Track 19: The Alchemy of R.E.M.

The Alchemy of R.E.M

Chris Hutchison-Jones


R.E.M. is my favorite band. I’ve had fits, flings, and flirtations with other artists; some are even recurring long-term affairs. But I always come back to R.E.M. Depending on the day, the weather, my mood, and the phases of the moon, my favorite album by my favorite band shifts. But if I had to pick one to be with me on that mythical desert island, it would be New Adventures in Hi-Fi. I’ll sit up straight in my chair and loudly proclaim it as my favorite album by my favorite band.

That R.E.M. is my favorite band is no great statement. They’ve sold millions of albums and influenced any number of bands and artists that have become integral parts of my own musical life. But NAHF somehow tipped the scales for me. It had virtually no hits. It was a mishmash of live recordings and studio tracks. The first single (“E-bow the Letter”) was a broody, half-spoken folk rock dirge with eerie backing vocals by someone I’d never heard of at the time, Patti Smith. Not the typical makings of a favorite album. (more…)

Track 18: What Fades Away

What Fades Away

Katherine Anderson Howell


The baby was 3 months old.

I wasn’t happy.


I spin and spin around the living room. My head feels lopsided, like it does when I’m too tired, or when panic leaves me hollow. The baby is in my arms. The baby laughs. I spin. I bounce the baby. I force a smile, which becomes a slightly more real smile, which becomes a little laugh. “Shake It Out” plays on repeat. Florence Welch and I sing the old platitude,  “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” The baby doesn’t know darkness. He thinks I am sunlight.


Track 17: Compilations


Chris Baker

There’s a scene in Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby’s father wakes him from hard slumber by way of a bucket of water. The parental rouse-à-la-douse, despite the trope, is almost certainly threatened more often than it is executed. While I found the stunt humorous as a kid, I never thought to question from where a parent’s motivation would originate for this and other sadistic reveille. I often reconsidered the concept during the summer of 2013 as I sat in my oldest child’s bed for hours every night, waiting for her to fall asleep.

Growing up, my parents never threw water on us to wake us up, but my dad had a penchant for bursting into my room in the morning while singing. You could never predict what he might be singing: Christmas songs, folk music, liturgical hymns, 1960s/1970s pop. But regardless of the genre, it never failed to annoy. Perhaps, it’s childish narcissism to require intentionality of the annoyance. My experience as a parent suggests that my parents spent less time thinking about us than I assumed at the time. My dad might have just been doing what comes naturally to us morning people; namely, enjoy ourselves while unintentionally pissing off everyone around us. But early morning retaliation is what I thought about as I sat in bed with my daughter, who was tired but awake. She was too excited or anxious or who-the-hell-knows to go to sleep on her own like she had for the previous four years of her life. So, I sang. (more…)

Track 16: Brokedown Palace

Brokedown Palace

Katie Sullivan


For the past two months, when my thumb tapped its way to a digital copy of American Beauty, it wavered, and then wandered away. I feared it. I feared the warm, twangy intro of “Box of Rain,” the memory of my father singing it guilelessly out of tune, of realizing it is Father’s Day today and how I don’t want to call him but reluctantly will, of knowing that this album is going to hurt. It hurts before I even start listening.   

But let’s move back. It is 2003. My father and I are driving over 2000 miles from our Illinois suburb to San Diego. I have been accepted to a private liberal arts university that served Orange County’s academically undistinguished nouveau riche. In our cramped Honda Civic, my father has brought along  about 100 painstakingly “burned” CDs in individual jewel cases, each with an ink jet printed label in the same nondescript Times New Roman font. There was Joni Mitchell’s Blue in there, and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. But the one we listened to nonstop, through the blank spaces of the I-80 corridor, was American Beauty by the Grateful Dead. (more…)

Track 15: Welcome to the Working Week

Welcome to the Working Week

David Gooblar


It was 2000 and I was twenty years old and I was in love with Pete Tunney.

OK, maybe “in love” is too strong, but not by much. In that indelible summer, when I interned at Knitting Factory Records and discovered the island of Manhattan, Pete was the sun: the main source of light and heat. He was the star around which I orbited. When I was with him, I was preternaturally attuned to his every utterance and expressed preference; I silently and invisibly took mental notes on how I might behave to gain his acceptance. I’m sure the other interns did the same—there was an unspoken but palpable competition among us for his approval—but I knew that he loved me best. I wanted nothing more than to enter the palace of pop-musical wisdom, and I knew, I just knew, that Pete was the one to take me there. (more…)