Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another dynamite set of songs for my PLAYLIST PLAYGROUND series!!!

Krista Jass and daughter Teegan

So I'm sitting at home the other day and I get this all-too-familiar feeling, the one that's telling me I've
forgotten something.

Then it hits me.

A few months ago I'd asked my old friend Krista Jass (that'd be Judge Jass, of Blue Earth County District Court, to you bub) to contribute a playlist to my new blog feature Playlist Playground (where I give people a theme and they submit playlists based on that theme.) So I messaged her.

"Your honor?" I said.

"Yes?" she replied. (Again, she didn't actually say this.)

"Did you send me a playlist and I missed it?"

And then she goes all street on me with some, "Wha??? Excuse me??? No you DID NOT just lose my playlist. I spent weeks on that and I will not allow some damn fool to just 'lose' it." (Never said it.)

"Um ..." I say, not really sure what to make of this other side of the usually professional Krista Jass.

"Listen writer boy," she interrupts, "I know people. Dangerous people. I used to be a public defender, for Pete's sake. One phone call and I can make your life a living hell." (Complete fiction.)

"So let me just go double check that inbox and I'll get back to you soon, Your Honor."

"Respect, fool." (Lies.)

"Yes ma'am."

I found it. And now you can read it HERE. It's brilliant, of course. The theme I gave her: "Tales of Shame and Regret," which she interprets beautifully through a playlist that includes, among others, Wilco, Ray LaMontagne, Springsteen and others.


Monday, December 16, 2013

PLAYLIST PLAYGROUND continues with everyone's favorite BARISTA!!!

This is Sarah.
It's been a while, but PLAYLIST PLAYGROUND IS BACK!!!

And this time it's back with an unexpected surprise! But more on that in a minute.

First, I can't wait to introduce to you the barista formerly known as Sarah Turbes ... SARAH DOMEIER!!!

I've known Sarah for a long time. She's my favorite barista in town (she runs the Fillin' Station coffeehouse) and she makes the world's greatest mocha. I've always been impressed with the music she plays in the coffeeshop, and she's got a certain way with customers, so .... I gave her the theme "The Customer is Always Right."

She had a great time with it and I know you'll love her playlist.

Where can you find it? Go HERE.

I've created a new website dedicated to the playlist series. It's a little slicker, a little cooler than what you'll find here on my blog. So please, go check out Sarah's playlist. All the others from the series are there, too.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

WINTER IS COMING! (Playlist Playground continues with local writer KIRSTIN CRONN-MILLS!!!)

I don't think I'm breaking any news here when I say: I HATE WINTER.

You'd think I'd have a different take on the season that defines Minnesotans more than any other. I, like many of you, grew up with it. I walked the 8 blocks to Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Elementary School every day, played hockey outdoors for several years before we ever saw an indoor rink, built snow forts, bombed cars with snowballs.

But as I'm getting older, I have and less patience for Old Man Winter. Why does anyone live here anymore? I mean, really, who would choose to live in a place where, for a good chunk of the year, you can't even leave your house without first putting on 20 pounds of outdoor gear? Just a simple run to Kwik Trip takes twice as long because of the prep time!

Anyway, enough about what don't like. Let's talk about what I do like. Winter, I believe, is good for creativity. And there's nothing I like more than creativity.

The latest in my Playlist Playground series comes to us from one of stars of the local literary scene, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, author of the recent critically acclaimed young adult fiction title, "Beautiful Music For Ugly Children." I gave her a theme that spoke to both my hatred for the coming cold, and my love the HBO series (and George R. R. Martin books) "A Game of Thrones": Winter is Coming (in the books and series, "winter is coming" is an often-uttered cautionary phrase, as winters in that world last for years.)

As expected, Cronn-Mills was more than up to the challenge. I think you'll really like what she came up with. I know I did.



Winter is coming, and not just in the Game of Thrones way. The angle of the sun tells me this truth, and the leaves and the temperature agree. I actively have to fight against hating this time of year. What’s to like besides the pretty colors? It’s a torturously slow decline, with too little sun and too much cold, and it’s hard to remember the promise of light and growth again because that stuff seems so far away. I do like thick socks, and I love playing in the snow, and yes, I like the holidays (and my birthday!). I just don’t like the death it takes to get there.

These songs are helping me slide into the upcoming darkness with some grace. Sort of.

1. “Reflektor,” Arcade Fire

This song makes me think of ice and sliding, which is coming up for us. Even so, there’s a desire to rally against the slippery dark while things are shattering around them. In the video, the lady in the box feels winter-ish to me, too—she’s iced in. Disclaimer: I know people both love and hate Arcade Fire, and the reviews of their new album have been mixed. I don’t know enough about them to feel one way or the other. I just like the song, and it’s new. New is good. The rest of my list should prove to you I need some new music.

2. “Fixing a Hole,” The Beatles

You have to patch holes in the fall, and you can hear the encroaching lack of daylight in this song, despite its cheerier chorus. And this video of a solo performance by Macca is pretty great (back when it didn’t look so bad that he dyed his hair, plus there’s Linda in the background, with the maracas).

3. “Ramble On,” Led Zeppelin

The song starts with autumn leaves — perfect fall-into-winter song, right (too easy!)? But even so, it fits my mindset, because it’s my reminder to not be crabby. We really only have two choices once this time of year comes around: we can drag our heels in the soggy muck, or we can ramble on. I always want to be a heel-dragger, but the song doesn’t let me.

4. “Hurt,” Johnny Cash

I don’t know about you, but this song & video slay me in the very best way. Here is a man in the winter of his life, reflecting on some damaged, awful parts of himself (of the world, of humanity as a whole), and you can’t help but feel for him. Then those majestic chords start pounding like a winter storm, and you want him to just stab you now, because you can’t take the pain this man is laying down, AND THEN IT JUST STOPS. Kind of like life. And autumn. Boom. It’s winter. (For the record, I don’t know the Nine Inch Nails’ version. Maybe it’s better, but I doubt it.)

(Editor's note: The Nine Inch Nails version is NOT better, with all due respect to Mr. Reznor, who in fact has said the song he wrote now belongs to Johnny Cash.)

5. “One Part Be My Lover,” Bonnie Raitt

This song covers the autumn of a relationship, and the whistle-y parts of the song (musically astute, yes? “whistle-y parts”) make me think of breaking up and walking away, kicking leaves and tucking yourself into a warm coat as you go. And I remember listening to this song one autumn long ago and reflecting on its truth.

6. "Hearts and Bones,” Paul Simon

This song is a solemn discussion about loss, lightly floating on a guitar melody. Paul Simon is also in the autumn of his life in this video, but it doesn’t diminish his power. BONUS: it segues into “Mystery Train” at about 6 minutes, one of the best songs ever. Trains are four-season for me, so it doesn’t really relate to my topic, but I couldn’t resist.

7. “Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi Trio

When fall turns to winter, of course Christmas is coming, and it’s never too early to start listening to the best Christmas music ever written. There is no finer holiday groove than the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

8. “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk

This is my summer song, and summer songs die hard for me, so I included it here. I need a bastion against the darkness, and it reminds me that it will be warm again someday. This summer I heard it everywhere from Mankato to Malmo, Sweden. Roller disco (and excellent dancing from Soul Train, watch the video) for the win!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

LET'S PLAY HOCKEY!!! Or at least play some hockey music (Playlist Playground continues!)

For as long as I can remember, HOCKEY has been a major part of my life.

Some of the best memories of my childhood involve lacing up skates on a cold Saturday morning and waddling out onto a frozen sheet of outdoor ice at Prosperity Playground on St. Paul's East Side. I started skating as soon as I could walk, and from the time I was 3 years old and all the way through high school, there was never a winter -- and a few summers -- that didn't revolved around a hockey schedule.

It's in my blood. It's part of who I am.

These days, my love for the game manifests itself at the Verizon Wireless Center and the Minnesota State University men's hockey team. I've been a fan since I was a student there (which took some doing, because I'd been kind of a die-hard Golden Gopher fan even since Neal Broten blew my mind with his impossibly cool goal to win a national title, and my time at the University of North Dakota made me a Fighting Sioux fan for a year.)

I'm at every game these days, and I love my mavericks. One of the things I sometimes don't like as much, however, is the state of music inside Verizon Wireless Center. And in this week's Playlist Playground installment, I bring to you a kindred spirit on the subject of Maverick hockey music.

Shane Frederick has been covering Maverick hockey for a long time, long enough to have heard every song they've ever spun between every stoppage of play there. And he's got a few suggestions for how they can freshen up the sound a little bit. His playlist is energetic, and I have to say I agree with his selections (I'd offer my own list, but hey, this isn't about me.)

So without further adieu, I give you Shanerator. (He wrote this prior to the opening weekend of hockey at VWC.)


Tonight is the Minnesota State men’s hockey team’s home opener, and as much as I enjoy my job covering the Mavericks and being at the rink on Friday and Saturday nights, I’ve become more and more numb to the music that’s played in the Verizon Wireless Center during games.

I could use a reprieve from Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” Nugent’s “Stranglehold,” and pretty much the entire AC/DC and Journey catalogs.

Yes, after 13 years, my internal copy of Jock Rock has worn out. I no longer want to let the bodies hit the floor. I’m afraid I’ve stopped believin’.

So I challenge The Cell’s DJ to freshen things up a bit. Here are some songs/artists, I wouldn’t mind hearing added to the Maverick hockey playlist:

1. “Lonely Boy,” The Black Keys
Features a great guitar riff that’s perfect for a 15-second stoppage before a faceoff but the whole song has a hard groove that might get people moving in their seats a little bit before the game and between periods.

2. “Freedom at 21,” Jack White
Somehow, the VWC seemed to miss the fact that every other sports stadium in the country has been playing “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. It is this generation’s “We Will Rock You.” That’s OK, though. Grab Jack White’s latest for a couple of perfect stadium songs. “Sixteen Saltines” and “I’m Shakin’” work, too. But this has another guitar lick that can be put on repeat.

3. “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” Wilco
If you know me, you know I’m an unabashed Wilco fan. When I found out that Bemdji State was playing some Wilco on it’s pregame playlist, I was ready to trade jobs with Jack Hittinger at The Pioneer. OK, so that’s a bit of a stretch. Picking out the perfect Wilco song for a hockey game was no easy task. “I’m a Wheel” and “You Never Know” work, too.

4. “Somebody to Shove,” Soul Asylum
Whenever there’s a skirmish after a play, the DJ loves to play the theme from Rocky or one of the versions of Saturday’s “Alright for Fighting.” (Yes, kids, Elton John did that song long before Nickleback.). But I’d stay close to home and put up a little Minnesota music for those incidents.

5. “Someday I Suppose,” The Mighty Might Bosstones
This is just fun, rockin’ song, but I’d get this on the list sooner than later with Boston native and MSU captain Johnny McInnis on the roster for just one more year. The Bosstones’ version of Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City” is pretty solid, too.

6. “Here Comes Your Man,” The Pixies 
This song just makes me smile. Every time. And I think it would sound fantastic cranked up on the VWC’s excellent sound system. Just do it!

7. "Shadrach," Beastie Boys
The Beasties get played plenty in hockey arenas. "Fight for Your Right," "Sabotage." I was going to put "So What Cha Want" here, but I popped in my green cassette version of Paul's Boutique in the car the other day, and this song sounded as fresh as it did in 1989.

8. “Winning,” Santana 
I enjoy it when teams play a victory song after a win. The University of Minnesota pep band playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the New York Yankees playing Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” the Dodgers playing “I Love L.A.” This song just sounds like something cool to crank to 11 as the Mavericks do a stick salute and the arena starts to empty.

9. “Where the Party at?” Chad Brownlee 
Someone needs to explain to me why this guy’s music isn’t played constantly in this town. Radio? The VWC? Live summer show at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater? If a former Mavericks player is now a huge country-music artist in Canada, shouldn’t Mankato be the one American city that supports this guy? Anyway, this is his new song.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"At the good old hockey game" ... New playlist coming soon!

Playlist Playground will continue with an all-new list of songs from our own Shane Frederick, hockey writer extraordinaire, and author of the wildly popular blog Puckato.

Look for it Wednesday. I've given it a preliminary read and I think you're really going to like it.

Until then, I'm going to leave you with this. I love hockey. It's my game. I love it more than all others. And while I hate the fighting in the game, I do love a good bone-crushing body check, so here's a compilation of some of the best big hits ever.

Friday, October 11, 2013

AHHHHH! A GHOST! -- PlaylistPlayground is back for round 2

We're approaching the time of year when people actually want to be frightened.

We don ghoulish masks, we watch scary movies, we take long walks in strange neighborhoods at night waiting for serial killers to jump out of the bushes and slit our throats ... OK, maybe that last one's just me, but you get the idea.

I've always been intrigued, though, by the idea of ghosts. Casper the Friendly Ghost, an unexplainable noise in the basement, a legend that a spirit of a man who used to live in a house refuses to leave, or even a less literal interpretation, like personal demons, or memories of people who simply won't leave your mind.

Real or not, the idea of ghosts is fascinating to me. So that's the idea of gave local musician and writer Colin Scharf for the second installment of what will be a regular series in Freep Spirit,

Colin is part of a local band called Good Night Gold Dust, and he tackled the playlist challenge with gusto, creativity and a splash of literary intrigue. His playlist is at times bold, at times personal, and at times classically goofy, and I'm so happy he agreed to do it.

If you're interested, Colin's band is going to be playing a gig at the Coffee Hag Nov. 9. They've pledged to play a handful of songs from Colin's list below, which is aptly titled "Songs For the Dead." Oh, and you can check them out at goodnightgolddust.bandcamp.com.

Enjoy ...


Listen: There is this pair of brittle hands clasped in the atmosphere. Each October night they drag sackcloth across the sky one, two, five minutes earlier, ushering in the dark season with the quiet force of a smothering.
Listen: It’s for the best.
On drizzling October days the perfume of death pervades the sinuses. That sweet scent of decomposition and decay belies the truth: the earth is dying.
Even the seemingly beautiful colors of high autumn — viscera reds, bloody oranges, and bile yellows conspire against us. Leaves are one cold breeze from the garbage-stuffed gutter where they horde around storm drains.
And the sounds of this October world — crunching, rustling, creaking. Drafts shriek through window gaps. Blackened trees clap-rattle in the nighttime. The ground itself cracks with each footfall.
I love October. The veil between worlds is at its most translucent. Halloween’s origins lie in the ancient Gaelic celebration Samhain, meaning “the end of summer.” The Gaels believed that between October 31st and November 1st, the worlds overlapped. The Gaels lit bonfires and wore masks to mimic or placate visitors from the Otherworld.
It’s no wonder why during this season you’ll search in earnest over your shoulder for the ghoulish shroud haunting your periphery. Only now, as we descend toward bone-white winter, will you hold your breath, prick your ears toward the sound that woke you in the dead of night: that tapping; that child’s laughter; the raspy whisper emanating from your closet, unlit hallway, stone cellar.
It’s just a radio. Television. Someone outside.
You’ll sit up in bed, defining the errant noise in the blackness, and when something slippery, or cold, or dreadfully warm slithers over your foot, you won’t be surprised.
Listen: It’ll be over soon.
The following songs, for me, most perfectly conjure the dark magic of this season: these are beautiful, somber, terrifying echoes from the Otherworld.

1. “I Put a Spell on You” – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

According to legend, Jalacy Hawkins — better known as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins — was taken prisoner by the Japanese during WWII. Shortly before his liberation, Hawkins taped a grenade to the mouth of his chief torturer. Then he pulled the pin.
This story is largely unsubstantiated, but I can’t help detecting a very real amount of terror in Hawkins’ screams during this circa 1960 television performance of his infamous “I Put A Spell on You."
Just for a moment, imagine that his shrieks are an imitation of the ones loosed from the horrified throat of a soldier with a grenade taped over his mouth. Imagine those howls stirred up in the wicked guts of the grenade-taper.
Hawkins originally wanted to sing opera. His deep baritone might suit a work like “Figaro” from The Barber of Seville or “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat (รก la Hawkins’ early musical idol, singer Paul Robeson) but the spooky showman likely would’ve frightened the cufflinks off any stuffy opera crowd.

2. “Tubular Bells” – Mike Oldfield (as featured in The Exorcist)

The skittering piano etude accompanying scenes from the 1973 film about demonic possession floods my ears like a brood of hatched spiders. The slashed face of Regan MacNeil manifests. I hear her breathing behind me. I’ll open a door and she’s there, sneering hellishly, those eyes rolled back in the sockets like jaundiced eggs.
This is End Times music.
The most frightening element of Halloween is the unknown. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and their bloody cadre of slashers are just knuckleheads in makeup. Images on film spooled inside a projector. They stay in the theater. They can’t really get you.
And if they were real, at least you could run.
But Evil is no character. Evil exists. You can’t run from it. And that’s why The Exorcist will forever remind me of the frighteningly thin gauze between good and evil, sanity and madness, a thump in the night and the Devil Himself come to inhabit your soul.

3. “Strange Skin” – Good Night, Gold Dust

I remember coming home to Laura writing this song. I sat beside her while she thumbed her guitar’s bass notes and sang in a low voice:
“Walking half a mile / Waking up the dead / Breathing underwater / Laughing.”
And, later: “You cut off your own arm / Gouge out your own eye.”
Her new song was beautiful. And terrifying.
Michelle Roche’s baroque piano progression anchors the eerie synthesizers and haunted harmonies on the version of “Strange Skin” featured on GNGD’s latest release, Come Down. The song, to me, is a transcription of mental collapse; the frightening inner monologue of a person staring through the barred asylum window of their mind.

4. How to Disappear Completely – Radiohead

I took inspiration for the synthesizer arrangements on “Strange Skin” from Johnny Greenwood’s ondes Martenot orchestration gracing this Kid A masterpiece. The mysterious ondes Martenot — a hybrid Theremin-keyboard — produces banshee-like shrieks that embody the sorrow of Thom Yorke’s lyrics:
“That there / That’s not me / I go where I please / I walk through walls.”
Could Yorke be singing about a purgatoried soul? When he mourns: “I’m not here / this isn’t happening,” I envision a poor spirit-in-denial reaching out to comfort his widow. The dead husband’s hands pass through her body like spools of smoke. The anguished spirit repeats this action every day for eternity, as if one day he’ll touch her, as if this isn’t really happening, as if he’s only dreaming.

5. Three White Horses – Andrew Bird

Do you see them, those three white horses, silhouetted at the edge of a barren field surrounding a church? You’re inside that church—a rickety antebellum shack stinking of mold and soggy dirt. The band plays on the pulpit. Bell-clear harmonies hover in the cobwebbed rafters; the ghostly slide guitar laments the coming cataclysm.
Then the tempo shifts. Bird repeats the title phrase like a benediction; the guitars explode, and those three white horses kick up clouds of red dirt as they gallop forward. Bird sings “You’re gonna miss her / In the evening” to remind us of the hollow loneliness that surfaces once the sun sinks into the tar of night and abandons us to the unknown.

6. We No Who U R – Nick Cave and the Badseeds

The eerie eight bar passage that opens this requiem—driven by a broken piano chiming over delayed snare, high hat, and that whisper—calls to mind a wide, deserted street where a low wind drags the shells of leaves around empty sidewalks.
Think of Gatlin, Nebraska from Children of the Corn.
Then Nick Cave’s rusty baritone enters, casting a long shadow over the street. A siren-like guitar warns this doomed community as Cave and his backup singers trudge from house to house.
“We know who you are / And we know were you live.”
The flute offers an interesting contrast: a soothing voice amid the howling guitar, skeletal percussion, and reaper vocals. Perhaps it is this flute that Cave wants us to breathe in; an aural tranquilizer for the dawning of the End Times. This song is everything I love about Halloween—it’s rustling, crackling, dragging, and haunted. Like the season itself.

7. Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon

This song will forever remind of me my father.
I was shooting pool in my parents’ basement and listening to the radio on Halloween Friday. I was a high school freshman. WGRF played all the songs with creaking doors and men singing like Dracula. They were fun, but I’d heard them before.
Then the steady groove of Zevon’s novelty Halloween hit rocked the speakers. Over boogie-woogie piano, Zevon sang: “I saw a werewolf / with a Chinese menu in his hand.”
What was this song? The rollicking campiness reminded me of The Monster Squad, a long-lost horror-comedy I’d watched as a kid. It sounds odd—I mean, I was 14—but I felt like young again.
I pressed my ear to the speaker, trying to keep up with the lyrics (the second verse of which contains the line: “Little old lady got mutilated late last night”, which is likely one of the best alliterations in rock music) when my father burst into the basement with a pitch-perfect “Ah-hooooooo!

8. “Thriller” – Michael Jackson
Save for 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, I’ve never enjoyed zombie films. I’m a realist when it comes to horror. Curses, possession, ghosts, or aliens will keep me awake for nights on end. I grew up in the woods. Beyond the dark barricade of trees surrounding our house might’ve lurked red-eyed demons, the Wendigo, or a detachment of grey aliens hunting human specimens.
True horror lies in the unknown. Why? Because the unknown could be real. Ghosts, demons, and aliens could be real. They could inflict serious, real damage to your mind, body, and soul.
But zombies? Get over it.
That being said, after watching the 14-minute “Thriller” music video; after researching the video’s production (“Thriller” helped popularize video rental stores!), and after studying M.J.’s killer moves, I’ve loosened my zombie boycott.
I still think they’re stupid; a clubbed-to-death metaphor; trite fodder for ironic t-shirts (especially the annoying “I’m Waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse” slogan. Stop waiting! It will never happen!), but in “Thriller,” Michael Jackson resuscitates the undead with lungfuls of his magic golden breath and makes zombies cool—for about 14 minutes.

9. “Monster Mash” – Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Cryptkickers

I’d been avoiding this song, but then I found this video.

10. “Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker, Jr.

Between ages four and eight, I would only wear jumpsuits. Between 18 and 21, I drove a car with Ghostbuster stickers on both doors. Ghostbusters 2 was the first film I saw in theaters. I’d be haunted if I didn’t end this playlist with Ray Parker, Jr.’s theme to Ghostbusters.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

TERROR TOILET! (More musings, more music to come, but first: must-see terror TV)

Hey gang!

The last post featured my new music playlist feature, Playlist Playground, which was carried out masterfully by MSU English prof and rocker girl Diana Joseph (note to the English department at MSU -- when I say "rocker girl" it's merely a literary device to suit my needs, and I can assure you Prof. Joseph was a consummate professional and may have possibly been wearing tweed and smoking a pipe at all times while dealing with me.)

And now, I'm just about ready to unveil another playlist from a local music lover.

Musician and writer Colin Scharf is feverishly working on his playlist, which I'll be unveiling for you this weekend. But to give you a tease, a taste, a preview into Mr. Scharf's twisted mind, I'll share with you a short but spooky/hilarious film he made which suits the season, and theme of his playlist, quite well.

So, as an appetizer of sorts, Freep Spirit presents to you Colin Scharf's "Terror Toilet."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Introducing PLAYLIST PLAYGROUND with our first guest DJ, the incomparable DIANA JOSEPH!!!

I love music. It colors every good memory I've ever had.

Getting ready for hockey games meant watching Eric Teske and Greg Pietrus strut around the locker room singing "Back in Black." Hanging out at the cabin meant sneaking Schmidt beers and California Coolers to a boombox soundtrack featuring the smooth sounds of Mr. George Thorogood's "I Drink Alone," or Waylon Jennings' "Luckenbach, Texas." I used to sing my son to sleep at night with "Thunder Road."

Something I find really interesting is hearing what kind of music makes other people tick. Have you ever asked someone that time-honored tavern conversation question, the one that goes something like, "Hey, dude, dude, seriously, check this out. So, OK, if you were, like stuck on a desert Island for the rest of your life and could only listen to one album, what would it be?" (Forget the logistical nightmare of having enough batteries to last a lifetime, just ANSWER THE QUESTION!)

Anyway, I got this crazy idea the other day of actually asking people what made them tick, and publishing the results on my blog. But to make it interesting, I'm asking people to put together playlists based on a theme. And I'm absolutely thrilled to kick this little experiment off with a writer whose talent is matched only by the quality of songs I see her listening to on Spotify.

Diana Joseph is an English professor at Minnesota State University. She's also the author of the the comically titled memoir, "I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog." 

She graciously agreed to captain the maiden voyage of what I'm calling Playlist Playground. So, without further adieu, I give you Diana Joseph's back-to-school playlist. I think you're going to like it.


I’ve been reading this book, Jocks and Burnouts: Social Identity in the High School, by the sociolinguist Penelope Eckert. In it, Eckert describes jocks not only as the kids who play sports, but also as the rah rah school spirit kids who embrace and uphold the values of the institution. Burn-outs aren’t just the kids smoking cigarettes and/or pot behind the bleachers: they’re the also kids who scorn and reject the values of the institution. There’s a spectrum, says Eckert, of those who fall in-between, leaning in one direction or the other.
I was a high school burn-out who grew up to be an English professor. Teenage Me would not have guessed that I’d be part of an institution, let alone one of higher learning.
But I still strongly identify with rebels and skeptics, smart asses and wisenheimers, anyone who shakes a fist at tradition. (Obviously, I vote liberal, refer to myself as a feminist and don’t go to church.) A few summers ago, the city pounded a stake with a bright pink sign into my front yard proclaiming me a Class II Nuisance. The grass had gotten too tall: I had seven days to mow it or the city would stick me with some outrageous fine. I stewed and ranted about this, and I reveled in the stewing and ranting…until my husband, that wishy-washy in-between, said this has gone on long enough and mowed.

A Playlist for Burn-Outs

1. “Rock of Ages” by Def Leppard

The first time I heard gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen, I was thirteen years old. I had no idea what it meant but I liked the sound of it. Ever since, “Rock of Ages” has been my go-to song when I’m feeling riled up and wanting to (metaphorically-speaking) start a fire; rock a place to the ground; go for broke; blow like dynamite; or blow this damn place to the ground. When Joe Elliot asks, What do you want, the only acceptable answer is rock and roll. I was over thirty when I found out that gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen was didn’t mean anything. It was just a bunch of jibberish. That made me like it even more.

2. “Laugh/Love/F*ck” by The Coup
Emma Goldman was arrested, more than once, for inciting riots, illegally distributing information about birth control and inducing people not to register for the draft. It was 1917, and Goldman, anarchist, radical revolutionary, critic of capitalism and prisons, advocate for free speech and women’s rights, was considered the most dangerous woman in America. (She was especially radical in her younger years, endorsing violence—she even approved of assassination—when the ends justified the means.) But Goldman is probably most famous for saying “If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution.”

The Coup is an alternative hip hop group whose songs rail against the oppression of capitalism, the patriarchy, and political business-as-usual. Music that has a political agenda can get tedious but this is music to dance to. I like to imagine Emma Goldman shaking her booty when Boots Riley sings, “I’m here to laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor…and help the damn revolution come quicker.”

3. “Alien She” by Bikini Kill

I’m not only a burn-out, I’m a Generation X burn-out, and grunge was the soundtrack for my early twenties. A song like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Pearl Jam’s “Alive” would be an obvious choice for this playlist.
But the early ‘90s weren’t just about angsty guys in flannel and thrift store cardigans refusing to conform. There were women in the Pacific Northwest music scene, too, and they were raising some serious hell. The Riot Grrrl movement was an underground revolution, punk and feminist and calling shit out. Tobi Vail said, “I feel completely left out of the realm of everything that is so important to me. And I know that this is partly because punk rock is for and by boys mostly and partly because punk rock of this generation is coming of age in a time of mindless career-goal bands.” Vail collaborated with Kathleen Hanna to start a ‘zine they called “Bikini Kill” which lead to them forming the band of the same name.
Bikini Kill’s sound is influenced by hardcore punk; their lyrics take on female empowerment, gender inequality, rape, and sexuality. It’s hard to pick just one of their songs but I finally settled on “Alien She.” “She is me and I am her,” Kathleen Hanna sings. ”She wants me to go to the mall/She wants me/To put the pretty, pretty red lipstick on/I want to kill her/but I’m afraid it might kill me.” At forty-three years old, I still relate to feeling conflicted between who I am and who the culture is telling me to be. These days, though, it’s less about ideal beauty and more about ideal motherhood. “Alien She” transcends.
4. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Here’s a song from the original Riot Grrrl, an anthem for the feminist burn-out. “A girl can do what she wants to do,” says Joan Jett. “I’ve never been afraid of any deviation, and I don’t care if you think I’m strange. I ain’t gonna change.”

5. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys

When Woody Guthrie died in 1967, he left behind a huge collection of unfinished work. His granddaughter Anna Canoni, director of his foundation says, “There are around 15,000 items that we have in The Woody Guthrie Archives. A book or a song is considered an ‘item,’ so some books have 100 pages written on double-sided pages. And if each of those is a song lyric, now you're talking about 35-50,000 things that very few people have ever seen.”
But the Irish punk band the Dropkick Murphys got access to those archives, and permission from Guthrie’s family to choose some lyrics to set to music. In 2005, they released “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” The song especially took off when Martin Scorsese included it on the soundtrack to The Departed.
The lyrics are cryptic: I'm a sailor peg/And I lost my leg/ I climbed up the topsails/I lost my leg/I'm shipping up to Boston.
What does it mean? Even Dropkick Murphys’ drummer Matt Kelly says the lyrics were mysterious, "literally just a fragment on a piece of notebook paper."
But maybe like gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe there’s also something to the way it makes you feel: awake, aware, active, alive. All good qualities for a burn-out.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

PETA didn't really like what I wrote the other day

I'm honored.

That's about all I can say.

Before I unleash this letter on you, let me make a few caveats.

First, I'm not anti-PETA. I actually like PETA. Like I stated in my most recent column, I'm an animal lover. But in that column, I took PETA to task for its objections to a Florida vet for naming his pig Chris P. Bacon. I also included them in my comments regarding Mankatoan Gunnar Boettcher and the diseased rabbit in his back yard that has brought him international fame, but neglected to say how PETA figured into that. They didn't, really, other than the fact that Gunnar said he'd gotten a call from PETA. I never verified that, so I shouldn't have suggested PETA was behind any of the outrage. Finally, as far as the third incident goes, the research I did (and I'll admit it wasn't exhaustive) didn't unearth the fact that PETA had issued a statement on this that I actually agree with.

So, without further adieu, I give you an email sent to me from Jordan Uhl from PETA who seems like a swell fellow. Mr. Uhl provides PETA's side of the argument which, as a journalist, I'm more than happy to pass along to you for balance.


Mr. Murray,Greetings from PETA! We saw your column, and we're sorry that you didn't contact us so we could reassure you on some points before you wrote it. If you had, we could have pointed out that we had little—if anything at all—to do with the three incidents you gave us credit (and criticized us) for!
We had absolutely nothing to do with Exhibit B, the wild rabbit incident you mentioned. And we are not ones to "whine"—for Exhibit A, we simply and politely (and privately, mind you) asked for Len Lucero to consider a name for the pig that wasn't so insensitive and better represented that pigs are living beings capable of feelings. As for the directive that we should "go tend to the actual animal abuse issues taking place"—we're all over it! Had you contacted us, we would have loved to share how PETA operates three free and low-cost mobile clinics, which have spayed or neutered nearly 94,000 dogs and cats in the past decade in order to stop animal homelessness at its roots. PETA has a team devoted to helping animals in impoverished areas of North Carolina and Virginia, where we deliver doghouses, food, and medicine and also pay for veterinary care for animals who might otherwise be left to suffer. PETA has continued to fight against cruel animal exhibitors, and recently, through an undercover investigation, we exposed a slaughterhouse for cruel treatment of pigs. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So don't worry—we're still pretty busy with all of that!
Exhibit C had us as puzzled as Exhibit B. You call for increased training for police officers so that they're better equipped to handle such incidents—we wholeheartedly agree. In fact, we issued the following statement to a reporter who called us on July 2:Every year, PETA receives dozens of reports of police who have gunned down dogs. An officer who shoots a dog who poses no real threat should be charged with cruelty to animals, just as any citizen would be, and subject to an internal review and dismissal. In cases involving seemingly dangerous dogs, officers sometimes resort too quickly to deadly force. PETA has long recommended nonlethal control methods, such as air horns or pepper spray, before guns are drawn. However, in this tragic case, the dog would still be alive had the owner better secured him, because when a dog that size resists deflection and lunges in defense of his or her guardian, deadly force can come into play. We urge this and all police departments to conduct an examination of procedures so that no undue force is ever used in incidents of perceived or real dog attacks.
Sure, PETA knows how to get people's attention, but we take our work very seriously, and animals are always our top priority. Might you consider altering your column to reflect that PETA wasn't responsible for most of what angered you and also keep us in mind for verification the next time that you hear something about us through the grapevine? We'd love to hear from you. Please contact us at 202-540-2199 or MediaInfo@peta.org anytime.
Best regards,Jordan UhlMedia Liaison______________________________________Jordan UhlMedia Liaison
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
1536 16th St. NW Washington, DC 20036
Ph: 202-540-2196; After Hours: 202-540-2199