Deadlines, spring fever and a kid with a fever are just a few of the many things that have conspired to keep us from our bloggerly duties. Thankfully, Ben Greenman is in town today to help us out.
Author, editor at The New Yorker, and now a featured guest blogger, Greenman stops by to have a go at our at our favorite feature: If I Only Had an Ipod. So check out his song selections, crank up the volume and enjoy.
For those in DC, you can catch Greenman live tonight at Olsson's (Dupont Circle) at 7 pm, where he will be reading from his wickedly funny new fiction collection, A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both. The book, subtitled "Stories About Human Love," has been called "unbelievably funny" (by Gary Shteyngart) and "deadpan yet demented" (by Darin Strauss). We urge you not to miss this one. You can thank us later.
From Guest DJ Ben Greenman:
My new book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both: Stories About Human Love, is just being published by Macadam Cage. When I write, I tend to listen mostly to music without vocals. It's hard to concentrate when someone is singing, because I like to pay attention to the lyrics. But when I stop writing, I switch right over to songs with singers. The best ones aren't very different from short fiction: they have plots, characters, and style. Here are five songs that I either wish I had written or that I wish I was listening to right now.
—"Big Footin'" by Parliament. I have a longstanding obsession with Bigfoot. At a recent reading, someone asked me why. I mean, isn't it obvious? He's Bigfoot! For years I have wondered why all the Bigfoot sightings take place out in the forest. Why does no one ever see him in an office, or at a public pool? That became the basis, give or take, for a story, "A Field Guide to the North American Bigfoot." This song doesn't have much to do with that Bigfoot. I think it's about Jerome "Bigfoot" Brailey, the P-Funk drummer, and also the general idea of putting down your big feet when the music tells you.
—"Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood and Brush?" by Gary Roberts. The American Song-Poem Anthology, strange and satisfying, collects vanity recordings by amateurs, many of them crazy. I don't listen to the record often, but a handful of the songs have wormed their way into my brain. The concept of amateur vanity recordings overtaking the world got stuck in there, too, and one of the stories in my book, "Oh Lord! Why Not?" (which is itself sort of named after a song by the Hives), takes place in a near-future America where everyone is permitted to write and record one pop song. The story is both tragic and funny, but the fantasy persists. Also, this song happens to be about relationships, and the difference between ones that last and ones that flare and fade.
—"Adios Hermanos," by Paul Simon. In one of my stories, "The Duck Knows How to Make the Most of Things," the main character is a singer and songwriter. Some of his work is influenced by doo-wop, and while I was writing it, I heard this song in my head, especially the lines about riding "that Black Maria through the streets of Spanish Harlem / Calling old friends on the corners just to lay our prayers upon them." Also, I think this song, more than some others on the Capeman record, does a good job mixing fact and fiction, documentary and imagination.
—"Bummer in the Summer," by Love. It's a dated song, certainly. Arthur Lee says "bummer," he says "mama," he says "ball," and if you dropped the song into a glass of water it would probably taste just like 1967. But it's such a peculiar, brilliant mix of folk, funk, soul, country, and rock that it teaches me all I need to know about genres not really mattering. And there are two highly great parts in a generally great song: the line where Lee sings that he's "thinking of you, mama, when you're thinking of another man," and the Bo Diddley ending.
— "The Devil Is Loose," by Asha Puthli. Asha Puthli was (and is) an Indian singer who started off backing Ornette Coleman on his Science Fiction album and went on to record a number of soul and disco albums. I like lots of her records, but this particular song is a favorite among equals. It's spaced-out and languorous and sexy and mysterious and has a touch of evil. It's like a James Bond theme for a movie they forgot to make. It's not directly connected to my work, except in the sense that I'm always trying to make things that have a similar effect.