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: Taro Yamasaki and life inside Jackson State Prison: This is kind of a special week at Storyboard: We’ve featured storytelling that’s expressed through images, not text. I want to do more of that on the site. Even though I’m a lover of beautiful writing, we all know that sometimes one image can create a story in your head that’s more moving than a thousand-word story. (And yes, I’m hearing the lyrics, “If a picture paints a thousand words/Then why can’t I paint you?” And yes, I fear they will be stuck in my head now for the rest of the day.) In this terrific annotation by my predecessor, Michael Fitzgerald, photographer Taro Yamasaki tells some wonderful “how I got the photo” anecdotes. My favorite? That the prisoners may have been respectful of him because they thought he was a martial-arts master.
Soundtrack: “Jackson,” by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. I chose this song for the name alone; it has nothing to do with prisons (although Johnny does have a prison connection). But any time I get the chance to hear the playful-sizzling chemistry between these two, I take it. Have you seen Johnny’s “Things to Do Today” list? “No. 2: Kiss June. No. 3: Not kiss anyone else.” Swoon.
5(ish) Questions: Niki Boon on documenting her children “Wild and Free.” Sometimes you see a series of photos that are so striking, you want to know the story behind them. That was the case with Niki Boon’s photographs documenting her kids’ “Wild and Free” childhood, free from smartphones and video games and societal pressures. The New Zealander’s photographs, Mary MacVean writes, “call to mind the childhood many people had for moments, maybe on a camping trip, or wish they had. They connect us to the memories of an abiding love for animals, for pretend play, for messing around in the water or with a pile of rocks. They are startlingly revealing, and in that way reminiscent of Sally Mann’s pictures of her family. Boon’s choice of parenting style is rare and extreme. For me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, it’s the kind of brave life I kind of wish I’d been able to live.”
Soundtrack: “I’m Free,” by the Soup Dragons. Yeah, yeah, I know this is a Rolling Stones song. But this is the version for me. From the opening shout, “Don’t be afraid of your freedom,” it’s a happy-making song.
What I’m reading online: The other day, Mark Armstrong, the founder of Longreads, used only one word in suggesting a story the site was featuring: “Read.” Actually, that’s more of an order than a suggestion, but it was one I was happy to follow. In the piece, writer Leah Sottile talks about living with her husband’s debilitating illness for years — years without knowing what was causing his pain. I’d like to feature the story in the future, so I won’t go on and on here, but it’s worth a shout-out now, too.
What’s on my bedside table: I went through a McMurtry phase (didn’t we all?) but for some reason never read “Horseman Pass By,” his first novel. And what a first novel it is. The prologue alone is worth the price. Here’s a beautiful bit, about the nightly Zephyr train:
“I could see the hundred lighted windows of the passenger cars, and I wondered where in the world the people behind them were going night after night. To me it was exciting to think about a train. But the Zephyr blowing by seemed to make Grandad tireder; seemed to make him sad. He told me one time that it reminded him of nights on roundup, long years ago. On quiet nights he and the other cowboys would sit around the fires, telling stories or drawing brands in the dirt. Some nights they would camp close to a railroad track, and a train would go by and blow its whistle at the fires. Sometimes it scared the cattle, and sometimes it didn’t, but it always took the spirit out of the cowboys’ talk; made them lonesomer than they could say. It made them think about womenfolk and fun and city lights till they could barely stand it.”
How about that for capturing yearning and regret and a sense of possibility and loss alike in one paragraph?
Oh, and the publishers of my paperback copy of the book cannily renamed it “Hud” after the novel was made into the Paul Newman movie. And even more cannily, they featured a picture of Newman on the cover, looking quite … virile.
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: “Come Fly With Me,” by Frank Sinatra. Even when I was a teenager, and it was deeply uncool to like Sinatra, he was one of my favorites. And this one is way up there in the canon for me. It must be one of the first concept albums — every song is about travel, and escape, and adventure. (Oh, speaking of teens and the relative uncoolness of Sinatra, a few months back I was sitting in the Dublin airport next to a teenage boy playing video games, earbuds in. Suddenly I hear him singing under his breath, “Fly Me to the Moon.” Sinatra endures.)
If you want to suggest story soundtracks of your own, or just want to chat about storytelling or music, you can reach me at email@example.com. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.