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:
Just in Time for Another Convention, Hunter S. Thompson and “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” Matt Pearce had a great lede on this appreciation of the political reporting classic: “I just got off the plane from the Republican National Convention with a bulletproof vest still packed in my suitcase, and I have to wonder if last week would have made Hunter S. Thompson lose his mind.” Fortunately, he writes, he had “Hunter S. to prepare me for the paranoia, the loathing (self- and otherwise) and the fundamental tedium of the campaign trail that I’m seeing up close for the first time, and I’ve sensed his influence, particularly on social media, during some of the most hallucinatory moments of the 2016 campaign.” I love how Matt draws a
line from Thompson’s acid-trip prose to today’s weird Twitter. And I love how he includes this devastating line from Thompson, which rings as true today as 1972:
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesman with all the money we need to buy guys, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.
Soundtrack: “The Candy Man,” by Sammy Davis Jr. When I found the photo of Nixon with Sammy Davis Jr. at a youth rally at the convention, it was one of those “what the?” moments. Davis with his shirt unbuttoned to his naval, all hep cat, standing next to possibly the most unhip president in history. And the way their body language mirrors the other! Wild. It immediately put these lyrics in my head: “Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew/Cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two?/The Candy Man/Oh, the Candy Man can.”
Annotation Tuesday! Rachel Aviv and “Your Son Is Deceased.” Police shootings of minority men have seemed to become depressingly common. In this story, Rachel Aviv goes deep, illuminating a police department awash in machismo — and a young man struggling with schizophrenia. The story has a chilling anecdote near the top: A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone.” “What do you mean ‘kill zone’?” Renetta asked. “Ma’am, you can’t go any further,” the officer said. Aviv says that the terrible, and terribly impersonal, words “kill zone” were one of the reasons she decided to write the piece. She saw a YouTube video of the parents describing the scene, and she found it incomprehensible that the police, without explaining what had happened to their son, would describe their home as a “kill zone.”
Soundtrack: “Truth,” by Balmorea. This Texas group is a go-to band for me when I’m editing something about loss and pain. Their music has an unerring ability to elevate my feelings, something I’m always seeking when I work to fuel my creativity. I especially love this live album.
What I’m reading online: I thought I’d stay on a political roll during the Democratic Convention and read about the time Esquire sent William Burroughs, Jean Genet and Terry Southern to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. With cameos by Allen Ginsberg and Warren Beatty! I’m in awe of the editors’ decision to do this. We need more of this kind of free-spirit thinking in journalism today, unafraid to mix literature and news. How about this passage:
In the corner, Terry Southern rubbed his hands together in gleeful mock-anticipation. “Well, Bill,” he said to Burroughs, “how you think we ought to cover this convention? Hyeh!”
“I don’t know yet, Terry, it’s the goddamndest idiocy.”
“I tell you one thing, Bill. Heh! And that one thing is: cy-ni-cal de-tach-MENT. Heh! Yep. Ain’t that so, Jean-Jack,” Terry said, turning to Genet. “Can’t you see it, Bill,” Terry went on, “the candidate flips out once he’s been nominated. He gets up there and hollers ‘Hot Damn, Vee-et Nam! San Antone!’ It just freaks ’em out, eh Bill? Suppose old Dr. Benway were the nominee. Hyeh! ‘Hot Damn, Viet Nam!’”
This one is classic too:
Back at the hotel, over lunch, Burroughs explained how he intended to use his tape recorder. “Look, man,” he said, “what you do is this: you tape about ten minutes of somebody talking, then you reverse back to the beginning and go forward again, cutting in every few seconds to record bits and pieces of something else. You keep doing this until you’ve made a complete hash of it all. Then you walk around with the damn thing under your jacket, playing it at low volume. It flips people out. I do it in London all the time.”
What’s on my bedside table: I just picked up a vintage copy of “Here Lies: The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker.” (Which looks like “Here Lies Dorothy Parker” on the clever cover.) She was possibly unmatched in the pairing of putdowns and pathos. The most famous story is “Big Blonde,” and its tragic arc that you see coming from the first page but are helpless to stop. But this passage from another story, Too Bad, haunts me:
She tried to remember what they used to talk about before they were married, when they were engaged. It seemed to her that they never had had much to say to each other. But she hadn’t worried about it then; indeed, she had felt the satisfaction of the correct, in their courtship, for she had always heard that true love was inarticulate. Then, besides, there had been always kissing and things, to take up your mind. But it had turned out that true marriage was apparently equally dumb. And you can’t depend on kisses and all the rest of it to while away the evenings, after seven years. You’d think that you would get used to it, i seven years, would realize that that was the way it was, and let it go at that. You don’t, though. A thing like that gets on your nerves. It isn’t one of those cozy, companionable silences that people occasionally fall into together. It makes you feel as if you must do something about it, as if you weren’t performing your duty.
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: “Reckoning,” by R.E.M. It’s an old-school R.E.M. week: I drive an old Volvo wagon, and it has a cassette player. So I dug up some old cassettes (oh, the joy of rewind) and have been playing R.E.M.’s brilliant first album, “Murmur,” as I drive. Then I saw “Reckoning” in my vinyl stash and decided to play it too. There aren’t many better debut-sophomore album series out there. Can anyone out there think of one?
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.