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)

Sarah Recommends: “Battleflag” by Lo Fidelity Allstars

Tell me is it time to get down on your motherfuckin’ knees….

I was just watching the video for this song, and noticed that it’s twenty years old. I don’t remember where I was when I first heard it in 1998, only that it was there, and it’s been lodged in my head ever since, a low-boil anger scratch that I have to sometimes itch by watching the video. “Your construction/smells of corruption” is a wonderful opening line, sounding like it was sung over an old PA system, and it only gets better from there. I still need the video, too, because I’d like to believe that the established order of things can be burned down in about five minutes by a surly-sounding British band riding around in a vintage Jaguar.

(Song recommendation by Sarah Nichols)

Jon Recommends: “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” by Interpol

Fall brought its own changes.

Our housemate Jamie was finally over “that buttfucker” Mason, who had left her for some guy. (As it happens, Mason and his now-husband are very happy.)

Jamie’s newfound lust for change had chopped off all of her hair and bought her a one-way ticket to Guatemala to find whatever she was trying to find in Mason. So Bonne chance to her and her very original pixie cut, but now we needed a new roommate to pay rent in ten days.

www dot craigslist south Los Angeles what could go wrong dot com.

The first few were just as nope as you’d expect. And then some golden boy showed up at our door. Pale, blond, skinny, skinnier jeans, non-prescription glasses, hair still pushed gently to the side in a way that said “I’m still in 2003, but I’m so far ahead of you.”

I hid my judgement from everyone but myself.

We all stood in the kitchen for a talk. He stopped short and leaned against the door frame.

“Sup, I’m Brent.”

He would be a fuckin’ Brent.

As everyone introduced themselves, my dog ran from her room to see who was getting the attention that only she deserved.

Brent noticed her. “Oh sweet, a pit bull. They are such chill dogs.” Bending to pet her, he asked “What’s her name?”

Maybe he wasn’t so bad. “Stella.” I replied with a smile as she looked up at me.

“Rad. Stella was a diver and she’s always down.”

“YES!” My eyes widened. No one had ever gotten this reference before. We named her Stella because of the white star on her black chest, but her secret middle name was the title of this song that had brought me through a time I didn’t even know I was going through. (That’s another story)

But maybe Brent was actually cool. Everyone else was kinda convinced, and if this guy was into Interpol, maybe I could even spend a few months with him in the house.

Then he started.

“Yea, but you haven’t really heard it until you listen on vinyl.” The back of my throat started itching.

“Jeez, would my vinyl collection even be safe in this neighborhood?” He squinted out the windows through his fake fucking glasses. Everyone gave an awkward laugh. The 14th street gang down the road doesn’t really deal in vinyls, Brent, but we could ask for you.

A few more lines wiped the smiles from our faces. To finish the conversation he reached into his vocal fry register, “Yaaah cool, well listen I’ll uhhh, call you if something else falls through. Take care.”

We all looked at each other as the door closed.

“We’ll just pay for the empty room.” I said, locking the deadbolt. We laughed, shook our heads, bit the bullet, and found someone to fill the room the next month.

In Brent’s honor, I enjoyed a compressed-as-shit MP3 version of Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down paired with a fine bottle of Two Buck Chuck, 2011, while petting the stank of Brent’s Dad’s Chanel Egoiste off of Stella.

(Song recommendation by Jon Johnson)

Sarah Recommends: “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John

I can strip someone of their clothing in 30 seconds or less.

This isn’t as sexy as it sounds.

I acquired this skill during college. Not at parties, but in the backstage area of the university’s theater. There, I became skilled at the art of the quick change: the coordinated dance between actor and theater tech in which one costume is removed and another donned in minutes.

Me dressed in black, blending into the darkness of the theater wings.The actor shouting an exit line and rushing into my arms. Kicking off their shoes. Standing like a mannequin as I whipped off their clothing. No modesty in the theater. Them mumbling lines to me as I pulled, zipped, and buttoned them into their character’s next reality. On stage they’d strut, returning to the audience utterly changed. As if by magic.

I didn’t do this as a hobby. Like most strip acts, it was all about cold hard cash. For two summers, I was the Wardrobe Mistress for my university’s theater department, which cranked out musicals to bring in the college-town locals.

It was a decent job, but a lonely one. I spent my time waiting to perform quick changes in empty dressing rooms reeking of sweat. After the cast gave their bows and went off to drink, I headed to the Costume Shop to repair costumes and do laundry.

Before I sorted through my first load of sweat-soaked undershirts, I’d put the XANADU soundtrack on the stereo. The mellow strains of “Magic” started and Olivia Newton-John’s seductive, saccharine voice became my companion throughout the night.

I’m not an easy-listening type of girl, but “Magic” captivated me. Something about the corny lyrics appealed to the optimist living in the recesses of my heart. I was nineteen. I had dreams that extended well beyond doing costume changes.

While waiting for the final load to come out of the dryer, I’d play dress up in the costumes hanging in storage — throwing on the Witch’s cloak from Into The Woods, or Viola’s disguise fromTwelfth Night, or Claire’s sleek suit from The Visit. I’d strut to Olivia Newton-John and wonder what kind of woman I’d one day become.

And if all your hopes survive

Destiny will arrive

Bring all your dreams alive

For you

(Song recommendation by Sarah Skiles)

Cory Recommends: “July Flame” by Laura Veirs

I’m recommending this song for two reasons. The first is that, on the strength of this tune alone, I picked up the album of the same name. On the strength of the album, I started collecting her back catalog. I’m now seven albums in.

The other reason? This song is a type of magic but I don’t mean the cheap theater kind for kids. There is no sleight of hand here, but an incantation to the heart.

Every time it plays, it brings me both joy and sadness in a perfect mixture both sweet and gone. The chorus is both the sun and its attendant night. It calls up memories of days I never had.

The line that knocks me all the way out: “Ashes of a secret heart/falling in my lemonade/unslakable thirsting/in the backyard”.

Please, call it yours.

(Song recommendation by Cory Funk)

Seigar Recommends: “Gente de Mierda” by Putochinomaricón

Photograph by Seigar

Seigar, the photographer, is back.

Let me introduce you to Chenta Tsai, whose artistic name is Putochinomaricón. He is a 26 year old singer and musician, who studied architecture, and now has become the latest Spanish revolution in music. He was born and grew up in Madrid, but everybody talks about his Chinese origins. His artistic name refers to the typical insult that Chinese people can be called in Spain; he uses the insult as a twist to empower himself and fight against racism. He composes and sings electro pop songs, and his lyrics represent millennials — the generation that can’t live without social networks and the Internet. He is quite critical about homophobia and racism. He, even though he probably doesn’t want to, has become the voice for many people.

He is a curious and interesting character. You can follow his stories on his Instagram talking about current issues, giving his opinion about important or the most nonsensical subjects. He can talk about censorship or his progress in his vogueing lessons. His first album is super short, as if it were a tribute to the new generation pace/timing. The album was rated 8.1/10 by Jenesaispop, sort of like the Spanish version of Pitchfork. Let’s enjoy the video.

(Song recommendation by Seigar)