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:
Annotation Tuesday! David Wolman + Julian Smith and “The Cold War.” I’ve known since I came on to Storyboard that I wanted to annotate this story. It was one of my favorites of last year, simply because it made me happier than most longform stories. Longform is usually very serious, which is of course a good thing, but sometimes you want to laugh. This one, though, also had a lot of heart, a tricky combination to pull off. In the piece I compare it to a couple of movies — “Comfort and Joy” and “Raising Arizona.” But it also reminds of a very gentle version of the brilliant “In Bruges,” probably the best-written movie of the past few decades, a film that was violent and hilarious and full of (strangely poetic) profanity, but had sweetness and decency at its core.
Soundtrack: Ice Cream Man, by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers. I think the silliness — and yet sweetness — of this song totally fits the story. “Ice cream man, upon my block/Your little chimes, they reel and rock.” Come on, you feel better after listening to it, don’t you?
The Pulitzer at 100: Michael Parks and the unraveling of apartheid. This is the last of the series of Pulitzer winners we’re spotlighting at Storyboard leading up to this weekend’s Pulitzer Centennial extravaganza, hosted by the Nieman Foundation. We’re talking rock stars of journalism and the arts — Bob Woodward, Dean Baquet, Wynton Marsalis, Laura Poitras. Nothing could stop me from going. Michael Parks was a foreign correspondent rock star (well, if a rock star wore khakis and a blazer). In 1986, he covered what we now know was the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa. Scott Kraft succeeded him in Johannesburg — bearing witness to the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela — and here he reflects on what made Michael’s coverage so powerful.
Soundtrack: “Vul’indlela,” by Brenda Fassie. This is probably my favorite South African song. I’d listen to it all the time while editing stories about South Africa at the L.A. Times. Play it, and you’ll have it on repeat too.
What I’m reading online: A friend sent the link to this Vanity Fair profile of Bruce Springsteen, knowing I probably quote Springsteen lyrics more than any other. (Sure, like everyone else I quote “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse,” but the one that haunts me the most is “God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.”) Two great quotes from Springsteen even before I scrolled down:
On his epic performances: “I’m always in search of something, in search of losing myself to the music.”
On his signature song, “Born to Run,” which he still plays in every show, and still, amazingly, loves: “A good song gathers the years in. It’s why you can sing it with such conviction 40 years after it’s been written. A good song takes on more meaning as the years pass by.”
The profile is running in advance of the release of his memoir. That’s one I’ll be adding to my bedside table (see below) as soon as it comes out.
What’s on my bedside table: I’ve been unpacking boxes, a loathsome chore made happier by little discoveries like this book: “Headline Happy,” by Florabel Muir. I read this back when I was in L.A., and always thought Muir would make the perfect inspiration for a movie. She was fearless, very Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday” (one of my favorite movies, and the favorite one about journalists.) Back then, I loved this passage of the book, about the death of a gangster. And it might be even better now:
Perfume pervaded the room from the night-blooming jasmine clustered outside the window through which the deadly shots had been fired. The Los Angeles Times was lying across his knees and on it was stamped: “Good Night. Sleep peacefully with compliments of Jack’s.” Bloody sections of his shattered brained partially blotted out the eight-column headline telling of another fatal shooting in a poorer section of Los Angeles. As I moved the newspaper to see what he had been reading, blood dripped on my satin evening slippers.
What a dame! I wish I had half the gumption (and snappy dialogue) of Florabel Muir. Added bonus: that great name.
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: “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space,” by Spiritualized. Last year a kind friend gave me a $100 gift certificate to Amoeba Records in Hollywood. Kid, meet candy shop. All that fancy, thick vinyl I was too cheap to buy: mine! This is one of the records I got in that sweet, sweet haul. It’s probably in my Top 10 albums. Such pain combined with such beauty; it soars, even though he’s been laid very low. I saw them perform the whole album live (with an orchestra) at the debut show at the gorgeously restored Theatre at the Ace Hotel in LA. I remember the day: February 14. It was lovely and a bit surreal to hear an album about heartbreak on Valentine’s Day.
If you 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.