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:
Old meets new: the power of a Facebook Live experiment with Kodachrome. This week we spotlighted new forms of storytelling on Storyboard, which delights me no end. As someone with steampunk tendencies (a fondness for the anachronistic combined with an embrace of technology), I cheered that this Facebook Live experiment by New York Times writer Deborah Acosta used cast-off Kodachrome slides as its narrative spark. Here’s how our writer Allison Eck sets it up: “Acosta immediately went live on the New York Times’ Facebook page (with its fairly jaw-dropping 12 million followers). In real time, she revealed the discarded contents of a life: yellowed envelopes, images of planes, frigid terrains — and a woman. This was a mystery, but not your typical whodunit: No one had been hurt, no one was seeking revenge, no one was trying to expose a criminal. But who would ditch such beautiful slides? And why so deliberately?” Allison cleverly interspersed actual Facebook Live comments with her own commentary, creating an interactive vibe that mirrors the story itself.
The soundtrack: “Kodachrome,” by Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. Yes, this is famously a Paul Simon song. But I have a bit of blind spot where Simon is concerned and so would rather hear Oberst cover it. Because the lyrics are pretty great:
They give us the nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
Why’s This So Good? Randy Potts and the Bible Went Down With the Birdie Jean. Instagram is one of the most exciting places out there right now for new kinds of storytelling. Yes, there are a million pictures of cute puppies and sunsets, but adventurous writers like Randy Potts are using the form and running with it. Over the fall, Potts has serialized his memoir about growing up the gay grandson of televangelist Oral Roberts. In rapid-fire installments, he’s used beautiful stream-of-consciousness essays, images and videos to tell a story of pain and empowerment. I love this bit from the post’s writer, Tom Haines: “From one post to the next, Potts harnesses the episodic experience of Instagram with purposeful freedom. His writing at times evokes that of James Agee, in which words with fierce pace take a moment in time and twist it around and set it down, showing what had been but not seen. He cites passages from the Bible (Psalm 31: 9-11, Ecclesiastes 9:4-7) and pages from a personal journal written 11 years ago. He writes in first person and third. He translates poetry (Rainer Maria Rilke) and crafts his own. He investigates and remembers and explores the terrain between.” I also love that Potts tweeted he’d turned Storyboard pink for the day. Yes!
The soundtrack: “The Book of Love,” by the Magnetic Fields. A song full of dark humor and pain and hope, it’s a perfect one to soundtrack Potts’ memoir. The album it’s on, “69 Love Songs,” is also a memoir of sorts, by songwriter Stephin Merritt (who is also gay and also experiments with form).
What I’m reading online: In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the New Yorker brought out the big guns (figuratively, of course), commissioning essays from some of the most well-known and respected writers around today: Toni Morrison, Hilary Mantel, George Packer, Junot Díaz, Gary Shteyngart, Evan Osnos, Jill Lepore, Atul Gawande — and that’s just half of the list. It’s a stunning collection. Here are few snapshot quotes from the essays to draw you in:
For decades, the nice and the good have been talking to each other, chitchat in every forum going, ignoring what stews beneath: envy, anger, lust. — Hilary Mantel
To keep alive the perception of white superiority, these white Americans tuck their heads under cone-shaped hats and American flags and deny themselves the dignity of face-to-face confrontation, training their guns on the unarmed, the innocent, the scared, on subjects who are running away, exposing their unthreatening backs to bullets. Surely, shooting a fleeing man in the back hurts the presumption of white strength? — Toni Morrison
Social media in the era of Trump is essentially Leningrad, 1979. — Gary Shteyngart
But all the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope. What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. — Junot Díaz
What’s on my bedside table: I’m a big fan of the L.A. noir writing of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, and have read most everything they’ve written. (I’m not sure I’ll ever get through all of Macdonald’s work. That man was a writing machine.) Although I’ve read “The Thin Man” a million times (a brilliant book), for some reason I’d never read Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon,” the most famous book in the San Francisco noir canon. Wow — Sam Spade makes Philip Marlowe look almost soft. In the first few chapters his partner is killed, and you learn Spade is having an affair with his wife, a scene that ends with a distinct lack of mourning for his dead pal (and rival) only a few hours after his death: “He stood up and put on his hat. ‘Have the Spade & Archer taken off the door and Samuel Spade put on.'”
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: “The Race for Space,” by Public Service Broadcasting. This week I was listening to A Tribe Called Quest’s most excellent (and topical) new album, “We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service.” Highly recommended. The first song, “The Space Program,” uses the NASA program as a launching point for a meditation on racism. It made me think of this album, by a band that uses newsreel and other historical soundbites in its music — a sampling of a very different kind from A Tribe Called Quest. The songs track the arc of the space race, from its inception through its failures to its euphoric landing of a man on the moon. In light of the ATCQ song, I suppose I shouldn’t admit how much this album moves me; perhaps it’s because the band are masters at storytelling, using narrative tension and explosions of emotion to great effect. A bonus: I had forgotten the vinyl was clear plastic, making it seem like the moon itself.
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.