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: Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman on “Tainted Justice.” One of my favorite things about this series that won the 2010 Pulitzer for investigative reporting is the lede of the first story. Specifically, one word in the lede of the first story: whacked. It sets the tone for the series, which builds a year-long case against renegade narcotics cops in Philadelphia: vivid, with a “Goodfellas” vibe.
“Ventura Martinez feels like he has a target on his back. On the city’s toughest streets, where vengeance rules, drug dealers warn him that he’s a dead man. At home, Martinez peeks out windows and listens for sounds of a hit man, lurking in darkness, ready to pull the trigger. When outside, he darts his head from shoulder to shoulder, wondering if this is the day he’ll get whacked.”
I’m really liking the Pulitzer series we have going on in the weeks before the Nieman Foundation’s celebration of the Pulitzer centennial. I’ll be there — hope you can come too.
Soundtrack: “Police and Thieves,” by the Clash. This song seemed perfect for a series where the line between police and thieves was blurred. The contrast between Joe Strummer’s rough-edged vocals and what I’m guessing is Mick Jones’ falsetto “Oh yeah” is pretty great, isn’t it?
How Saudi Millennials are using social media to revive an ancient literary tradition. The idea behind this story is irresistible: Millennials rubbing up against something that’s more than a millennium old. Jasmine Bager tells us about an ancient literary festival in Saudi Arabia that’s entered the 21st century by spreading its story via social media. I love that the region’s rich history of oral storytelling has found a way to stay relevant in today’s Twitter-Instagram-Snapchat world. And get this — the top poet at the Sooq Okaz festival wins a cool $80,000. Who says poetry doesn’t pay? (Bonus: This man’s wonderful face, left, from an Instagrammer at the festival.)
Soundtrack: Bad Girls, by M.I.A. I’ve always loved this video, which is so empowering, showing women driving and acting generally bad-ass. Although I think it was filmed in Morocco, it seems a stand-in for Saudi Arabia, which famously hasn’t allowed women to drive. As Jasmine points out in the lede of her piece, Saudi women are making history right now, at the Olympics. So this seemed to fit.
What I’m reading online: A friend who knows me too well sent the link to this Wall Street Journal “A-hed” story on the extreme audiophiles in Japan who are actually getting their own utility poles so their sound can be more “pure.” Love this bit on a man who spent $10,000 to have a power pole planted in his front yard:
“Electricity is like blood. If it is tainted, the whole body will get sick,” says Mr. Morita. “No matter how expensive the audio equipment is, it will be no good if the blood is bad.” Demonstrating his power’s purity, he mounts a turntable with a vinyl record of Queen’s “I’m in Love With My Car,” settles into his sofa and beams. Pre-pole, he says, the vocals didn’t sound as lively as this. “Now, it feels like Queen is in this room, just for me.”
For the record: I’m a music lover, not an audiophile. I actually like the pops and hisses of an imperfect record. They make the album more personal, and if you play it enough, you start looking forward to that moment when there’s a little sound that’s on your album alone.
What’s on my bedside table: I may be the only person who’s never read any of the Harry Potter books. But I have read J.K. Rowling’s detective books, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. They may not be highbrow reading, but they’re great escapist fun on a summer day. I can’t help compare Rowling, though, to her fellow writer Kate Atkinson, who mixes high (“Life After Life”) and low (her Jackson Brodie detective series) pretty wonderfully. Although I shouldn’t call Atkinson’s detective series “low,” because they’re the best-plotted ones out there. Everything comes together so perfectly, you’re never left saying, “Well, that was a stretch.”
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: “Beautiful Thing,” by the Stone Roses. I rarely buy new vinyl, because it’s so expensive. So it was quite uncharacteristic to not only buy new vinyl, but to buy vinyl that had only one song on it. It doesn’t even have a B-side. (So strange to see an ungrooved side of a record. The needle just ran over it like your hand on silk.) But this is the first great song from my favorite band in 22 years — it was an occasion.
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.