Just in time for the weekend, here’s a little list of some of the things I’ve been listening to and reading this week, some of it online — Storyboard included, natch — and some of it on vinyl or actual ink and paper.
Two of my biggest loves are narrative journalism and music, and I’m lucky that my days are filled with both. When reading stories, I get inspired by songs I think fit the article’s theme — a soundtrack. Here are a couple of this week’s Storyboard articles, and their soundtracks:
“The Man in the Woods.” It didn’t take long, working with Ashley Powers at the L.A. Times on a couple of her priest abuse stories, to realize that no one has to worry about the next generation of narrative journalists. Young writers like Ashley will carry us through. In this annotation of her story about a young man’s descent into psychosis, with fatal consequences, she talks about the challenge of re-creating someone who’s dead, and who even in life was unknowable. And she offers a cool tip: writing old-fashioned letters to potential sources who have little reason to trust.
Soundtrack: “In the Dark Places,” by PJ Harvey. This song is about foreign forces in Afghanistan, but its theme of the unknowableness of people, and the refrain of young men hiding with guns in the dark places, really resonated with me as I read this annotation. Her spooky voice rising over the somber horns gives me chills. Ashley’s husband, fellow journalist Michael Mishak, also likes to pair stories with songs. He picked “How to Disappear Completely,” by Radiohead. (Pretty brilliant choice.) Her story apparently compels people to reach for anxious, depressive Brit musicians…
“Jingo Unchained.” I hate to be the one to break it to you: This is the final installment in the series celebrating the gift of the late Michael Brick. If you have time, why don’t you go back and look at all 10 of the stories, and the essays by fellow writers who admired the hell out of him? His work is full of lines with quiet majesty and insight. Here’s one of them, about a wrestler named Vampiro, that seems to predict the current electoral turmoil in America and Britain:
But as he raised the chair above his head in agonizing slow motion, taking up the weapon of desperados in the name of righteousness, Vampiro looked stricken, torn, hurt on some cosmic level, as if the whole continent were turning faithless and cruel and there was no way to tell what anybody might do next.
Soundtrack: “The Wrestler,” by Bruce Springsteen, a man who knows a thing or two about being used for political purposes. (Who can forget the time when “Born in the U.S.A,” a song shot through with disillusionment, was used by the Reagan campaign as a patriotic anthem?)
What I’m reading online: Surely I wasn’t the only person who spent a good chunk of the weekend rereading the Vietnam War stories of the great Michael Herr, who died late last week. I settled in with “Khesanh,” which Esquire Classic kindly made free for the occasion but is worth whatever they’re charging. The dialogue is tremendous (what an ear he had!), but these passages are amazing too:
He was a tall blond from Michigan, probably about twenty, although it was never easy to guess the ages of Marines at Khesanh since nothing like youth ever lasted in their faces for very long. It was the eyes: Because they were always either strained or blazed-out or simply blank, they never had anything to do with what the rest of the faces were doing, and it gave everyone the look of extreme fatigue or even a glancing madness.
And the Grunts themselves knew: the madness, the bitterness, the horror and doom of it. They were hip to it, and more; they savored it. It was no more insane than most of what was going down, and often enough it had its refracted logic. “Eat the apple, f— the Corps,” they’d say, and write it up on their helmets and flak jackets for their officers to see. (One kid tattooed it on his shoulder.) And sometimes they’d look at you and laugh silently and long, the laugh on them and on you for being with them when you didn’t have to be. And what could be funnier, really, given all that an eighteen-year-old boy could learn in a month of patrolling the Z? It was that joke at the deepest part of the blackest kernel of fear, and you could die laughing.
What’s on my bedside table: “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,” by Elvis Costello. The library in my little town in Maine is a place of wonder: tiny, like the Tardis, but with cool surprises like Costello’s memoir. I haven’t gotten too far into it yet, but I want to know the two people who checked it out before me in the past six months. Can we form a little Brit-music-loving club in Maine?
What’s on my turntable: Although I spend most of my time listening to music on Spotify, sometimes I want to hear the needle touching down on vinyl. This week’s vinyl: “One Love,” by the Stone Roses. I’m going to see the Roses at Scotland’s T in the Park music festival next week, so I got in the mood by listening to a 12-inch version of “One Love.” Love that rhythm section.
If you want to suggest story soundtracks of your own, or just want to chat about storytelling or music, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.