Music seems to be the theme of the week, this week.
Music has played an outsized role in my life, despite the fact that I am not a very good musician. Even in my halcyon choir days, I was barely able to read music with the competence of a dog reading Chaucer. My attempts to learn even the most rudimentary of instruments – ukulele, harmonica, kazoo – have all been met with demoralized despair.
But music has followed me – or, perhaps I should say, I have followed music – from the music and drama program at my high school to the Music Interest Floor (MIF) at college.
My freshman roommate on MIF, Jason Menkes, was kind enough to donate (a long time ago, for a totally different podcast, but still) the Hammersla Inquisition opening theme music, for which I am hugely grateful. Jason is a musical juggernaut who was also kind enough to help turn one of my smarmy, clumsily conceived ideas into one of the most satisfying creative projects of my life.
If Jason hadn’t been kind enough to contribute his funky 18 seconds of intro music, I probably would have had to resort to the unseemly, underhanded tactic of poaching actual, popular music for my podcast without paying for it. I’m actually doing this a little bit already with some of the segment drops and the outro music and morally I don’t feel great about it. But I don’t feel bad enough to substitute my own sounds, like my shitty ukulele playing or something.
But I did get to thinking about which songs I would want to use for my intro music if price were no object:
Up Cherry Street, by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass This song has a kicky swing and is just lame enough to be kind of cool, in an anachronistic sort of way. I would like to do for Herb Alpert what Austin Powers did for Soul Bossa Nova.
The piano coda from Layla, by Derek and the Dominoes Martin Scorcese kind of owns this tune after using it to such great effect in Goodfellas, but I think it has long enough coattails for me, too. You can keep the classic hard rock riff from the first half of the song, just let me keep that soaring keyboard melody from the second half.
Friends, by Flight of the Conchords My instinct is to choose instrumentals for my intro music, but no song captures both the tone and theme of my podcast nearly as well as this sweet novelty tune.
Arco Arena, by CAKE CAKE is my favorite band (non-Beatles division) and their ode to a dilapidated brutalist basketball arena is so full of angst and foreboding that it feels perfect for an introduction. You can just feel that something intense is about to happen.
Going Higher, by Bensound This is actually music that was designed to be licensed for videos, podcasts, etc. but I am too cheap for even this. If I were going to buy something, though, this is what I would and could buy.
Hey Bulldog, by the Beatles This slice from Yellow Submarine might be one of the few Beatles album tracks that few people have ever heard. It’s not a classic or anything but it’s both timeless and fresh, and the section from 0:50 to 1:10 works perfectly for an interview show.
Forgot about Dre (Karaoke) in the style of Dr. Dre This is just a bad-ass, funky beat for which “Forgot about J” would fit quite nicely.
Fun Zone by “Weird Al” Yankovic Upbeat and silly without being obnoxious, this cut from the UHF soundtrack just gets me in the mood to annoy my friends.
Here Comes the Hammer, by MC Hammer I mean, obviously.
Speaking of music, my guest this week is Eric R. Danton, a virtual hybrid of Lester Bangs, Scott Conant, Jemaine Clement and Mr. Burns. Eric is a professional music critic, which means he gets paid for being cooler than you, although karma dictates that he must live out his vocation under an onslaught of record label flacks, the lowest particular breed of that pitiful life form.
This was a surprisingly difficult interview for me. As comfortable as I am talking and typing with Eric on a casual basis, once the red light went on I found myself feeling tense and intimidated by interviewing an interviewer. I’m not sure if that shows through on the episode itself but I definitely feel like I left some jokes “on the table.”
Even though I have been podcasting in some form or another for several years now – and in this particular gig for more than a month – I’m still not great at it. I think I’m getting better, most of which just boils down to being “present” and “in the moment.” This is true of most things, actually.
Late February is a popular month for birthdays in my life. My wife (2/25) and my friends Geoff (2/19) and Geoff (2/24) were all born within six days of each other in 1977. Sarah was born on Leap Day in 1976. I don’t remember how old Celi (next week’s podcast guest!) is but she was born on March 1, so she’s in that group, too.
Invariably when I think about this birthday cluster my mind wanders into a dead-end alley in which I wonder exactly what was happening in mid-to-late May. Then I realize that this line of thought is weird and inappropriate and I try to think about something else, like dinner.
Perhaps this is why I always seem to forget to buy them birthday cards and get them in the mail. In lieu of Hallmark Greetings – and in keeping with the theme of the week – I instead offer them this:
Quite a Guy, Ray
Shout out to Valued Subscriber Rachel Dickler Coker, UR Class of ‘96, who penned a fitting tribute to Ray McConnell, beloved graphic designer/informal advisor/therapist/mascot of the Campus Times newspaper, who passed away recently. I always liked Ray because his kindness was never conditional. Students like me – overprivileged and entitled white males in their late teens and early 20s – are, as a general rule, jerks most of the time. But it seemed like all he needed to know was that you were part of the CT family, and he treated you like family. Like any family member, he was not above gossip or gentle ribbing, and boundaries were sometimes an issue. Then again, the same could be said of everyone on staff at the CT.
Sometimes I felt sorry for him because it was clear that he had very little outside of his work, his elderly mother and we students who were living interesting and dramatic lives in his orbit. It didn’t diminish my affection for him but it made me both happy and sad whenever I saw him. That sympathy helped me to overlook a lot of behavioral quirks that I would otherwise have considered weird for a middle-aged man. The jokes and the cakes are what made him likeable, but his vulnerability was what made him loveable.
My not-very-interesting story about Ray (aside from his 50th birthday extravaganza, when I got to sing a parody of “My Way” in front of a ballroom full of people, including the UR president), was at Seth Krostich’s wedding. My girlfriend had broken up with me just two weeks before that weekend, and I was in a self-destructive place. I still refuse to concede that I was drunk, but the fact is that I was vomiting in the men’s room when Ray walked in. He could have made fun of me in that moment, as was his wont. But instead he said, quietly, “Jason, everything’s going to be okay.”
Everything was, and is, and will be okay. Rest in peace, Ray.
Next Time on the Hammersla Inquisition
I’m very proud of my next episode, but I have to warn you that I am cutting it very very close on timing and it’s probably a 50/50 shot that it gets posted in time. I promise I’ll get it out as soon as I can. And then I need to take a few weeks’ hiatus to deal with some business travel, some family time and to get a head start on the next batch of interviews. Don’t touch that dial, folks.
Sending my best,