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. To start out, here are a couple of this week’s Storyboard articles, and their soundtracks:
“Annotation Tuesday! Rachel Monroe and “Have You Ever Thought About Killing Someone?” This is one of the more disturbing reads of recent memory, about a man who said he wanted to be killed, and the teen who took him up on it. Monroe spent more than a year on the piece, and admits she became obsessed with it. Here’s a great insight from her about the ending: “I remember driving home from Big Bend one day after having spent hours going through the files, high with this particular kind of euphoria that had to do with feeling as though I knew this story better than anyone else – better than the cops, because Baker was being more honest with me (I thought) than he’d been with them; better than Baker, because I had access to all this info about Shannon through the police file. I’ve come to realize that’s a dangerous kind of writerly hubris, and one that can get in the way of telling a story honestly. Sometimes uncertainty and doubt is the most truthful attitude. I think the ending has to do with exactly that realization — that there’s so much I don’t know, will never know, about Baker and Shannon and whatever happened between them that day.”
The soundtrack: “Death Wish Man,” by Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. This is not a band I’d ever listened to before (and doubt I’ll listen to again), but the title and the vibe seemed to fit. It’s the kind of blues rock (think “Bad to the Bone”) I heard a lot in Texas, where the story is set.
Why’s This So Good? Mark Seal and “The Man in the Rockefeller Suit.” This is another in our series of “Tomorrow’s journalists exploring the masters of today,” and I’m fascinated by the choices the students made. This one in particular: It came out in 2008, when student McKenzie Pendergrass was probably still in junior high. But it’s the kind of story that stays with you (and later became a book). As she writes, “In a Vanity Fair piece that reads like fiction, Mark Seal tells the story of a man who conned his way to the top of American society, while trying to answer this question: How could one man, born in Germany, an immigrant to America in the late 1970s, be so many people—and none of them?”
The soundtrack: “Nowhere Man,” by the Beatles. Doesn’t “Rubber Soul,” the album this is on, seem to be that moment between the old, “cute” Beatles and the darker, exploring Beatles? And this song seems to be the real marker between the two.
What I’m reading online: I’m going to cheat a little this week and let Poynter do the work for me. Melody Kramer did a lot of heavy lifting to compile a list of 86 pieces of journalism exploring the postelection world. I’ve been reading many of these pieces as they’re published — notably this one by the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, this one by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for The New Yorker and this one by Pulitzer winner — and friend — Diana Marcum for Nieman Reports. (And can I say how strange it was to come across my name on the list, for a piece about moving from Los Angeles to “flyover” land?) But Kramer alerted me to some gems I’d missed. And I’d like to point out one I don’t think made the list. It’s by author Lee Siegel, and it’s about the power of literary journalism in a time of uncertainty. He argues: “Literary journalism that takes up social and political issues seems to flourish in times of great crisis or ferment. Think of Joan Didion’s essays on the counterculture of the ’60s and early ’70s; Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night, about the 1967 march on the Pentagon, and Mailer’s accounts of the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions; James Baldwin on the Civil Rights era; Michael Herr’s Dispatches; Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which appeared in 1965 and captured the anxiety and apprehension of an atmosphere of impending upheaval.”
What’s on my bedside table: This week, it isn’t an ink-and-paper book, but my iPad, and it’s “The Age of Innocence,” by Edith Wharton. Right now, we seem to be the opposite of the characters in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (the first for a woman; see the controversy about it in this piece by Pulitzer administrator Mike Pride). Where they are all surface manners and gentility obscuring the furious machinations and scorn underneath, in today’s America we appear to have dispensed with the superego that keeps a lid on the hidden, perhaps shameful inner thoughts. On social media and the “real world,” people feel emboldened to air prejudices and fears. Some might argue that’s a good thing, that true feelings are being sublimated. I can’t say I agree, when violence and hatred are the result.
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: “Dummy,” by Portishead. When I left the LA Times, a kind friend gave me a gift certificate to Amoeba Records as a farewell present. There are many wonderful things about Amoeba: For starters, it’s right next to the Cinerama Dome, the coolest theater in Los Angeles. If you’re ever in the city, you must catch a movie there. I remember seeing a special showing of “The Wild Bunch” on that mammoth screen — it was Peckinpah turned up to 11. But Amoeba itself is kind of a Cinerama Dome for music fans: huge, almost overwhelming, magical. And this was one of my favorite purchases on that trip. The album is probably in my top 25 records, and I’d never had it on vinyl.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at email@example.com. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.