Nicole Recommends: “Swan Song” by Juliana Hatfield

I have to imagine most girls and their mothers don’t sing along to songs about threatening suicide to get back at a shitty ex-boyfriends. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

My parents introduced me to a lot of the music I love today. Whether by blasting Prince albums or tuning into what was hot in pop radio, I was exposed to so many different styles and themes—probably way earlier than I should have. I mean, we all know “Raspberry Beret” is about the clitoris, so why my father, who was opposed to me wearing makeup and seeing “age-inappropriate” movies like She’s All That, felt it was no big deal to have that song accompany family car rides is beyond me.

After my parents divorced, my mom really became the main influencer of my musical tastes. Far more into contemporary pop and rock than my dad, she’s the one who fostered my love of Incubus while encouraging me to belt along to Christina Aguilera. The car became the place for me, my younger sister, and Mom to groove together.

A frequently queued album was Bed by Juliana Hatfield, who wrote fast and dirty, or ambling and lamenting, indie pop. “Swan Song” got the most play, so it took a few years for me to venture into the complete work myself and know all its sordid love themes—being the other woman, self-destructively wanting someone bad for you, and how attraction can turn you into someone you don’t want to be. These were all themes that likely would’ve gone over my head as a teenager who hadn’t even been felt up yet, which makes it even crazier that “Swan Song” was one of my favorite songs.

I imagined forming a band of ladies and learning this song, performing it in front of the school at a talent show. This didn’t come to pass—something that’s for the best, considering I don’t think lyrics like “Foaming at the mouth / with a needle in my arm” and “You shit / You stabbed me in the back” would have flown with the administrators.

It’s a dark song with a catchy chorus that’s all about the anger and blame and hurt you feel when the person you’re dating isn’t who you thought they were. While some might worry that such an upbeat tune could undermine or even encourage the behaviors mentioned in the song, I think it’s more to play up the fact that a lot of people go through an exaggerated period of self-destruction after a breakup. Whether it’s setting fire to your ex’s belongings a la Waiting to Exhale or just writing furiously in a journal about all the ways you wish you could watch them hurt, many feel that wanton rage and need to show just how fucked up everything is when they’ve been left behind.

And it’s a lot healthier to just sing those thoughts than act them out.

(Song recommendation by N. Alysha Lewis)

Sam Recommends: “Mambo Sun” by T.Rex

“Mambo Sun” is one of my all time favorite love songs. T.Rex’s lyrics are always delightful and strange, and this song is a perfect example of this.

I remember using the line “My life’s a shadowless horse if I can’t get across to you” as a Facebook status back when I used to do that all the time (*cringe*). But, hey, it’s a good line! There are so many great lines in this song.

An old crush shared “Mambo Sun” with me on a mix CD, and I proceeded to re-purpose it on a few of my own “I like you but am too scared to say it outright” mixes back in my college years.

The last guy I shared it with is my husband now, so I guess the magic worked.

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

Seigar Recommends: “Motorola” by Gorgon City

Seigar, the photographer, is back.

Let’s indulge ourselves for once. Today I’m bringing you “Motorola” by Gorgon City — the closest song to a disco anthem so far this year. This British duo wants to make us dance. The lyrics are basic: “Why don’t you put your number in my Motorola?” — no need for more explanation. I told you, it is all about indulgence.

We all can imagine being in the middle of the disco, dancing and sweating to this crazy bassline and 90s disco old school, evoking the nostalgia of those discotheques we used to go to. The melody and lines couldn’t be catchier. You won’t be able to get it out of your head, I’m warning you.

If you can’t get enough, you can enjoy an hour-long mix of the song here (charge your battery fully before that):

(Song recommendation by Seigar)

Christie Recommends: “The Loneliness and the Scream” by Frightened Rabbit

I first heard Frightened Rabbit’s album The Midnight Organ Fight when my daughter was nine months old. On the surface, it should have had no appeal to me. I was supposed to be basking in maternal bliss, but the truth is postpartum depression was coating my skin, seeping in my mouth and eyes, terrifying me. The irreverence of the lyrics, the images of lepers and people seeking and failing and still seeking, and the urgency around the edges of Scott’s voice all built platforms from which I could stand and scream and find my heart a bit better and a bit stronger.

Ten years later, those platforms are still in tact, and I have visited them often, grateful to be received. When I heard the news of Scott’s death, I cried thinking of his pain, of his family and friends, of the loss. I wondered if I would still be able to listen to his songs, or if they would be lost to me, too heavy to revisit. But, as the days passed and the songs began to play through my mind, I found myself singing and realized that yes, I will still listen. Thankfully, I don’t have a choice. The songs are gifts I accepted, and they are embedded in me. They dug in and helped to reinforce my limbs, stabilize my mind, and grant me permission to acknowledge emotions I keep tucked close.

Of all the songs Scott Hutchison wrote, “The Loneliness and the Scream” is the one I find most cathartic. I have crawled inside its pulsing forest countless times and always come out the other side clearer and stronger.

I hope the family and friends of Scott will find some solace in knowing how much his music meant to so many people, myself included. And to Scott, thank you for the songs. I hope you know that we heard you, we hear you even now, and we are grateful. Rest easy.

(Song recommendation by Christie Wilson)

Tom Recommends: “Please Don’t Bother Me Anymore” by Shin Joong Hyun 

When I was 10 years old, David Seidenfeld’s mother made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we played. Upon a grainy, slightly dense but still airy bread, she buttered and jellied evenly and all the way to the crusts, utilizing some divinely golden ratio of the stunning creation’s only two ingredients. When I bit into that sandwich, for the very first time in my life I could see so clearly that my own family was deeply flawed.

Not that a sandwich does a family make — even if in my case that sandwich is on some gummy white bread with an oily glop of off-off-brand peanut butter clotting and seeping through the sandwich’s middle while the surrounding, mealy real estate spurns what’s left of the appetite — but the details of our decision-making, these are clues that articulate who we are in ways we are often far too close to see.

I do not speak or understand a single word of Korean. In turn, I do not understand a single lyric of the song Please Don’t Bother Me Anymore. But in 1957, a 19 year old Korean boy named Shin Joong Hyun started playing shows at US military bases in South Korea. He was deeply inspired by the “American music” he managed to pick up on his hand-built radio, listening through poor reception and terrible static to jazz, psychedelic rock, soul music, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Charlie Parker, and more… It was the start of what would become a decades-spanning superstardom in South Korea that was eventually derailed by conflict with the government, leading to his torture, imprisonment, and marginalization. What remains of his work are but a few albums, but like some sort of sonic Mrs. Seidenfeld-ian peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Shin Joong Hyun’s music serves to reflect “American music” back to me more clearly than the actual music itself.

I recommend the entire album Beautiful Rivers and Mountains for exactly this reason. It’s like listening to someone outside of my culture (which is itself the product of so many outside cultural influences it’s staggering) articulating anew things so familiar to me that I now assume them. It’s like listening to a memoir I didn’t know I lived. And in this way, it helps me to reflect more deeply upon the things that have inspired and informed me as a human being and as a writer.

So get your hands on the best PB&J you possibly can and take a listen. And Mrs. Seidenfeld, if you read this, please get in touch. I will come to wherever you are just to sit at your kitchen table one more time….

(Song recommendation by Tom Stern)

Sarah Recommends: “Dirty Old Town” by The Pogues

Cover image from IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD — Island Records

I’m going to brag for a minute. Don’t worry, later on I’ll get my comeuppance.

It’s Cannes Film Festival time. So I’m looking at photos of people on the red carpet and wishing I was there. I’ve attended Cannes twice and adore it.

I was just a tourist, a lover of cinema with little money to cover more than airfare on my first trip to Cannes. I shared a one bedroom apartment with ten people — but all I used it for was sleep. There was too much to do. During the day, I saw films and explored nearby towns. My pale skin burned to a tan. At night, I went out with friends. We crashed parties — met film execs and ate dinner on their expense accounts. I danced on a table with a glass of champagne in my hand, grinning into the lens of a cameraman as he filmed me twirl in my Goodwill castoffs.

I attended my second festival for work — staying in a villa with my own room. It all seemed glamorous at first. I hoofed it for miles each day in heels and a fancy dress, shooting interviews with directors and actors and producing short-form documentaries. The work was fun but intense. So much adrenaline pumped through me that it took a full day to realize I was sick with a strain of the French flu, which came paired with bronchitis and a throat infection.

I was quarantined in my bedroom. I shook with full body tremors. I lost almost ten pounds in three days due to fever and lack of sustenance. During the worst of it, I awoke to shitty dance music coming from a party yacht over a half a mile away. The flashing lights from the yacht glinted in the villa’s pool outside my bedroom window. I wondered if I’d die there, alone.

But the antibiotics did their work and soon I was back to mine, rallying for the last days of the festival. Still weak, but intent on not being a spoil-sport, I hit a club with my co-workers on our final night.

I’m not one of those people who believes Disco sucks, but man does the music in Cannes discotheques suck. I kept hoping for the perfect song to play, something to uplift me, but most of the music was the stuff I’d heard coming from the yacht — the type of EDM that could be shat out by a computer.

Around 4 am, I left the club with aching feet. I took my heels off and shuffled along the cobblestones barefoot. A memory came to me —  walking that same street with a roommate during my first trip. He was a Dutch filmmaker who longed to win the Palme d’Or and walk the red carpet with a drag queen. He didn’t take any of the Cannes mania seriously. We’d sipped Pastis from plastic cups and he’d grinned at the glitz around us, singing “Dirty Old Town.”

And it hit me. I was in a town suffused with glamour and beauty, and I’d done things I’d never thought possible while growing up in a small Midwestern city. Even knocked down, I was gloriously alive.

Back to the villa I went, singing “Dirty Old Town” to the empty streets. I couldn’t help but smile as the first glints of sunshine came across the horizon.

I’m going to make me a good sharp axe
Shining steel tempered in the fire
I’ll chop you down like an old dead tree
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

(Song recommendation by Sarah Skiles)

Cory Recommends: “Teapot Dome Blues” by Fletcher Henderson

When my Mom’s folks passed, I inherited a circa 1948 Zenith 880 radio cabinet. It sat in my parents’ basement for about a decade before I got my own place and could retrieve it. There is a whole saga about the storage of this cabinet and who said they wanted it or not, but that’s not why we are here.

So, it’s mine now and it works like a dream. I had to take it to two specialty shops to get it in running order, but no matter. It’s got a mismatched Voice of Music turntable attached, which was added to play LPs, but could also handle 78 rpm shellac. Since being unhindered by format is important to me, I went and bought some 78s at Vintage Music in Minneapolis. The first thing I picked up was an “album” of four Fletcher Henderson platters. I was looking for the tune “Sweet and Hot” (the only Henderson I had heard up to that point) which is what compelled the purchase, but ended up with the tune I’m recommending as well, which was a revelatory find for me.

Political scandal, especially the ones fueled by unchecked greed, are as old as politics and money themselves, but how many pop songs can you recall that name a scandal in their title?

Lucky for us Fletcher Henderson has our back.

Recorded in 1924 just as the breadth of the Harding administration’s corruption in the Teapot Dome Scandal (read about it here: was becoming known to the American public, the song has nothing to do with the affair other than its shared name. An instrumental jazz track that falls into the jazz style of a ‘stomp’, it’s light, quick, and perhaps a little quaint to the modern ear, calling to mind flappers and dance halls. It’s also catchy and hopping! Henderson was a jazz pioneer whose work was a cornerstone for what would become swing and the big band era once adopted by the likes of Benny Goodman.

Won’t you take a 3 minute trip back in time with me?

(Song recommendation by Cory Funk)

Christopher Recommends: “Neuköln” by David Bowie

When I was seventeen, I bought a used cassette of David Bowie’s album Heroes from the Record Exchange in Salem, Massachusetts (which, by the way, still exists). Growing up in the eighties, I was very familiar with Bowie, not just as a musician, but as an actor, too. At that time, I knew and loved some of his music from the seventies, but I wasn’t familiar with anything from the “Berlin Trilogy.”

When I bought the cassette, I figured the songs were going to be somewhat along the lines of “Young Americans” or “Fame.” I put the cassette in my 1980 Datsun and headed home. Since the tape was rewound to side two, I heard the album out of its intended order.

Needless to say, I was a bit surprised when “V-2 Schneider” came on. It sounded kind of Bowie-ish, but it had almost no vocals. Okay, so Bowie did an instrumental.

But then it was followed by two more: “Sense of Doubt” and “Moss Garden.” To my ears, neither sounded like anything you’d expect from Bowie: the first had spare piano and synthesizer, the second had a koto. I wondered if I had bought the wrong tape, so I pulled over and ejected the cassette. It looked like the right album, so I played the rest. Maybe a song with a vocal would come up next?

Nope. But “Neuköln” — the fourth consecutive instrumental on side two — was the most compelling: moody synths, guitar, and organ create a mournful atmosphere for Bowie’s saxophone, which combined Middle Eastern music with free jazz. Hard to believe it was the same artist who’d scored a number one hit two years earlier.

At the time, I didn’t really appreciate the multiple layers of “Neuköln” or the different musical influences he had incorporated. However, as I grew older, and my tastes became more eclectic, I learned to admire Bowie for experimenting and defying listener expectations.

I don’t have my Datsun anymore, but I still listen to my Heroes CD in my car every now and then. And I still get intrigued when this piece comes on.

(Song recommendation by Christopher Iacono)

Jon Recommends: “Head Rolls Off” by Frightened Rabbit

I got punched in the gut again today.

Just yesterday I was teaching the nephews how to make chocolate covered bananas. Tiny monkey fists kept grabbing at the ones cooling on the parchment, met by big monkey hand-slaps from me.

Halfway through the chocolate and most of the way through the end product, my old man called. Only it wasn’t my old man.

“Hey pop! Whatya doin?”

Val’s voice shook on the other end. “Hey Jon, no it’s uhh, not him. Uhm…listen…”

I already knew. I already knew but I had no idea what to do.

“No, keep going guys. Be careful of the fire.”

I walked out to the driveway instinctively, like getting into the car would drive me back in time for one more afternoon nap with those damn golf announcers whispering on in the background. Like if I just hung up right now, I could probably make it before he fell asleep, curl up in the unused space of the couch, hear his old ticking heart keeping the time.

But before I could make it to the car, she ruined it.

“The clock stopped.”

My vision blurred and my phone was in my hand but now it was in my pocket but the keys weren’t in my pocket where are the keys to the damn car there is no car my sister has the car but I have to get there who will watch the kids I don’t care I have to get there why is my face wet I need to go.

Then my face was buried in someone’s chest. But it wasn’t his. And it never would be again.

Today I heard of Scott Hutchison’s passing, and it all came back for just a split second.

I never knew the guy, but the music of Frightened Rabbit was something inescapably human, and understood me in a time when I felt like no one did.

I know what’s waiting for me at the so-called end that these men and countless more have met. That’s not what matters.

Scott himself nailed what matters:

While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.

(Song recommendation by Jon Johnson)