needed in order for you to sing “have your friends collect your records and then change your number” in such a rhythmically perfect way? Also, if people tell you that you’re just a Peter Gabriel or Sting ripoff don’t pay them any mind. They’re just jealous that you can shout-sing with such genuine emotion.


Involuntary Memory #2 by Jen

When my husband suddenly left me, I started obsessively listening to Sufjan Stevens’ “Come on Feel the Illinois.” I’m not sure why it resonated with me at that particular moment in time, but it hit the spot, musically. I particularly remember driving along the North Carolina coast, blaring “Chicago,” with my kids in car seats in the back with the windows down. They were too young to really see my tears for what they were, and I mumble-cry-sang the lyrics.

Two phrases from “Chicago” became mantras for me over the next two years, and I moved from “I made a lot of mistakes,” to the zen-koan-like “All things go,” as I navigated joint custody, a solo budget, and the infinite loneliness of losing my spouse.
Almost three years to the day after my husband left I took a solo trip to Denmark. It was my first time abroad and the longest I’d ever been away from my children. I stayed in a bunk in the hold of a shipping yacht on the harbor in Copenhagen. I crawled into the belly of the ship and found two nordic hipsters huddled around a wood stove. They were listening to “Come on Feel the Illinois.” It might have been the jet lag or the hash, but I felt like the credits were rolling on the story of my divorce and “Chicago” was the hopeful theme leading us to believe everything might just work out in the end for our fearless heroine.


5 Songs Loved by Carl: From Movies He’s Never Seen

Rock ‘n’ roll as we know it might not even exist if not for the movies. That may be an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that rock’s first crossover success came via Hollywood. When the film The Blackboard Jungle appeared in 1955, its opening credits sequence propelled a novelty fox trot called “Rock Around The Clock” to the top of the pops, making the seemingly unlikely figures of Bill Haley and his Comets the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll stars. The ongoing sheet-shakin’ between rock and film has been consummated again and again over the ensuing decades, from Jailhouse Rock through A Hard Day’s Night, The Monkees in Head, The Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and the fictional Oneders in That Thing You Do!, plus whatever more recent iterations have occurred since I grew too old to keep up with what you crazy kids are up to. Just stay off of my lawn already.

The sheer abundance of great rock ‘n’ pop tracks that have appeared in movies makes the prospect of selecting my all-time Top 5 movie songs too daunting to consider. Honestly, I doubt I could even narrow down a list of my five favorite Beatles movie songs, and I’d still need room for at least two tracks from The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend, The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song (Theme From ‘Head’),” Little Richard‘s title tune from The Girl Can’t Help It, the museum outings montage version of Lulu‘s “To Sir, With Love,” and Paul McCartney and Wings‘ license to thrill “Live And Let Die.” Among others. Among a lot of others! “Light Of Day” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, fercryinoutloud!

So, as an alternative, I figured I’d list five great movie songs from films I either didn’t really like or have never actually seen. That narrows things down to a more manageable field. By arbitrarily discarding any song used as a film’s title tune–buh-bye “Don’t Make Waves” by The Byrds and “They Ran For Their Lives” by The Knickerbockers–I came up with a quintet of popcorn-ready tracks that mean more to me than the films that delivered ’em. Dim the room. Kill your phones. And keep your trap shut until the closing credits roll. Lights! Camera! GUITARS!!

THE CRAWLING KINGSNAKES: “Philadelphia Baby” (from Porky’s Revenge)

The only Porky’s film I ever saw in its entirety was the first one, and I did not care for it. I mean, c’mon–it’s not like it was The Hollywood Knights or something. But one of its sequels, 1985’s Porky’s Revenge, had a killer soundtrack, consisting mostly of oldies covered by acts like Jeff Beck, Willie Nelson, Clarence Clemons, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Dave Edmunds, plus Carl Perkins performing a new version of his own “Blue Suede Shoes” with two out of three Stray Cats. The soundtrack also includes George Harrison‘s otherwise-unavailable take on Bob Dylan‘s “I Don’t Want To Do It,” and Edmunds (who was in charge of the soundtrack) turns in an incredible original called “High School Nights.” But the highlight is this cover of Charlie Rich‘s “Philadelphia Baby” by The Crawling Kingsnakes. Who da Kingsnakes? None other than Robert Plant, with Edmunds, Paul Martinez, and Phil Collins. That’s a pretty impressive line-up for a no-account flick like Porky’s Revenge.

THE FOUR TOPS: “Are You Man Enough” (from Shaft In Africa)

Another sequel. I don’t remember whether or not I’ve ever seen the original Shaft, but I certainly knew Isaac Hayes‘ title theme song. I did see some episodes of the TV series that eventually followed. And everybody knew that Richard Roundtree was badass in the role of the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man. 1973’s Shaft In Africa brought “Are You Man Enough” to AM radio, and it was my de facto introduction to The Four Tops. I retroactively discovered the group’s fantastic ’60s catalog, but it all started for me with this song from Shaft In Africa. Can you dig it?

HERMAN’S HERMITS: “A Must To Avoid” (from Hold On!)

When I think of rock ‘n’ roll movies, I don’t think of concert films or documentaries. I think of scripted flicks with some excuse for a plot (however slight), and pop idols singin’ their songs. I primarily think of star vehicles, like Sonny & Cher in Good Times or Bloodstone in Train Ride To Hollywood. As a kid growing up in the ’60s, I only saw two such films: the magnificent A Hard Day’s Night and the significantly less-great Hold On!, the latter starring Herman’s Hermits. I’m sure I liked Hold On! just fine when I was six or whatever; I tried to watch it as an adult, but could not get through it. On the other hand, the soundtrack LP has its moments, particularly this rousing pop put-down, a song spirited enough that my power pop Fave Raves The Flashcubes used to include it in their live sets circa ’78 or so.

DAVID JOHANSEN & ROBIN JOHNSON: “Flowers In The City” (from Times Square)

1980’s Robert Stigwood-produced Times Square was supposed to do for new wave music what Stigwood’s earlier success with Saturday Night Fever did for dat ole debbil disco: sell records, inspire pop culture, and generate a free flow of cold, hard cash. It did not do that. The few minutes of the film I’ve managed to catch in passing on TV support the prevailing opinion that Times Square was stuffy and overly serious in its tone. I think I’d still like to see it some day, and see what I think of it. The 2-LP soundtrack album is very good, comprised mostly of familiar gems by The Ramones,

Suzi Quatro, Talking Heads, Roxy Music, The Pretenders, Joe Jackson, XTC, et al., all of which were available elsewhere, but which made an attractive purchase when bundled together in one pretty package. “Flowers In The City,” a duet between former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and Times Square co-star Robin Johnson, is unique to the film’s soundtrack, and it’s terrific. It was released at the peak of my interest in Johansen, and it’s as great as nearly anything on his first two solo albums, and better than anything he did after that.

PAUL McCARTNEY: “Not Such A Bad Boy” (from Give My Regards To Broad Street)

Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street may get a worse rap than it really deserves. It’s not bad, but it’s not in any way special, either. Well, let’s amend that a bit–even by itself, the presence of McCartney does make it sorta special. I should add this to the list of movies I oughtta watch again and re-assess. The soundtrack is mostly very nice, including a remake of “Ballroom Dancing” and the hit single “No More Lonely Nights.” The album approaches the transcendental with two of McCartney’s best tracks of the ’80s–“No Values” and “Not Such A Bad Boy”–which are not on any other album. Both tracks feature McCartney playing with an ace combo of Ringo Starr, Chris Spedding, and Porky’s Revenge wunderkind Dave Edmunds, and they’re just as solid as anything Sir Paul ever did after leaving the act you’ve known for all these years. In particular, “Not Such A Bad Boy” is such a confident rockin’ pop number, oozing with swagger and amiable panache. It’s aching for rediscovery as one of McCartney’s best.

Okay, the house lights are on. Clean up your concession-stand debris and head for the parking lot. And let’s pop in a rock ‘n’ roll movie soundtrack to accompany our drive home.

If you wanna read some half-baked notions of how I would have (in theory) slapped together a rock ‘n’ roll movie when I was younger, check out my proposed Bay City Rollers movie, or my quarter-baked fantasy of an ’80s update of The Girl Can’t Help It starring Bo Derek (the latter also featuring bonus discussion of a Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart TV series and a star vehicle for Ireland’s phenomenal pop combo The Undertones. I could rule the world if I had money. And ambition. And talent.


Music that Scares Me

  1. “I Killed Myself But I Didn’t Die”

I have no difficulty recalling the first time I heard “I Killed Myself But I Didn’t Die.” I was seeing Ezra Furman and the Harpoons live for the second time. I had devoured and continually revisited “Inside the Human Body” the year before and now “Mysterious Power” had recently been released and in the weeks leading up to the show I had religiously listened to (and was in love with) it as well. The crowd was small, my friend and I were at the front, and Ezra was sloppy drunk.

As the band launched into “IKMBIDD” I was floored (1) because it was instantly delicious to my ears and (2) because despite having “MP” I was unfamiliar with the song. You see, I had downloaded “MP” (from possibly….no very likely, less than legitimate sources online) and for some reason “IKMBIDD” had been omitted. As a result, the song was unknown to me, until that moment.

As the lyrics to this song fell out of Ezra’s drunken mouth I felt simultaneously thrilled and sickened. The arrangement, lyrics, and instrumentation were just right. So catchy! Punk/pop cleverness! A bassline fit for Kim Deal.  But “IKMBIDD” is not a subtle song. In the midst of my enjoyment I simultaneously felt sourness in my stomach. Here was a song about someone trying to end their life (albeit unsuccessfully) which covered both the reasons leading up to the decision, as well as the ramifications afterwards. In that moment I felt strongly that this song was not fictional. I was scared.

At that time I did not know Ezra but I already believed them to be extremely talented. It had been a very very long time since I had fallen so hard for an album or a band (especially something so current). Only two albums in, and already I knew that this was someone who (even if they didn’t know it, or acted like they didn’t know it, or knew it, but were afraid to know it) had the capacity to offer valuable contributions to music (and/or any other realm of their choosing). The idea that a person like this would take the option of opting out of life in order to avoid suffering resulted in immediate physical distress for me and a clench of the heart.

My brother-in-law is a person who can be described as charismatic, funny, clever, frustrating, smart, seemingly selfish, and continuously struggling (among other things). He also happens to live with bipolar disorder. From his mid-twenties to present he has oscillated daily/weekly/monthly/yearly between living and wanting not to live in order to avoid suffering. It is painful to watch, and I suspect a million more times painful to live it.

“IKMBIDD” is seriously one amazing pop song because it tells the story of a life experience that most of us would agree is up there as far as human trauma/suffering is concerned and yet arrives in your earholes with the most palatable of presentations. If/when Brian Wilson hears it I like to think he will be proud as he is another master of this technique.

I simultaneously adore and fear “IKMIDD”. It scared me the night I first heard it and I sometimes can’t listen to it present day. I’m so glad that my brother-in-law and Ezra are both alive. Although my contact with both of them is less frequent (for different/various reasons) than I would prefer I am lucky to know them both. Suicide is scary and it causes a ripple effect of pain and trauma. If you’re feeling like it is an option, please talk to someone and/or get help.

2. Taylor Swift song lyrics

I don’t have kids. But if I did and one of them idolized Taylor Swift I think I might feel some shivers of terror. Please, don’t get me wrong. I have the album “1989.” I listen to the songs and sing along. I turn the volume up. I’ve been known to wag my finger along sassily in the direction of no one in particular during “Bad Blood.” It’s also safe to say that I laugh out loud out with joy when her new song “Look What You Made Me Do” reveals itself suddenly from the speakers in my car.


From “Blank Check”:

Find out what you want

Be that girl for a month

Wait the worst is yet to come, oh no

Screaming, crying, perfect storm


I can make all the tables turn

Rose gardens filled with thorns

Keep you second guessing like

“Oh my God, who is she?”

I get drunk on jealousy

But you’ll come back each time you leave

‘Cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream

Because I write content for this blog for fun and because I don’t have a spare bajillion dollars laying around I’m sort of unable to fulfill one of my recent fantasies that involves me (1) going back to school where I (2) work on a Ph.D and (3) write a dissertation that extrapolates on the ways in which Taylor’s Swift’s lyrics match up with the diagnostic criteria for (pick one, pick any) personality disorder while (4) simultaneously working in some feminist theory and a splash of the history of how pop music lyrics are mirrors of societal sentiment in any given time period. But, that doesn’t mean that I can’t tell you dear reader that the lyrics for “Blank Check” are essentially a checklist for Borderline Personality Disorder!!! This scares me.

Taylor’s newest song “Look What You Made Me Do” is equally as terrifying for it’s catchy as fuck chorus that vapidly (and earwormingly) repeats the title of the song over and over again. Any Intro to Psych student can tell you, this is projection. You can also call it by another name; cognitive distortion. These lenses, well I think we can generally agree that they cause a bit of suffering for all parties involved.

Pop music and mixed/concerning messages have forever held close hands. So I’m not sure why Taylor’s content is more concerning to me than say “Johnny Get Angry,” or “Sea of Love” or “One More Night,” or any given blues song that includes messages about violence directed towards women. It might be that I give older music a pass and think things like “Well in the 50s misogyny was rampant,” or “Yes, sometimes it seems like Phil Collins might have had some PFA worthy thoughts or actions but….” etc.

I guess what scares me about these Taylor Swift lyrics is that they seem to carry the same old twisted up themes but are being presented in what feels like a very deliberate (this is our marketing strategy and we are marketing personality disorder) way. Also, is this what young people are going to think feminism sounds like? Is a tenet of feminism the right to manipulate, control, and degrade our partners? Is it wrong to hope for more than the next generation thinking being a “nightmare dressed like a daydream” is something to aspire to? Is the goal of being intimate with someone really to get “drunk on jealousy” and keep them “second guessing”?

There is no doubt, love is tricky, difficult, confusing etc. Relationships even more so. But when I imagine the little people who are playing “Blank Check” on repeat and possibly mixing those messages into their own preadolescent or adolescent fantasies/realities I feel scared. I’m generally opposed to the type of logic which presupposes that artists or athletes should be held to a certain set of expectations due to being possible role models for children. Yet at the same I guess I just wish that we might be evolving in a different direction by this point in time.

Taylor, I don’t mean to scapegoat you. It feels like overall things are quite scary in our country these days and maybe it’s just easy for me to focus on you. Additionally I recognize my predilection to seek solace through music, so you’re sort of getting caught up in the crossfires of that need here. Your lawsuit against that guy who groped you was heroic. But, can you do me a favor and try to make your next hit song a little less scary?

3. “Mad Lucas” by The Breeders

In the spring of 1993 I have a very distinct memory of going to Camelot music with a person who at that time was a fairly new friend, but who is now a long-time friend, in search of new music. We had traveled about 30 minutes away from the cornfields that surrounded our neighborhoods and towards our local mall which was located in “the city” (as everyone liked, and I suppose still likes) to call it.

This was 9th grade. We were devoid of driver’s licenses and cars. Whichever parent (likely my Mom) transported us has been erased from my memory. What is still clear as day are the display racks at Camelot. Racks and racks of glossy, sealed, hot(ish) off the presses compact discs. We stood in front them, serious, studying, considering. We had money, but not much. Enough for each of us to buy an album. That meant dropping close to, if not more than, $20 each.

I chose the album “Live Through This” by Hole. She went with “Last Splash” by The Breeders. We knew that each of these albums contained at least one or two good tracks thanks to MTV, “Alternative” radio, and that bald headed music nerd turned everyone’s hero Matt Pinfield.

Here’s where (we thought) things moved from 90s and mundane to scary. Back at her house we followed our typical routine. Go immediately downstairs to her room in the basement, light some incense, listen to our newly purchased albums, lay on her waterbed, and talk about 120 Minutes, boys, and make up strange nuanced inside jokes that we (and only we) thought were genius! Hilarious! Hysterical!

Time passes so quickly when you’re talking about absolutely nothing but everything you’re talking about means absolutely everything. We had just finished enjoying the repetitively catchy “I Just Wanna Get Along” when suddenly there were strange noises coming out of her speakers. Spooky, fuzzy, buzzy, what the? sounds.  Like someone was, in your room hiding in your closet or under your bed and they planned on murdering you, while singing, sounds. We stopped talking. I think I shouted “Skip it! Skip it!” She bolted upright, stood wide eyed, and immediately skipped the track. From that point on we had a rule. Never, ever, listen to “Mad Lucas.” It was too scary.

I listened to “Mad Lucas” multiple times recently as part of prepping to write this piece. Certainly the song is unusual. But scary? In hindsight, I’m not so sure why we got so freaked out. Except that, when you’re in 9th grade and you finally find a friend who is an equal match when it comes to levels of silliness and music obsession sometimes it is fun to have inside jokes. Lots of them. Even really nuanced jokes about “having” to skip a particular track on “Last Splash.” It felt good to share clothing, music, notes in class, knowing looks across a room, and also fear. The bright side to this story is that luckily (for us) we got into “Last Splash” before this same friend moved that thrift store chair, which we were convinced someone had died in, into her room. “Mad Lucas” and a haunted thrift store chair would have been simply too much for us. Boo!


The band FEAR. Where to start?

Do they confuse me? Yes!

Do I have anxieties about openly confessing my enjoyment of their music? Yes!

Do they scare me? Yes!

I got into FEAR after watching the Dave Grohl after school special “Sound City.” “The Record” may actually be one of the few punk albums that was produced and produced well (IMO).

Here’s what I want to believe. I want to believe that the homophobic and sexist lyrics on “The Record” are high level satire. I also want to believe that the FEAR performances featured in “The Decline of Western Civilization” are satirical. If this is the case, if FEAR was poking fun at some of the short sighted, adolescent, angry, and limited thinking which existed (and I’m sure still exists somewhere) in the punk community then they are the most amazing band ever to exist. I want to believe that their provocations and violence towards people in the crowd as featured in TDOWC is all tongue in cheek. Because, well, if it’s not, then I’m not exactly sure how I feel about FEAR.

“The Record” was re-released in 2012 and content and lyrics were edited in an attempt to erase the distasteful stuff. No one liked it. I haven’t even given it a try. The original album is just so nasty and good. Why would you mess with such a good thing?

In short, when it comes to FEAR I am in a never ending slam dance with myself. I lean into the satire idea because it comforts me from believing that I gain enjoyment listening to Lee Ving shout “I just wanna cum in your face! I don’t care if you’re dead” (shuddering as I type up those lyrics).

It has to be satire. Please, please let it be. Because otherwise, it really scares me.

5. Metallica + Driving

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person from my small town who remembers the Metallica death legend. Occasionally, when I mention it to others I start to get a nagging feeling that I might be making it up. I suppose I should probably have talked to some other people from back home and fact checked this story, but since only a small handful of people will probably end up reading it I feel pretty much in the clear.

When you live in the country people tend to love their cars. They also tend to love to drive their cars fast. At night. On windy backroads. This results in accidents. When I was in middle and high school it seemed that they happened annually. Often they were minor but occasionally they were serious, and sadly, at times, fatal.

And so this brings us to the legend of Metallica. After several bad accidents that took place from the late 80s to early 90s rumors began to spread. Remember that time when Ozzy showed up at so and so’s door with blood dripping down his face in the middle of the night and asked her to call 911? They were listening Metallica that night….just before the crash. See that broken and bent telephone poll? That’s where so and so totaled their car. I heard they were listening to Metallica…..just before they crashed.

I never learned if there might be a specific album or song by Metallica that should be avoided at all costs if you are either driving, or being transported in, a vehicle. Hindsight is 20/20 and something tells me that teenagers+cars+loud music+being out late at night+a strong possibility of alcohol or other substances possibly being in the mix will inevitably result in car accidents. But logic does not always prevail. Only within recent years have I felt that it  actually might be safe to listen to Metallica while driving. It isn’t easy to shake a legend.

Happy Halloween!



(Early) Summer Crushes: Part III


The final installment of our (Early) Summer Crushes series

Fun Fact: These two writers have known one another since infancy


(1) I’m going to be sneaky here and use music as an excuse to talk about a movie. Do you ever do a thing where you start watching a movie and it immediately begins to resonate with you in a way which causes you to cry approximately every 15 minutes for the duration of the film? If yes, then you’ll understand when I tell you this is how I felt throughout “20th Century Women.” This is a movie, made by a man, about women, in the most respectful, loving, and feminist way, that I was moved to tears and swooning simultaneously. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll just drop some key terms; Zoe Moss, clitoral stimulation, and “I think I’m a feminist” (as said by the most adorable teenaged actor who plays the male lead role). I’m now on the fast track to wanting to do more research on Roger Neill who did all of the instrumental/incidental music for this movie (do you like how I brought things back around to musc?).



(2) I have been listening to this album/particular songs from this album every day for the past 1-2 weeks. For me, this album is a perfect example of needing to hear music at the right place and/or time. I tried to listen to it when it first came out and for some reason I found it inaccessible. When I reflect on that now it makes me want to build a time machine just so that I could go back and give myself a good shaking. Sarah Assbring is the sole member of this group. Yes, go back and read that sentence again. One woman, who is clearly a genius, is behind this music. The whole album is brilliant, and I highly recommend listening to “Endless Ways” and “Kouign-Amman.” But, someone has kindly put the entire up on YouTube, so you should just listen to the whole thing.


(3) Here’s how I got into Shriekback. I was on a roadtrip and we had Sirius radio. As the trip progressed my significant other and I were both in agreement that the station that played the most consistently good (or bare minimum interesting) music was “1st Wave” where for some reason all of the disc jockeys have Australian or British accents (or pretend to). Anyway, on the last day of our trip one of the djs played this song and shared that he felt it was a precursor to bands like “White Zombie.” Now, I’ve never been into “White Zombie” but I am into Shriekback. Especially after seeing this clip. If there was a class that all aspiring performers would be required to pass before first taking the stage, I feel confident that there would be content on the final exam connected to this Shriekback performance.  Also, on the recorded version, take note of the woman who sings the super high part in the background. Shriekback created some highly ambitious pop music and I dig them. Fun fact: The director Michael Mann is also a fan of this band and used their music in Miami Vice and the truly amazing movie “Manhunter.”


(4) I got into Nitzer Ebb vis-a-vis Shriekback. As in, I kept coming up with excuses to talk to my significant other about Shriekback whenever it seemed like it wouldn’t be too much of a conversational stretch. When that didn’t work I would just say things like, “Can I talk to you about Shriekback now?” As part of my fervor I borrowed a Goth music box set from the library (because there was a Shriekback song on one of the discs) and subsequently said, “I thought I was into goth music, but maybe not.” To which my SO replied, “I think you might actually be into industrial music.” A quick Wikipedia search later on Industrial Music and I was doing a swan dive into the world of Nitzer Ebb.

As you listen to “Join the Chant” please consider this; being that music is so much about organizing and arranging sounds, why don’t more artists work human noises (that aren’t words) into their songs? I’m pretty seriously obsessed with that yelp/cry/moan thing they do in this song and I want more of it. Also, how do you record something like this? As in, what the bejeezus are you doing in the studio to get yourself to be able to make that sound on cue in order for it be recorded? I guess these are all secret Nitzer Ebb mysteries to which I may never find an answer.


(5) I might be stretching the parameters of this “Summer Crush” prompt with this one for a couple of reasons. (1) I’ve been really into listening to these talks for over a year now which certainly pushes the limits of the definition of the word crush, and (2) while these talks do include some chanting (usually at the start), they aren’t really musical in nature. But, I. Don’t. Care.

My favorite speaker on this site is Ajahn Amaro because he’s so amusing/down-to-earth/relatable/smart/entertaining/insightful/calming. Thus far I pretty much only listen to the posts which feature Ajahn Amaro. I’m fairly certain I’ve listened to every one of his talks from 2016 and thus far I’m really trying to pace myself with the newly posted 2017 talks. I will leave “Kindness to Yourself” here for you, because I hope you will find it accessible (even if you aren’t a Buddhist). Before you immediately write it off as some modern day mindfulness gobbledy goop, I would encourage you to take a listen with an open mind. You might just find it helpful, in the simplest way possible.


Bleachers: There’s a couple of bands that are my go-to’s in the summer – you know, the ones you just have to blast in the car with the windows rolled down on the highway, driving … exactly the speed limit. Probably one of my top summer bands is Bleachers. I discovered them a couple summers ago when I was living in coastal South Carolina and had long commutes everywhere I needed to go. I think I listened to their first album nonstop for the entire summer. It checks a lot of boxes for me – it’s got a kind of nostalgic 80s feel to it, it’s anthemic and it’s real music, not this shit that passes as music these days. And their new album just dropped a couple days ago so it looks like I’ve got another summer of Bleachers blasting in the car to look forward to. 

BetaPlay: This little band makes my heart happy. It’s another of my summer go-tos. And they are coming to Virginia Beach in July with Toad the Wet Sprocket, and I am definitely going to be there. (Also, who else didn’t know that Toad the Wet Sprocket was still a thing?) 

My David Bowie coloring book: Look, I don’t know what the rules are for this Summer Crush list, but I feel like my newly acquired Bowie coloring book has to be on it. There are no rules in rock ’n’ roll anyway, right? My aunt sent me this coloring book, and it’s everything. Not only does it have iconic Bowie pictures to color, but it also includes a bunch of facts and stories. And I can use my David Bowie calendar to make sure I’m coloring all of his outfits correctly (because coloring Bowie all willy-nilly seems sacrilegious somehow).


Graveyard Whistling: The Old 97’s (I wrote about them once, remember?) put out a new album a couple months ago, and once again, they have not let me down. Of particular note, the song “She Hates Everybody.” A misanthrope love song? Be still, my beating heart. 

The Handmaid’s Tale: OK, OK, it’s not exactly music-centric, but this show uses music in the best way possible. I don’t know who’s scoring this thing, but it’s fantastic. There’s not a ton of music, but that’s why the musical moments really resonate. And the music really says something about the characters and also serve as a reminder that at one time these characters had normal lives just like us and they listened to normal music just like us. (New episodes Wednesdays on Hulu – you need to be watching this).

Our writer’s (Early) Summer Crushes Part II

A continuation of last week’s post.

Things we’re crushing on at the start of summer 2017.




Donna Summer – Romeo (Live) – This performance must be part of the argument for why Donna Summer is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  Holy shit!  Wait for it to kick in after the malt shop intro.  Hopefully this backing band was at least invited to the Rn’R Hall of Fame dinner…


I used to think that Iggy Pop was gaming David Bowie.  I’m beginning to accept that it was likely the other way around. 


Released in 1987. You could release this song today and it would make 40 year old men with Trans Am CD collections wet across the globe.


Midnight Oil – Read About It – Live 1985 – So, Peter Garrett is basically an Australian Freddie Mercury fueled by social justice!  Resist!


Sometimes life is tough.  Sometimes we find ourselves alone and heading into battle with only one song to spark a sense of hope and reassurance.  For me, this has been one of those songs in recent months.


Dan B

  1. Music for the Boys-The Suburbs

2. Them Changes-Thundercat

3. Candy-O-The Cars

4. Girl U Want-(Devo cover) by Soundgarden

5. Rockit-Herbie Hancock

Some of our writers reveal their (Early) Summer Crushes


Summer is a time for falling in love (or so we’ve been told via music, movies, and books). Here at LL2RNR we like to be proactive, and so we’re prepping early for summer love by compiling some lists of our writer’s Top 5 (Early) Summer Crushes. This is Part 1 of a 2, or (if we’re really lucky) 3 part series.

Please enjoy!


“Under the Sound of Rain” by Sinn Sisamouth: I first saw the excellent documentary film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock ‘n Roll last winter, but this song is particularly suited to late spring in New York. Whether it’s an all-day soaking that covers the streets in fallen flower petals, or a warm night fog that blurs the tops of the buildings, the precipitation pairs perfectly with these languid saxophones and soft, heartsick vocals. It’s the blues, but a particularly luxurious variety thereof.

“Ring the Alarm” by Tenor Saw: When I was little, summertime meant long trips in the back of my mom’s car. The music varied, but quite often, it was one of her Bob Marley albums—Survival, Uprising, or one of the greatest-hits collections. So, inevitably, a link formed in my mind between reggae music and warm weather. Lately, this song has taken up serious residence my head. That gorgeous, rich voice, the slinky, slightly haunting melody, and the undeniable beat are just begging for hot nights, cold drinks, and serious dancing.

“Shut Up Kiss Me” by Angel Olsen: This one taps into a whole range of teen-girl fantasies. It’s the kind of thing you blast in your best friend’s car on the way to Dairy Queen, when it stays light until ten o’clock. Or maybe it comes on at a party and you dance in the corner, trying to catch the eye of any cute boy who might be watching, but also sort of hoping that nobody’s watching, because you’re not sure you’re ready to actually be kissed like that yet. It’s walking around the mall, chewing sour bubble-gum as ostentatiously as possible. As for what this has to do with me, well… I never did any of that stuff in high school, but when I listen to this song, I can imagine what it would have felt like if I had.

“On Lankershim” by Foxygen: From its opening lines, which echo Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel”, to its swooning, Hollywood-tragic finale, this song taps into the kind of mythic Americana that I will probably always be drawn to. Dreams of neon and cacti and the glow of gas stations, of hanging around scrubby bars with friends after a gig, trying to stay sober enough to beat the boys at pool… I mean, look, it’s an old story that’s been told in countless ways, but right now, this song is telling it the way I want to hear it.

“U.S. Gay” by Sons of An Illustrious Father: This was written in response to last year’s massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, but given the state of things, it’s an anthem we’re going to need for a while. This song, and the accompanying video, makes the crucial point that for some of us, celebrating who we truly are is a radical act in the current climate. So let’s do it—fight back the darkness with love and glitter and loud music. They’ll never know what hit them.


(“So my Summer Top 5 are my go-to albums for summer activities.”)

Funny Farm by King Kong

We all have that one album we reach for to acknowledge that summer is finally here. For me, it is the second album by King Kong. This one tackles tough topics like farm life, tornadoes, being stranded in the desert or even on a desert island. It also includes a pretty sweet cover of Laid Back’s “White Horse.”

Whammy by the B-52s

Traffic sucks. This album doesn’t. I pretty much ignored this one until recently which is my loss as it’s great. Analog Drum machines, angular guitars, dancehouse horns, and B-52 pop hooks.

Danzig by Danzig

Maybe it’s kind of a “I fought the lawn and Danzig won!” anthem or maybe it’s Rick Rubin’s production that cuts through the sound of the lawnmower. Whatever it is, it gets the job done. Every time.

Phantom of Liberty by Camera

This album gets me going. It’s got all the stuff I love about Neu!-inspired krautrock with fuller production and less of the trying passages. Driving “Motorik” drum beats, repeative riffs, and no fussy singing to get in the way.

Lifestyles of the Laptop Café by The Other People Place

This is album is best enjoyed on a long road trip in the middle of a humid night with the windows down. 808 + 88° = night rider.


  1. A Seat at the Table by Solange
  2. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
  3. This song and video >>>>>
  4. “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan
  5. Wilco performance at Beacon Theater, NYC on March 18. My mind keeps returning. March is always a tough month. Cold, wet, rain, snow, gray plus an overwhelming desire to see some sun and foliage asap. The set was beautiful and immediately put my mind at ease. Went with a good friend and we agreed that it was the antidote to everything that is terrible right now (surely you know what I’m talking about). It also shined a light on everything that’s lovely (having a child is perhaps top of that list). Jeff Tweedy said it well that night: “Save your pessimism for better times.”

    My real life photo. Not bad for a crowd shot.

Life Changing Events in LL2RNR History


If there was a sport that consisted of humans versus cassette decks, and I was a world famous competitor in said sport, the fans would fondly refer to me as, The Destroyer. You remember your most favorite stuffed animal or blankie? Remember how you slept with it, carried it everywhere, dropped it on the ground, dragged it around the house, and loved it until it lost it’s shape, some eyes (if it had eyes) and the stitching came apart? That’s how I was….but with cassette decks. Ok, ok, I didn’t sleep with them or take them everywhere with me. But, I did love them. In fact, I loved them so hard that as a child I earned a reputation in my family. A bad reputation. For breaking them. Repeatedly. In my defense I now am aware that my family has always had, and still has, a tendency to be cheap. If something is marked down or on sale it must be a deal, right? In my defense I would like to propose a high probability that the cassette decks that were gifted to me were already not the most durable or quality items in the first place.


I used the portable cassette decks in our household both like a tool and a toy. This was the height of the cassette tape’s reign, the glorious 1980s. It was truly an amazing amazing thing to have the capability, the easy and unlimited access, to record sound independently anytime, anyplace, whenever and however you wanted. I distinctly remember hiding under the dining room table and recording my grandmother and mother talking. Later when I did the big reveal and played it back for them I remember that my grandmother was shocked. “Is that me?” she said, “Is that what my voice sounds like?” Yes, Grammy, that is what you sound like…behold the power of the cassette! In addition to spying on unsuspecting family members I also (like many other people at the time) would “tape” songs off of the radio. These recordings would often come out sounding warbly and watery as if they had passed through some type of psychedelic funnel but it didn’t matter. They were now my songs. I could play them back whenever and as often as I wanted.


The majority of the “taping” I did occurred during some point in my elementary school life (I’m fuzzy on what grade I would have been in at the time) when I developed a consistent routine of coming home after school, pulling out a few very specific stuffed animals from my ever evolving collection, and recording stories of my own creation onto tape. I used different voices. I used different stuffed animals. I would sing. Sometimes, actually more like often, the stories had a moral lesson. Be nicer to other people. Don’t exclude people. It hurts to be picked on or teased. I was simultaneously working out what I was seeing and experiencing at school and making sure that the stories ended as I thought they should. Friendship and kindness always triumphed. Bullies went down in flames. I was making art but I didn’t know it. I was having fun but I also had some vague concept that this was important work. I vividly remember needing multiple reminders from my Mom to come downstairs for dinner because I was too busy working on a particular story. There is nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of recording and suddenly there is another voice on the tape that should NOT be there, “Are you coming downstairs?” Argh! Rewind. Play. Stop the tape at the exact right spot so that you can start over and pick back up where you left off before the interruption.

I’m not exactly sure what it was that I was doing that resulted in so many broken cassette decks other than using them. And, well, okay, sometimes I would push different buttons simultaneously just to see what would happen. But, who didn’t want to do that just to find out what would happen? I didn’t mean to break those machines. They were magical, fun, and helpful. It was the cassette that allowed me the ability to record my perceptions of the world and rework them into an alternate reality that made more sense to me. Cassettes also allowed me to showcase my creative abilities. I could play my stories for my family, friends, and also could listen to them myself. I could save the “good” ones and erase or re-record the “bad” ones. For those of us who aren’t always that good at talking about how we feel or explaining ourselves to others sometimes a tool is needed. For my elementary aged self, that tool was the cassette.



If I never received that clock radio for my 11th birthday in 1995, I may be a totally different person today. Though my dad would play his own cool records (Bowie, The Police), my very own radio allowed me to listen to almost whatever I wanted. Without that clock radio, I may have never discovered The Smiths on the Saturday morning “Prehistoric X” show on Pittsburgh’s 105.9. I may never have known U2 was coming through town on their 2001 Elevation tour, thus missing my first concert. I never would have annoyed my mom to bits while blasting The Four Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On?” I certainly never would have woke up on time for school without the alarm jerking me awake with whatever was on the radio at that very moment. I can’t think of the last time I willingly listened to the radio, but it’s all many of us had once upon a time. Maybe I didn’t have as much a choice in what I listened to on the radio as I thought, with record companies and media giants throwing their weight around over the airwaves, but I innocently believed I did. I let in what spoke to me most, and without that clock radio, I’d have missed out on something big.


My vinyl copy of Tigermilk by Belle and Sebastian is dear to me, but the intangible mp3 on my first-generation iPod got the hell played out of it. MP3 players may not be as cool or impactful as vinyl, but they can go everywhere with you. During the summer of 2005, I rode buses from my parents’ home in the suburbs to downtown for work. Two hours round-trip, I used the time to contemplate job plans, relationship dreams, living situations, and life in general to the sad soundtrack of Tigermilk thanks to my first-generation iPod. It was bigger than a deck of cards and heavy as a brick, but revolutionary. I could go from being moody to moodier or moody to happy over the course of a bus ride thanks to being able to carry my favorite music with me all over Allegheny county. No doubt there’s something magical about holing up in your bedroom with a pile of records, but there’s something differently beautiful about carrying your favorite music in a handheld device all over the world.


Best Search Terms from 2016

First things first, this blog relies on people willing to spill their hearts and guts into letters (that are then posted on the internet).

That being said, if you are reading this post right now you should seriously be considering writing a letter or a Flashback Fives (a.k.a. FF). Go. to. Submissions!

In the meantime, while you begin crafting said letters or FF, here is a list of our favorite search terms people used to find our blog (interestingly enough, WordPress gives blog owners access to such fascinating information).

See if you can figure out which letter or post matches to the search term. It’s fun!

2016 Search Terms

“tall blonde singer with john prine”

“damon albarn + sneering”

“letter to a friend for green day”

“broken heart letter”

“naught love letter”

“hard nails by vj jingo”

“so many people in uk with droopy eyes paul mccartney”

and last, but not least

l doo wop my hope this summer girl our love your ring on my chain”

Things We Love (Still Celebrating Our 1 year Anniversary)

You love music. But what do you really, really love about music?

I have a sound in my head.

If you want to be highfalutin’, you could say it’s an audio equivalent of Plato’s Forms, an abstract ideal that represents the perfect sound, beyond human realization, just outside our mortal ability to craft and replicate in this mundane real world. If you prefer to remain grounded to the planet we inhabit, you can call this sound a mere (?!) joyous reflection of every song I’ve ever heard, every tune I’ve ever loved, and every fantasy I’ve ever entertained of the promise of pop music.

But it’s neither. It’s an AM radio, tuned to an imaginary station that never existed. It’s as real as dreams, as corporeal as passion, and as timeless as memory, experience, grace, hope, ambition, disappointment, and love. It kinda sounds like The Beatles in 1965. Also James Brown. The Ramones. The Bay City Rollers. Otis Redding. Chuck Berry. The Everly Brothers. The Sex Pistols. Paul Revere & the Raiders. Prince. The Go-Go’s. The Isley Brothers playing “Summer Breeze.” KISS singing “Shout It Out Loud.” The Monkees being The Monkees. The Flashcubes. God, The Flashcubes!

What do I really, really love about music?


I can’t narrow it down more than that. I love the way music makes me feel, even when the feeling is melancholy, like how The Kinks’ “Days” reminds me that I recited the lyrics of that song at my Dad’s funeral, or when some random tune recalls past betrayals, lies, or heartbreak. Lyrics. Hooks. Harmonies. The drum, the bass, the guitars. “It’s My Life” by The Animals blows me away every time I hear it, its self-assured wall of melody unerringly prompting me to marvel at the precise, perfect placement of each note, each lick. Everything in its place. “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa.” “On Broadway.” Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” “God Only Knows,” and the entirety of Pet Sounds.  “In The Midnight Hour.” “Laugh, Laugh.” “Freedom” by Wham!, ferchrissakes. “I Only Want To Be With You.” “I Wanna Be With You.” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”

On my blog, I have an ongoing series called The Greatest Record Ever Made. Notice the singular rather than the plural “records;” an infinite number of records can be The Greatest Record Ever Made, as long as they take turns. (“September Gurls.”) You live your life within each song as it plays. (“The Tears Of A Clown.”) Your faith is fully invested, without reservation, and your belief is rewarded with each never-ending spin. (“Kick Out The Jams,” muthas and bruthas.) The allegiance is eternal, immortal…at least, until the next song plays.

Do you believe in magic? I do. And that means I’m unable—unwilling—to dissect music’s appeal. That would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll. Well, actually, I’m eager to do that. But my discourse will retain its reverence, its delight, its wonder, its awe. My cranial transistor is tuned to Sly Stone, Alice Cooper, Suzi Quatro, Rotary Connection, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, The Shangri-Las, P.P. Arnold, The Smithereens, The Four Tops, and to a bunch of singers and groups I haven’t even heard yet. But I will. I’ll hear ’em all. What do I really, really love about music? My God, what is there not to love? And how would we even know how to love if we didn’t have it?

The beat’s cool, too. I do dig the beat.


Our Writers Chose Their Top 5 Songs of 2016 (Part 2)


“Me and Your Mama”
Childish Gambino
A perfect blend of soul, funk and psych. I can’t remember when a single hit me as hard as this one.

“Ages of You”
I spent a lot of time this year watching old R.E.M. videos on YouTube. In one from 1982 in Raleigh, they did this B-side, and I was instantly smitten. It was collected on Dead Letter Office, though I couldn’t find my copy—thankfully, it was reissued this summer.

Picking my favorite song off A Seat at the Table was nearly impossible, but “Mad” has such an amazing groove and that Lil Wayne verse: “And when I attempted suicide, I didn’t die/I remember how mad I was on that day.”

“Here Comes the Night”
The Beach Boys
I got really into Wild Honey last year, and this spring, my husband found me a pristine used LP copy. I usually start with side 2 so I can hear “Darlin'” and this song—sometimes I don’t even make it to side 1.

Kevin Morby
This ode to Morby’s guitar was a consistent source of joy all year, once I got over the shock of falling for a new guitar-based rock song sung by a dude.


“The New World”
A song from 1983 that sums up 2016. X capture the feeling of having years of slow social progress and a growing sense of empathy toward marginal voices smashed flat by a comically oversized jackboot, with shoutouts to the dying auto industry along the way.

Blood Orange
Dev Hynes has shown himself to be an artist committed to the projection of marginal voices, and Freetown Sound was one of my go-to listening choices this year. The dusty bass and electric piano groove of this track struck me from the outset.

“Shakedown Street”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
This Dead cover (from the massive Day of the Dead comp) replaces the paranoia and darkness of the original with a chaotic, lustful bounce that happily reminds me of the Purple One at his most giddy. A pick-me-up without the sugar crash.

“Let’s Relate”
Of Montreal
Though Kevin Barnes’ emotional firebombing of those close to him has become difficult to stomach, this track shows a gentleness and sweetness towards a new object of affection in simple terms – “I already like you, I like that you like you, I think that you’re great, let’s relate.”

Sibylle Baier
A devastatingly simple acoustic track that transitions from dark to light in the course of a brief interaction between two lovers, where the interior world of thought is affected by the exterior world of touch. This track evokes the feeling of sanctuary that my own home has attained this year with my significant other; while uncertainty and chaos roils outside, there is a peace of mind and body in our little shared space that comes directly from the presence of the other person.


“Where Are We Now?”
David Bowie
When I found out that David Bowie had died, it seemed impossible. He wasn’t just a musician. He was a comet flaring through the culture, altering whatever he touched. I had that Tuesday off, so I decided to treat myself to breakfast at a diner near Washington Square. As I sat watching the traffic on Sixth Avenue, this song came into my head. To me, it’s always seemed like a song of making peace, of looking around at one’s life and realizing ‘I’ve got a good thing going here’. “As long as there’s sun… as long as there’s rain… as long as there’s fire… as long as there’s me…. as long as there’s you.” And I felt like his spirit was there, in the spike of the Empire State Building against the bright sky, in the hum of the subway and the crystalline wind.

“Wild Imagination”
Kurt Vile
When I first listened to this album, this song didn’t make much of an impression. But I kept the album in heavy rotation through the winter, and the whole thing grew on me—I realized that every song had layers of meaning under that laid-back façade. At the end of April, everything changed. My friend Dan, a fine musician in his own right, died just six months before his twenty-sixth birthday. The fact of his death hit me like a brick wall. How could I get around, or through, or over? “I’m looking at you/ but it’s only a picture/ so I take that back…” People had posted hundreds of pictures of him, clowning around on stage and off. What hurts are the pictures I didn’t take—like the one of him walking up outside the bar on 67th Street a week after I got back to the city, in his Harry Nilsson shirt, looking at me like I was the best thing he’d ever seen. For a while, this song was all I could stand to hear. It’s full of longing, but it, too, has a sense of peace about it—a chapter has closed, but the world hasn’t ended.

“Left of the Dial”
The Replacements
Having already written about this song and its role in my friendship with Dan, I don’t feel the need to add much more. But that piece brought me a lot of kindness, from people who knew Dan and some who never met him, so I’m grateful for that.

“You Ain’t That Young Kid”
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
This was one of the only new albums I bought this year. Again, I feel like I’m only starting to appreciate its complexity, but from the first time I listened to it, this song stood out as the heart. Like the others on this list, it’s a meditation on change, loss, growing older. I turned twenty-five this year. I have a full-time job, and some grey hairs coming in. I’ve been through a lot. So when Leithauser croons about “some way-too-long road with some way-too-young folks,” I think I know what he means.

“My Zero”
Ezra Furman
This song would be one of my favorites in any year; it has a timeless quality to it, as if I’d always known it. But in this year of so much doubt and disappointment, it’s been an anchor. We all need a ‘zero’—a place (or person), for our hearts to rest on—as our minds and bodies take on this business of living.


“Love and Mercy”
Brian Wilson

“I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good”
Nina Simone

“The Diaz Brothers”
The Mountain Goats

“This is Magic”
Majical Cloudz

“You’re So Fine”
The Falcons


When asked what positive experiences I had in this notably sucky year, I thought of the big goal I accomplished with the help of music—finishing my second marathon. Getting lost in a meditative-like reverie when running with music is why I do it. These five songs are now wedded to specific, memorable moments I experienced over those hundreds of miles.

“Birdhouse in Your Soul”
They Might Be Giants
TMBG is hard for me to avoid as I’m married to a fan. In trying to gain an appreciation for them, I added some of their songs to my running playlist. Only one failed to annoy me (no offense) while I got caught in rainstorm while running a winding path through a rolling meadow with humming powerlines zig-zagging above. It was pretty dreamy, and with this song’s steady beat and seeming to go on a little too long, I felt like I was floating.

“Dot Dash”
was a band I discovered with my college friend Dana the summer we shared an apartment. At this time, I hadn’t talked to Dana in two years. In December 2016, though, we randomly reconnected, finding that we’ve both been dealing with similar crap and having the same 30-some year old realizations, but mostly just talking about anything and everything—just like we did ten years prior over a bootleg Wire cassette tape.

“Spanish Bombs”
The Clash
Between miles 17 and 20 of the actual marathon, I was super cranky. I was so sick of running. I seriously thought about quitting. Knowing I’d hate myself if I did, I forced myself to get into a better groove. This old favorite came on shuffle, and I sang along aloud. Especially the parts in Spanish. I channeled Joe Strummer, who ran the Paris marathon, I dug deep, and I laughed out loud at myself.

“Life on Mars?”
David Bowie
In the fallout of one of the many depressing news stories of the year, I chugged along my typical route on a long Sunday run. The neighborhood cat I usually stop to pet wasn’t around. I worried that my niece will grow up miserably in a terrible world. Perfectly timed, one of Ziggy Stardust’s magical songs came on. But, instead of feeling eased, I sobbed. I didn’t stop to catch my breath and wipe my face. I didn’t care if anyone saw me. I just let myself be in that moment with Bowie and thinking, “I really fucking hope there’s life on Mars.”

Fleetwood Mac
Alone, I chugged along a wooded trail at dusk. I was a little paranoid, hoping a mugger (or worse) wouldn’t surprise me. After tracing a sharp curve, I came upon a doe gracefully leaping into the brush to my right. On my left, two fawn spied me from behind thorny brambles. Stevie Nicks blasted in my earbuds, “I have no fear. I have only love.”


The frustration and heartache of this trying year cast a long shadow over the music I played. These are the five tracks which stand out in my mind as the songs I listened to the most often in 2016. One is an actual new 2016 release, three reflect a few of the many losses felt by the pop world this year, and one is just a perennial, much needed blast of transcendent rock ‘n’ roll brilliance. In no real order:

“Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”
The Monkees
One of a number of tracks I could have selected from The Monkees’ superlative 2016 album Good Times! It could just as easily have been “Me & Magdalena” or “You Bring The Summer.” Far and away my favorite album of the year.

“Life On Mars?”
David Bowie
2016 wasn’t even two weeks old when we lost Bowie, and we should’ve taken that as a sign to return the damned year to sender, postage due. Bowie’s passing affected me a lot more than I ever would have imagined, and I started my own blog because I needed a place to vent. I have several favorite Bowie songs—”Rebel Rebel,””Suffragette City,””Panic In Detroit,” and “Heroes” come to mind—but “Life On Mars?” was the one I kept coming back to, over and over, in search of…catharsis. I guess.

“Your Own World”
1.4.5. was an offshoot of The Flashcubes, my all-time favorite power pop band. Piloted by ‘Cubes guitarist Paul Armstrong, 1.4.5. has encompassed many varying lineups; this track is from the 1987 album Rhythm n’ Booze, and it features the late Norm Mattice on lead vocals. Mattice’s passing was the 2016 death that felt like the biggest, most vicious single punch to the gut. He was one of our own, a Central New York talent who should have been a star, and not a homeless man who died of exposure, all alone, unable to find shelter from the cold Syracuse night. He had friends and family willing—eager—to help him, but it was of no avail. Nothing was. Nothing could be.

“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”
We’d been playing Prince’s “When Doves Cry” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl a bit throughout the first few months of 2016, and I betcha it would have made our year-end countdown even if Prince had remained one of our greatest living rock stars into 2017. His death in April sealed the case for this year’s ongoing infamy. “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” was never a song I thought much about before—if I were going to play Prince, I’d be more likely to go with “When Doves Cry” or “When You Were Mine”—but a request for the song from TIRnRR listener Joel Tinnel prompted us to play it on the show the week after Prince died. And it just clicked with me, suddenly but unerringly. I’ve been playing it ever since.

“You Really Got Me”
The Kinks
Always. Especially in a year like this one, a year which has demanded more from us than we’ve felt capable of giving. Turn it up. And I say we attack 2017 before it attacks us.


“Cold Cafe”
Karen Marks
Basic and beautiful. Basically beautiful.

Parquet Courts
Riffs, anger and wit.

It’s a challenge to find songs that satisfy the three distinct musical tastes in my household, which include those of a 17-month-old child. The entire Porches album Pool manages to get us all, and this song in particular is a standout.

“Am I Wrong”
Big ol slice o feel good.

“Buzzin’ Fly”
Tim Buckley
I could curl up in a ball and fall asleep with it around me. Goodnight, 2016.