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 Pulitzer at 100: Anthony Shadid, an expert of the human soul. War correspondents risk their lives day after day to give us the real stories behind the propaganda of war. Anthony Shadid did that year after year, braving catastrophic suicide blasts and hidden IEDs, rooftop snipers and barrel bombs. Perhaps that’s why it was so shocking, and even more awful, somehow, that he died in Syria because he was allergic to the horses he was traveling with. Francesca Borri, one of the new generation of war correspondents, writes a beautiful essay about Shadid, who won two Pulitzers for his bookend coverage of the Iraq war. Of all the lessons he taught her, she says, the main one is this: The only thing you really need on the front line is grace.
Soundtrack: “Barra Barra,” by Rachid Taha. I was on the foreign desk at the L.A. Times for the long years of the Iraq war, and this is a song I kept coming back to as I edited. It has the perfect combination of aggression, Middle Eastern vibe and crazy-pounding beat that made me turn up the volume LOUD. (Don’t worry — I wore headphones and didn’t disturb my co-workers.)
5(ish) Questions: Adam Hochschild and Texaco’s secret support for Franco in the Spanish civil war. As one of the founders of Mother Jones, Adam Hochschild knows something about holding powerful corporations to account. But what if the misdeeds happened long before he was born? In his latest book, “Spain In Our Hearts,” he weaves the story of a Franc0-admiring Texaco exec with the larger drama of the Spanish civil war. He spoke with Daniel Gross about how he balances narrative and investigation, and also how he smuggles a investigative sense of urgency—the feeling that there’s something hidden that we ought to know—into the past. He says, “When I talk about the book at libraries and bookstores, somebody always asks, ‘Is there any way Texaco can be held to account?’ I wish there was. But we unfortunately have a hard enough time holding corporations to account for injustices they commit right now, in the present. It’s still harder I think to hold them to account for things that were done 80 years in the past.”
Soundtrack: Cat People (Putting out Fire With Gasoline), by David Bowie. That quiet beginning, and the explosion when he sings, “with gasoline.” So good. (And surely one of the better uses of a song in a movie? No, not in “Cat People.” I’m talking about “Inglourious Basterds.” Tarantino is a soundtrack god.)
What I’m reading online: Dressage is the curling of the Olympic sport. People love to mock it (this Eddie Izzard riff and this comedy skit being my favorites), because it’s innately funny to watch a horse dance. Especially when its rider is wearing a top hat and tails. It’s hard to figure out what the rider is actually doing. But I rode dressage for years — or I should say I tried, and failed miserably — and that’s just it: They’re doing a million things you can’t see, like a duck paddling furiously under water, but looking serene above it. I loved this New Yorker piece about British dressage superstar Charlotte Dujardin, who may have won another gold by the time you read this. It takes the sport seriously, and offers a nontraditional Cinderella story.
What’s on my bedside table: I’m a big fan of the “other” Elizabeth Taylor — the 20th century English novelist. So on a hot summer week, “In a Summer Season” seemed like the perfect choice. Her novels are so acutely observed, they’re almost painful. She captures the fears of a middle-aged woman who has married a younger man, always looking for a gray hair or a sign she’s being whispered about by her old friends. At times the book almost reads like a female version of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” with all its self-consciousness and doubt. But it’s also filled with killer lines: “Talk about clothes bored her. It was like talk about sex. It had an enervating quality which had nothing to do with the subject itself.”
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: Actually, I’m going to go with something I heard live. On Tuesday, I went to Fenway Park. We got there early, and as I sat down I heard the organist playing “Here There and Everywhere.” That’s nice, I thought. Then it was followed by “Yellow Submarine,” and I started thinking, that’s strange. And it finally dawned on me that he was playing all of “Revolver.” How absolutely cool is that? I’ve since learned the organist, Josh Kantor, is legendary. He even did a Prince tribute after he died. Although I’m a bit unnerved that he played “Revolver” a day after I was listening to it (on cassette!) in my car.
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.