MARCH MIX by Adam Wilson
Well, Well, Well
It took me almost seven years to conceive of, write, edit, and publish my debut novel, Flatscreen. I listened to a lot of music over that period. Some of it was inspirational, some made me horny, and some helped placate the pain of being alive. Or whatever. Some is just the shit I’ve downloaded recently. Here are some favorite jamz.
1. Blaze Foley — Clay Pigeons
My friend Mark made me a mix CD entitled Minor for my 23rd birthday in March of 2005. I was living in Austin, Texas, at the time, and miserable. We listened to the mix while passing a bottle of bourbon in the cab of Mark’s truck. We got sentimental and he gave me an invitation to his wedding, fresh from the printer. The wedding was called off shortly after. The invitations were never sent. I still have mine in a shoebox in my closet. I have the CD too, but I no longer have a CD player. This was the first song on the mix. It reminds me of Denis Johnson’s novel, Angels. “Gonna find that lady with two or three kids and sit down by her side.” In 1989 Blaze Foley was gunned down in the streets by a man named January.
2. The Replacements — Little Mascara
For years people told me to listen to The Replacements, so I defiantly, and stupidly, ignored them. I think I thought they were a Ramones rip-off and that calling their album Let It Be was cheeky and unsophisticated. I thought I knew a lot about music, but I didn’t know much about anything. When I finally gave Let It Be a serious listen I realized it was the best rock album ever. That led me to Tim, which is equally good, if not better. I can’t tell if Westerberg is being bitingly sarcastic or tenderly empathetic (or both) when he sings, “All you ever wanted was someone to take care of ya/ All you’re ever losin’ is a little mascara.” I think that’s what I like about it.
3. Beyonce — 1+1
Beyonce just lays it on the line in the one. Such a raw and emotional vocal that we don’t get on her big dance numbers. And finally she gets an arrangement that doesn’t try to do to much and let’s her voice carry the song. When she sings, “Make love to me” here, every guy in the world wishes he were Jay-Z.
4. Tom Waits — Downtown Train
Sometimes on Friday nights after dinner my parents would play music in the living room from my dad’s record collection and dance. The record collection seemed to come from an earlier, bohemian, pre-suburban life. For years I thought that Tom Waits was an old black man, a less famous Louis Armstrong. I was shocked when I found out he was white — probably around age fifteen. I love the line about the Brooklyn girls scattering like crows, “they have nothing that will ever capture your heart.” I always think of this line when I’m taking the F train out of the city with the other drunk Brooklynites trying to make it home before sunrise.
5. Guided by Voices — A Salty Salute
When it comes to Robert Pollard, I really like to analyze the lyrics, even though they’re purposefully vague, and resistant to analysis. “Diss on the sexless/the new drunk drivers/have hoisted the flag/we are with you in your anger…” What the fuck is he talking about? If I ever met Robert Pollard I would ask him about this. I’m almost certain he would give a circuitous and indecipherable answer, and that would make me happy. I like listening to this song at the gym.
6. Bobby “Blue” Bland — Turn on Your Lovelight
I first came to this song through the Grateful Dead’s cover of it. The Grateful Dead were a very important band to me in high school, in part because I really wanted to live on a bus and take acid, and also because I hated myself, and thought that I would have been happier in the sixties or seventies. I still love their music — Jerry Garcia is a beautiful singer and guitar player and songwriter, even if he can’t always hit the high notes. There’s something so very human about his voice. I don’t really love their cover of this song, which is sung by by Bob Weir, not Garcia. The Bobby “Blue” Bland version has a great horn line and just amazing energy. I especially like to listen to it while sauteeing meat over high heat.
7. Skaters — Schemers
Skaters is the new band from Michael Ian Cummings and Noah Rubin, formerly of Furvis, The Dead Trees, and also formerly of Newton South High School, where I went. Noah briefly played drums for my band Raw Dog when I was in college. He is the best musician I have ever played with, and it’s amazing these days to see him playing with musicians who are actually up to his caliber. Mike and Noah have been writing songs together since they were teenagers, and it shows. This is the first track off Skaters’ EP. They just relocated from the West Coast to NYC, and “Schemers” just drips with old school Lower East Side-ness.
8. tUnE-yArDs — Powa
Chuck Klosterman recently wrote a kind of stupid piece about how he doesn’t know what to make of this album, and how it’s good, but no one will probably remember it in a few years. I like Chuck Klosterman a lot, but he’s totally wrong. This is my jam of the moment. Love everything from the Bowie nod to the Zeppelin-doing-reggae guitar sound, to the slow build of the arrangement. I’ll remember this fucker.
9. Faye Adams — Shake a Hand
I first heard this song in Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, a breathtakingly beautiful art film set in the Watts area of Los Angeles during the early nineteen seventies. The song plays over a famous shot in which children jump from rooftop to rooftop, shot from below. I can’t think a more perfectly scored moment in film.
10. Erato — Call Your Girlfriend
I found this Scandinavian all-female a capella cover of Robyn’s hit song when someone posted a youtube video of it on my friend’s Facebook wall. Unlike the Robyn version, which is overdone with synthesizers and drum machines, Erato let the song breathe. And it’s a gorgeous song, it turns out.
11. Golden Palominos — Little Suicides
When I worked at a bookstore a couple years ago, this customer — a former editor at Harper’s magazine — kept coming in and asking if I was going to see the Golden Palominos reunion show. He made it sound like they were the best band I’d never heard of, which maybe they were. I didn’t go to the show. He did. He said it was a disappointment. But I downloaded this album anyway. It’s really good, especially this song.
12. Handsome Family — So Much Wine
Another track from“Minor”, this is one of those songs that could be a Raymond Carver story — “I had nothing to say on Christmas day when you threw all your clothes in the snow.” Right? The chorus has a lot of wisdom in it for drunks. “There’s only so much wine/you can drink/for your life/but it will never be enough/to save you from/the bottom of your glass.” True dat.
13. Karen Dalton — Something On Your Mind
Karen Dalton was this part-Native American Billie-Holiday-channeling genius of the Greenwich Village folk scene, and everyone like Dylan and The Band were in love with her. She didn’t record much during her lifetime, but what she did record is pure treasure.
14. Mountain Goats — Palmcorder Yanja
When I was in high school my friends and I sometimes rented motel rooms at a place called the Susse Chalet (which we called the Swiss Chalet) and went there to take ecstasy and listen to really bad music, like techno remixes of Dave Matthews and shit (eventually, a friend’s cool dad gave us a Kraftwerk CD and it blew our minds), and try to get girls to give us massages. It turns out this is the same motel the 9/11 hijackers stayed in on the night before the flight. This song always reminds me of doing drugs in motel rooms.
15. Sam Cooke — Bring It On Home to Me (Live at Harlem Square Club)
Nothing really needs to be said about this song other than that it’s perfect, and that the live version absolutely destroys the original, and shows this loose and wild Sam Cooke that you never get to see on the studio recordings. The energy in the room is just so palpable and frenzied, and I really can’t think of a better recording of any song ever. If I could go back in time and go to one concert, it would be this one.
by Adam Wilson
–Adam Wilson is the author of Flatscreen, which came out from Harper Perennial last month. He is also the former editor of The Faster Times, a former culture columnist for Blackbook, and a former TV blogger for Flavorwire. His journalism, criticism, and fiction have appeared in many publications including Bookforum, The New York Times, The Paris Review Daily, and The Rumpus. He holds a BA from Tufts University, and an MFA from Columbia University, where he received a Merit Fellowship.