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! Brian Kevin and “The Belfast Operation.” This is one of my favorite stories of last year. The lede is wonderful, the whole story is shot through with pathos, it’s vivid as hell. It’s a great reminder that regional journalism can totally hold its own against “the big boys” of journalism. Speaking of regional journalism, here’s a great bit from the interview:
I feel like this might be useful insight into the kind of resources that small, regional publications are working with. I sometimes hear more accomplished writers chatting on this or that podcast about the time they’ll lavish on a marquee project for a big-budget mag, focusing on only that piece, and I just can’t even wrap my head around what that must be like. As a freelancer, I have never had the luxury of working on any fewer than five or six projects at a time. I imagine few freelancers do. As a Down East editor, I have the day-to-day workings of a magazine to manage and any research/reporting/writing happens on top of that. I bet I have three other bylines in the issue where this story ran. I know I was running the front-of-book then, and I edited one of the other features in the well that month. I had a 4,000ish-word feature in each of the next two issues that followed this one, so each of those was in various stages of completion at the time I was wrapping up “The Belfast Operation.”
The Soundtrack: For the record, I am not a fan of John Cougar Mellencamp (or John Cougar, a name foisted on him in his early years that I’m sure shames him still). Although he matured into a decent songwriter, he always seemed Springsteen lite. But Brian has such a great reference to Mellencamp in his story (“It was an all-American scene right out of a John Cougar Mellencamp anthem — all except for the drugs”), “Jack and Diane” has to be the soundtrack.
5(ish) Questions: The creators of “visual narrative startup” Primer Stories. I’ve tried to make a point to focus on digital experiments and business models on Storyboard, because God knows we all want to figure it out. The creators of Primer Stories despaired at seeing 6,000-word stories in The Atlantic that get a few likes and “one person commenting saying, ‘So sad!'” Joe Alterio, one of the founders, says: “We realized that somewhere along the line, the important ideas were losing the battle of marketability. So, how do we give them a little bit of that flash while still retaining that core, essential part of the idea?”
The Soundtrack: “A Lick of Paint,” by Frightened Rabbit. Yes, two out of three bands named here are Scottish (see Teenage Fanclub, below). My musical tendencies are becoming apparent. This song is about a relationship going through a tricky stage, but it works for the tricky spot journalism has found itself in: “We get listless, and worn with age/I can see it now, there’s a crack in the paint.”
What I’m reading online: Actually, this week it’s what I’m listening to online. “One Last Thing Before I Go,” on This American Life. This podcast is divided into two parts, and I’m curious about the decision about the order of the stories. The first, about a phone booth in Japan where families go to telephone those who died in the tsunami, delivers such an emotional punch that it seems a hard act to follow. The second, about the writer’s father and his estranged brother, is powerful in its own way; it’s more intimate and gentle, and it actually changes lives. Perhaps the pairing is a Rorschach test, and loss resonates more with me than estrangement.
What’s on my bedside table: I lived most of my adult life in Los Angeles, but it took leaving L.A. to finally discover Eve Babitz and “Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.” in a cool bookshop in Rockland, Maine. I knew Babitz’s name, but for some reason had never read anything by her. All I can say is, find a cool bookstore of your own and get it too. I think some people (men?) tend to dismiss her because she’s famous for her glam boyfriends (Jim Morrison, Harrison Ford). Maybe they’re jealous of her writing, because it’s tremendous. I’ve turned down practically every page for an acute observation or a beautiful turn of phrase. Let me just show you the opening line, and I will rest my case:
This is a love story and I apologize; it was inadvertent.
Wow. I’m planning on starting a new feature on the site called One Great Line, and this one would be perfect for it.
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: “Here,” by Teenage Fanclub. This is the new album by one of my all-time favorite bands. I listened to it on Spotify first, and decided this one was worth shelling out the extra money for the vinyl. I was just about to order it, and it arrived in the mail! (No, it wasn’t magic. I just happen to have the best sister, who knew I’d want it and surprised me.) The cover is a pastel dream — even the album itself is lovely (see photo). How many bands have consistently put out superlative pop for as long as TFC? I can’t think of any, actually. Am so jazzed to be seeing them later this month. If anyone in the Boston area is going, drop me a line.
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.