Monthly Archives: January 2009

25 things about me

So I got “tagged” in a couple different facebook lists of this “meme” (I have to continue putting scare quotes around these terms because I am “old.” Eventually I will be hyphenating “tele-phone” and “trans-portation”) where you have to write 25 things about yourself. I feel really uncomfortable using facebook for these kinds of things because I am pretty indiscriminate with my facebook “friending”. I can’t say no to anyone who requests me as a friend so I am friends with dozens and dozens of people I sort of knew in high school and for whatever reason I don’t feel comfortable sharing ANYTHING on facebook except for promoting events related to work or highlighting news articles. As far as facebook knows, all I do is read articles on Palestinian oppression.

I know that this “meme” is not intended to be super-personal, and the very act of having a blog (this one) is a voluntary step into the public sphere, but I feel that I have more control over access to this and therefore am more comfortable sharing. I mean with the mix tape liner notes, I only gave them to a select few of the people in the exchange and gave everyone else just a tracklisting because I was too embarrassed to share such intimate details as “I like the Kinks!”

ANYWAY, this all serves as prelude as to why I am doing this exercise over here instead of on facebook. Kristine tagged me and I don’t want to totally blow her off (and I will share this with Sam who tagged me before).

1. I lived for my entire childhood in Iowa, but I was born in Wisconsin. My mom’s sister is a gynecologist so my mom traveled up to Port Washington, where she practiced, and my mom’s sister delivered me.

2. I own four pairs of pants: One pair of gray pants and one pair of brown pants that I wear to work and one pair of blue jeans and one pair of black jeans that I wear on the weekends and when I bike to work.

3. I’ve always been really skinny, but when I was in India I was super-emaciated. I didn’t realize it until I weighed myself (in kilos) and then made the conversion and found out I was only 115 lbs (I’m about 5’10”). I don’t know what it was, but I was mainly vegetarian just due to lack of access to meat and I found myself unable to eat huge quantities of Indian food and … I don’t know, it kind of happened without me noticing. The last time I weighed myself I was 143 lbs, which is the heaviest I’ve ever been. This is a good thing!

4. I don’t believe in astrology AT ALL, but I do think that the standard description of a Pisces fits me pretty well and I think the standard description of a Libran fits Lily very well (these our signs respectively).

4. Almost all of my friends are white. Two of my best friends from high school are the children of immigrants (Iran and Serbia), but in college my friends were all white. I remember when I was a child and my parents went to see their friends they just stuck us and their friends’ children in the basement and assumed we’d be friends just because we were the same age and (implicitly?) the same ethnicity. I resented that. In college I mainly identified my friends by proximity (all of my college friends I continue to keep in contact with are from the 5th floor of Daum) and according to the kind of music we liked. Since my taste was largely informed by magazines, written by white males, I guess it was natural that the friends I would make based on this criteria would also be white males. When I came back from India, I really felt a huge lack in not having any friends of color. It’s difficult to explain … there are just a number of things that I don’t get to talk about and a lot of mutual understandings to share and just a general feeling I get from the few friends of color that I have made and I find them immensely valuable. None of my friends of color have the same taste in music as me.

5. I don’t get watching things that are bad on purpose. I don’t understand the phenomenon of going to a shitty movie because you know its bad or reveling in a shitty tv show. I know this makes me a killjoy and I don’t begrudge other people doing it … I just opt out of group functions like watching America’s Next Top Model or the latest horror movie. I get that it’s a fun social thing … but I can’t purposefully watch bad things.

6. I never learned to swim. On the way to my first swimming lesson in kindergarten we got into a car crash and didn’t replace the car until the next year. That year I would have to be in the beginning class with a bunch of kids who were a year younger than me and to me this felt like getting left behind a grade and I refused to go. DAMN YOU PRIDE!

7. I worked at the Ames Public Library as a book shelver from 8th grade (RIGHT when I turned the legal age of 14) to the beginning of 12th grade, when I got fired for gross incompetence. I was very bad at my job.

8. Other than school and work, I didn’t have to do ANYTHING at home. I never had to do laundry, cook, or do dishes, pretty much nothing. My parents put a lot of pressure on me to study, but that’s pretty much all I was expected to do in the house. It was a real learning curve when I got to college. The only things I had to do were more physical — like mowing the lawn and shoveling the walk — which are things I’ve never had to do since.

9. I learned dirty jokes at a very young age and my parents asked me to repeat them to their friends for their amusement. I remember one of them and I will tell it to you sometime if you ask me.

10. I can do pull-ups. Like I haven’t done them in at least a couple years, but I bet I could do at least 8, and in high school we had this weird supporting I-beam in my basement that I would hold with my fingertips and do pull-ups and I got up to 25 at one point.

11. My mom cut my hair through high school and often when I would come home from college.

12. Although I was gripped with paroxysms of desire at an early age, my first kiss came pretty late. I was 16. It happened at a screening of City of Angels. It was my first date and I didn’t know the protocol at all, so it was a largely empty movie theater except for a back row with a bunch of teen girls I didn’t recognize … we sat in the middle of the theater and made out and it was strange because it was the first time for both of us so neither of us knew what to do. We locked wide open lips and laid our tongues in each others mouths.

13. I shave every day, and I never get razor burn. I attribute this to my use of a shaving brush. It’s not a fancy one made of badger hair, just a cheap-o plastic one I got in India, but I enjoy the extra old-timey process.

14. I never really had any interest in reading David Foster Wallace until he committed suicide. Then I felt weirdly obligated to. Now I’m reading “Consider the Lobster”, a collection of essays, and I’m loving it.

15. I don’t have a tv, but there are quite a few shows that I like and a few that I follow pretty religiously. Well, I guess just 30 Rock (on the internet!) and then I like to watch as much Daily Show and Colbert Report as I can.

16. In high school I was in a Max-Fischer-level number of activities. I was in all the plays, I was the managing editor of the school paper, I was in Mock Trial, I started a film festival, I was in student government, I hosted the school talent show, etc. I was the emcee for multiple events in front of 500 of my fellow students. I can’t imagine doing this now.

16. I’ve never had braces and I’ve never had a cavity.

17. I was the Knights of Columbus State Spelling Bee Champion of Iowa in 7th Grade.

18. I was a cub scout until 6th grade, when we were supposed to make the transition to boy scouts. On the one hand, I quit right before the cool camping and survival stuff happened, on the other hand the only people who did it into high school were weird militia-esque, ultra-conservative, crazy people.

19. I was raised Catholic and have gone through periods of intense piety.

20. Lily and I are kind of unintentionally “green.” We don’t own a car because we’re poor, so we take the train and bike to work. We like the produce at the farmer’s market better, so we go there. We live in California, so we don’t ever use heating or cooling. We recycle. I’d imagine that our carbon footprint is pretty small compared to the average American.

21. Although I lived in India for 2.5 years and I currently work in a largely Spanish-speaking community, I am hopelessly mono-lingual. This is embarrassing to me, especially considering that my 12-year-old second cousins in India are fluent in 3 languages and can get by in two more.

22. I was pre-med for my first 3 semesters of college.

23. I’ve previously always had a distaste for heterosexual people referring to the person they are dating as their “partner” or old liberal professors talking about the mother of their children as their “partner” instead of using “wife” or “husband.” It always struck me as pretentious or too PC. I mainly thought of the word “partner” as a euphemism gay people used when necessary. Now that I’m living with Lily, I feel like the word “girlfriend” is infantilizing and inadequate. We’re also not just “dating.” In LA, at least in the non-profit circles that I run in, the term “partner” is really commonly used (this might be a regional thing, or it might be a “It’s 2009” thing). I actually feel like “partner” is a better way to describe what’s going on with us because we are both so intimately involved in each other’s survival.

24. I’m almost positive I’m going to be moving to the East Coast in the Fall.

25. If possible, I would like to live in multiple different countries … not visit, but actually live and work in them for at least a year. However, I do feel like a midwestern college town (like Iowa City) might be the most ideal place to settle down.

More Multimedia!

So, even though I got my MacBook (Pro!) on mega-sale because the new models were coming out, it was still a real dilemma for me because it was still far more expensive than a regular PC.  MacBook Pros are usually $2,000 – $2,100 and I got mine for $1,100, BUT I could have gotten a Toshiba for like $650 or an Acer for $300.  As I was debating myself I thought, “I just use my computer for wordprocessing and surfing the net … why do I need such a fancy computer?”

Well as a full-on Mac convert, I have to say that I do a lot more that is very IMMEDIATELY useful to me that I would never do before.  I made a DVD of pictures I took from my cousin’s wedding in just a few minutes, and I created this “instant nostalgia” slideshow in a few minutes on Jan. 1.

Hey! I just made something on my Mac!

I did this on the plane! I love Macs! I figured out how to do this and did it in like 30 minutes!

End of the Year Mix CD!

I just participated in an extremely fun little gift exchange. The idea was to make a mix CD using a maximum of one song from every year of your life. The song could be what you were listening to that year, something that you are listening to now that was released that year, or a song from any time that represents that year of your life.

It was actually really fun, and we had to make liner notes, so here are the ones that I wrote:

1. Beautiful Boy – John Lennon

This is the only song that I’m aware of that has my name in it and it’s about a father giving advice to his newborn child, so this will serve as my “1982”. John Lennon in particular held a lot of importance to me and I often listened to this song imagining him as a surrogate father (I was also undoubtedly influenced by an interview I read with Kurt Cobain where he said that he considered John Lennon to be a surrogate father — so that would make us surrogate brothers!). I’ve always thought this song was incredibly sad. I’ve always paired this song with “Julia” which was John’s song to the mother he never knew because she died young. In this song John is finally ready to be a good father and I imagine him singing to a gurgling, smiling baby, laying out all the things that they are going to share together and reassuring him that life may be hard but dad is going to be there to help — and things are getting better and better. Of course John would die before he could actually watch his son grow up — just as his own mother did. In both songs there is the sound of the ocean and that makes the symmetry even more acute.

I never had the kind of relationship with my own father described in this song (you know, the kind where we talk). When I was in India, in the house my father grew up in, he told me that he never made eye contact with his dad because it just wasn’t done, you were afraid to even stand in a father’s presence, let alone look at him. I realized that even though it seemed like our own relationship didn’t extend beyond his scolding me to study, my dad had made leaps and bounds in how he performed the role of a father when his only experience with a father was one in which he not only couldn’t talk, but couldn’t even LOOK. I can’t really imagine what it would have been like to not only try to figure out how to be a father with that as a template, but how to be a father in a totally new cultural environment. My dad was obviously not the communicative, compassionate father that Lennon portrays in this song, but, in retrospect, he came a long way.

2. Proud To Be An American – Lee Greenwood

I dimly remember in first grade the entire school was corralled into a major show at C.Y. Stephens at ISU. We spent about a month making puppets in art class and it would all culminate in us performing this song with our creations. It’s strange to think that all of us were required to participate in this crazy, heavy-handed, nationalistic anthem.

None of us really took the patriotic message to heart at all, we were just worked into a nervous, agitated frenzy to get every movement right. I remember that feeling of being very important — backstage, after school, all dressed up in black pants and black shirts (turtleneck for me!) and the heightened sense of awareness that comes from in the moments before a performance.

Even in the liberal enclave of Ames, Iowa these moments of coerced patriotism were not uncommon. My friend Bogdan lived in the rich subdivision, Northridge, and every Fourth of July a local realtor would put mini American Flags on everyone’s lawns and his parents pointedly removed them and were shocked that someone would be so brazen. They were Serbians and this incident occurred during the U.S. action in Bosnia Herzegovina. They weren’t genocide apologists, but the bombings were indiscriminate (as I assume most bombings are) and affected a lot of civilians, some of them were their family and friends. At the time I thought it was just his parents being “weird.”

3. Father Figure – George Michael

My family would make the seven hour trip to Milwaukee in our Pontiac Station Wagon quite frequently when I was younger to visit my mom’s sister and my cousins. My cousin Tony gave us a George Michael tape, which was the only tape we owned, and we listened to it over, and over, and over again. My brother and I would sit in the flattened out back portion of the station wagon, laying on pillows and blankets my parents had laid out and fighting nausea as we watched the road recede endlessly behind us. It was on one of these trips that I must have spent hours plotting my plan to give this song to my second grade teacher, Mrs. Grummer. I had an enormous crush on her, I was convinced that we shared a connection that was very special because she would always make insightful comments in my daily writing journal, complimenting me on my trenchant commentary and my penmanship. I felt that the sexual tension had reached a breaking point and something had to be done. This song would say everything that I needed to say. George Michael said, “I won’t be your teacher” and I thought I could very effectively repurpose this to clearly tell my teacher, “This is no longer a student-teacher relationship. You know and I know there is something more here. From now on, we are boyfriend-girlfriend.” On the trip I listened to this song over and over again, not understanding what George Michael was actually saying but reinterpreting snatches of the lyrics in my mind to directly explain our relationship.

Before I could go through with my plan, Mrs. Grummer announced to the class that she was pregnant. I felt betrayed. I suppose I had a vague awareness that she was married, but somehow this revelation changed things forever. In my daily writing journal that fateful morn I didn’t hold back. I wrote, “Great. Now my teacher is going to be really fat.” I hoped that she would see this for what it was: the window of opportunity for a life with me shutting. I knew it was mean, but I was so mad, I wanted it to sting. She made some glib comment about her “eating for two,” failing to comprehend her cavalier casting off of possibly the only true love she could have ever known. Oh Mrs. Grummer, sometimes I feel you’ll never … understand me (understand me).

4. Rebel Without a Pause – Public Enemy

Every year my parents would look through the Iowa State directory of grad students, searching for possibly Malayalee sounding names. They would cold call these students and invite them over for a home cooked meal and this was their social network. As a result, I saw many films that were far beyond my depth and probably completely inappropriate. The one that sticks out in my mind the most is “Do the Right Thing.” In the film, a character, Radio Rahim, plays Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” on his boombox too loud, the cops get called, he gets shot, and then there’s a race riot. I remember everyone animatedly discussing the implications of the movie, but I don’t remember the content. The only thing I could hold onto was the song. I think that this was right around the time that the film “Malcom X” was coming out and I recognized the director being interviewed on TV as Mookie, and I saw that Bill Cosby and Michael Jordan (the two most important people in my life at the time) were wearing those “X” hats. Then, at my cousin’s house I heard this album and recognized it as the same one from Do The Right Thing. I connected all the dots, and felt as if I had solved a puzzle and been granted temporary entry into an adult world where adult things were discussed.

5. Where I’m From – Digable Planets

On one of our many Christmas trips to Milwaukee I remember watching the cartoon “A Coo’ Like Dat Christmas.” My cousins — who were ten years older than me, thought this very amusing because the song that was playing throughout this cartoon was “Cool Like That” by the bohemian, hyper-literate hip-hop group, the Digable Planets. I took the CD from them and listened to it because it reminded me of the Christmas special. Since then it’s been one of those CDs in my collection that I rediscover every couple years. I love the romanticized vision of a friendly, engaged, and intellectual neighborhood that’s presented in this song.

6. I Will Follow Him – Cast of Sister Act

The last thing that I can remember my entire family agreeing on was Sister Act. My mother is deeply religious, but loves filthy jokes. She also identified VERY strongly with Whoopi Goldberg’s sassiness. Before this her favorite movie was the Sound of Music. But what if Julie Andrews told dirty jokes? And what if she was brown? Really, this was inevitable — all the pieces were there to make this THE MOVIE for my mom. We got the soundtrack and my brother and I would often sing along. This never failed to make my mom laugh.

7. Shoop – Salt N Pepa

In sixth grade my friend Richie gave Sarah, the cool girl everyone had a crush on, the cassingle of “Shoop” for her birthday.

This amazed me, totally, utterly.

It was sixth grade, so we were a few years past the point when there were co-ed birthday parties and as far as I knew, since that time we had all cultivated a deep, deep fear of girls that would only grow in the coming years. This fear caused me to avert my eyes from people who were close friends or neighbors only a few years before. When we square danced in P.E. I atempted to calculate who I would be matched up with in the girls line and I’m not sure what I was even hoping for because no matter what I felt like I was going to die, my vision blurred, I couldn’t speak, my body jerked involuntarily at every touch, it was awful.

Which is why Richie’s gift was epochal. When the boys tried to make fun of him (“So is she your guuuuuurrrrrl frrrrreeeeeeeeeyyyyynnnnd?”) he just said really coolly, “She’s my friend, and it was her birthday, so I got her a present.” I remember immediately assuming that he must have been left back a few years or something. How else was he so mature? This flawed logic was based on my gross overestimation my own future progression; I thought, “I’ll probably be like that next year … or maybe the year after.” Yeah, try 10 years later. This wasn’t like, “All of you will grow at different rates, so don’t feel bad now,” this was Doogie Howser M.D. all of a sudden coming to your 9th grade social studies class and performing open-heart surgery. This person looked like a peer, but he was clearly a genius of some kind, walking among mere mortals and performing miracles, the likes of which we barely had the capacity to recognize, let alone understand.

Richie was the new kid in school so he wasn’t bound by the entrenched patterns of shame that the rest of us had cultivated with each other and his freedom actually opened up the possibility of a co-ed friend group. I remember being in sixth grade and feeling incredibly mature because at recess instead of climbing on the playground equipment a group of about five of us — boys and girls! — would go to a patch of trees and just talk. Oftentimes we would sing this song, word for word, together. This filthy, filthy song. This song that no sixth grader should sing. The boys in the group felt no qualms singing lines like “Brother, wanna thank your mother for a butt like that.”

8. Lithium – Nirvana

Of course everything changed in middle school. When all the elementary schools were pooled into one windowless holding cell, all previous allegiances were broken and we entered into a sharply defined hierarchy. I was very near the bottom of this new pecking order — only slightly above the kid with the cleft palette. Like everyone else, my interest in Nirvana was piqued by the non-stop coverage of Kurt Cobain’s death, but when I actually started listening to his music I felt like he was the only person who understood how I felt — angry, alone, and sad.

9. The New Style – Beastie Boys

The problem with Nirvana and Kurt Cobain for me as a wounded middle schooler was that I saw everything in stark terms: you were either with us or against us. Kurt Cobain stood against pop music, so I stood against pop music. I only listened to “serious” music, “real” music … like Soundgarden or Filter or whatever “grunge” group of the week was on 107.1, Iowa’s New Rock Alternative. The one exception was Bush because I couldn’t forgive Gavin Rossdale for dating Courtney Love so soon after Kurt Cobain’s death, and I viewed anyone that went to the concert my eighth grade year as a Judas (Bush with No Doubt — the tour where the Stefani/Rossdale romance blossomed!). While the popular kids listened to rap, social exclusion had rendered me staunchly “alternative.”

The one source of overlap — for WHATEVER reason — was the Beastie Boys. During my 8th grade year “Ill Communication” came out and The Beastie Boys were the Outkast of their day: a group that we could all agree on. In retrospect, I have no idea why. I have five Beastie Boys CDs that I cannot listen to today.

10. Puttin’ it Down – Beck

The corrective to the attitude of exclusivity was Beck. When Odelay came out, I not only listened to the album CONSTANTLY, I also read every single article and interview I could. At the time I had just started working at the Ames Public Library and I would read every Spin, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Interview — ANYTHING — with an article on Beck. And that year there were a lot of articles — it seemed like every single magazine would eventually name it the album of the year. What was great about Beck for me was that he was so open to every genre, and for the uninitiated — like me — he was incredibly generous with his knowledge. Almost every interview he gave he listed off influences and they were wide-ranging, important, and uniformly great. I never, NEVER thought I would like country music, but Beck consistently listed Hank Williams as one of his favorite artists, so i checked him out from the Library — and I loved it. I thought that I was not a rap person, but Beck loved Afrika Bambataa, and I found out, so did I. Each of these different artists I probably would have never sought out, but Beck pointed me in their direction and I could not dismiss them because I heard so much in common with pieces and portions of Beck’s music, which I loved. If I liked “Sissyneck,” I had to like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” if I liked “Hi-5” I had to like “Soul Sonic Force”. Beck opened up my previously narrow musical palette to an amazing range of great artists.

Beck was my guide through popular music. I got to Mississippi John Hurt, Captain Beefheart, Neil Young, and much, much more through Beck. When I watched the Simpsons as a child, I distinctly remember thinking, “Someday I will understand every joke in this episode,” and I actually watched movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and A Streetcar Named Desire for the express purpose of understanding jokes in Simpsons episodes. The meta-narrative, the story cobbled from references to other stories, of the Simpsons led me to experiencing great art. In the same way, Beck’s meta-music, songs collaged from all these different influences, led me to expose myself to so much great music. At one point later in high school after I had gone on a burning spree through the Ames Public Library, I laid out all my music on the ground and tried to connect it to one another — grouping Neil Young and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks, etc. The pattern that emerged was rays coming out from the center, where I put my Beck CDs.

11. Til The End of the Day – The Kinks

I’m sure that everyone has this, but this is just MY kind of music. If I’m not careful, I can find myself ONLY listening to this kind of music for weeks or even months. If I could play an instrument, if I could sing, I would have long hair, wear a three piece suit, harmonize, play fucking loud, and break my instruments after I was done.

12. I Will – The Beatles

I went through a huge Beatles phase, to the point when someone would say that they weren’t really into the Beatles I would accuse them of lying. I would actually say, “You don’t honestly believe that. You’re just trying to be controversial.”

Our junior year we were all required to take a health class. I wanted the free period, and since we learned about sex during the class, I tried to opt out for “religious reasons.” I typed up a letter, had my mom sign it, and gave it to my guidance counselor. Can you believe she straight up didn’t believe me!? I had a signed note and she was like, “Shawn, you go to St. Cecilia. Everyone else from St. Cecilia is taking this class,” and I responded weakly, “but I have a note?”

Anyway, I got shamed into taking this ridiculous awful class. One of the assignments was to choose a love song — not a sex song! — a love song. Of course “love” as defined by our teacher (we were going to get graded). Our teacher warned us, “Don’t try any funny stuff. I know if something is secretly a sex song. One year a student tried to submit Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” but she didn’t know that I have a black friend” (pause for emphasis. Oooh, you didn’t see that coming, did you kids? Well it’s true, let that sink in for a moment) “and my BLACK FRIEND” (Believe it or not, I befriended a real, live black person) “told me that in the BLACK community” (my black friend is a conduit that runs from the pool of the black collective consciousness DIRECTLY INTO MY BRAIN) “‘Respect’ is a euphemism for sex. So no songs about ‘respect’ because I know what those songs are really about” (because of the secret negro knowledge my BLACK FRIEND imparted to me).

I used this song, thinking that the emphasis on loving forever and forever and waiting a lonely lifetime would satisfy the romantic parameters this woman — who had previously put a condom around her fist and stretched it to cover the entirety of her forearm down to the elbow (“If he says he’s too big ladies, tell him that’s bull honky. Check this out!”) — had set.

I got points docked because the love described in the song was a hypothetical future love and not a description of a healthy relationship.

13. Motion Pictures – Neil Young

Bob Dylan always impressed me as a genius, but Neil Young has always been someone that I feel like I know. He writes songs about watching movies, being drunk and stealing tunes from other artists, being scared, and he’s just so raw and emotional. There’s the classic story of someone shouting at one of his concerts “All your songs sound the same!” and Young replying, “It’s all the same song.” I have found that I can listen to endless amounts of Neil Young and I never get tired of it, it’s like talking to an old friend — familiar but always interesting. My best friend through middle school and high school and I primarily bonded over our shared sense of humor and as music — and the emotions that music carries — became more important to me, our differing tastes became indicative of the process of growing apart. Neil Young was a specific flashpoint. While I was listening to an album, my friend complained about his voice, he said that he sounded like a wounded animal. I found that I couldn’t explain that that was precisely why I liked him.

14. Run For the Roses – Jerry Garcia

So this is the kindest I could possibly be to myself with respect to my freshman year foray into the world of jam band music. I think that my jam band phase is symbolic of my main problem my freshman year, and the lesson I did not know at the time was: Limitations are a good thing. If you put together six people who are very good at their instruments and a crowd of stoned people who will love whatever they do and then tell them to do whatever they want … well, it took me a while to realize that it wasn’t for me. I went to a Phish concert, a moe concert, and a String Cheese Incident concert — and why? It was largely a social thing, I was trying everything — no limitations! — and going with the flow, just “open to experience.” However, without a strong critical consciousness the experiences I was opening myself to were ones that I couldn’t find much value in later.

I have to say though, that the Grateful Dead are very, very different and I actually think they’re a great band even today. And this concert is different. Jerry Garcia is playing solo acoustic guitar to a group of prisoners at Oregon State Penitentiary. The limitations imposed make for — in my opinion — much, MUCH better songs, and I assume that the prisoners wouldn’t have the same tolerance for self-indulgence that Garcia’s normal audiences would have.

15. Lost Highway – Hank Williams

This song meant a lot to me in college. It’s such a simple, powerful statement about regret. As I smoked cigarettes in the Foxhead I could close my eyes and hear Hank’s voice warning me to change my ways from the back of the white Cadillac he died in, and I would pre-emptively regret the things that I knew I would be doing in the coming years.

16. Deceptacon – Le Tigre

This song played at every party we threw in college.

17. I’m Set Free – The Velvet Underground

Leaving Iowa City before I went to India, I played this on the jukebox at Gabe’s very deliberately because it captured how I felt at the time — about to leave Iowa City and the U.S. for an indefinite period of time.

18. Kal Kya Hoga – R. D. Burman

Living and working in India was disorienting, frantic, and generally insane, like this song.

19. Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace – Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln

I wasn’t particularly aware of race before I went to India, and then IN India I became hyper-aware of my otherness and privilege as an American. But when I came back I became very aware of my situation as the only minority in most social situations. I was surrounded by white liberals who would never, EVER consider themselves racist in anyway, and were far too savvy to do something as uncouth as saying anything overtly racist — but I suddenly became sensitive to all the subtle, unnameable moments of subtext and inadvertent innuendo I observed as a non-white person in a society controlled by white privilege. I didn’t know how to express these feelings or even to bring them up in a productive way. If I encounter overt racism, it’s actually easy to know what to do because all the scripts for righteous indignation are prepared … but trying to address these much more common, ambiguous situations was something I didn’t know how to do and as a result I became extremely frustrated, with the situation and myself.

This is from a concept album on the civil rights movement. The first song is kind of like a chain gang song about slavery, the next one is about emancipation, and then there’s this one, full of inarticulate anger.

20. Don’t Worry About the Government – Talking Heads

After moving around for years (In India I typically travelled two weeks out of every month, then I moved back to IC, then I moved to LA) I really appreciate how this song stitches together all the mundane details of a settled life into something that is so happy — but also shaded with darkness. The Talking Heads is one of my favorite bands and this is such an indicative song — almost like a mission statement for them. In fact, their next album would be self-deprecatingly titled “More Songs About Buildings and Food”. The almost autistic attention to detail and celebrating the things that people NEVER write songs about is what I love about the perspective of the Talking Heads. And I think so much richness comes from this seemingly simplistic approach … we start with nature, the clouds moving across the sky, and then we see how people — through technology and force of will — have reshaped the world to meet our needs. The pine trees are next to the highway and the highway serves the purpose of getting people to the building and this seemingly matter-of-fact catalog of the systems that enable middle-class comfort somehow takes on great emotional weight.

And there are so many ways to look at the song. On the one hand its about the simple pleasure that you can derive from things that we take for granted. I don’t have to live outside! I live in a building! And I see my loved ones because they can come from their building to my building on a highway! And I get all of this! This is great! I often have moments like this where I wax rhapsodic about something mundane like indoor plumbing (“Do you know how insane it is that if I turn a knob I can get drinking water, RIGHT HERE? ON the fourth floor of a building? Think about that. Other people have to walk to a body of water, gather water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing, and then do the same thing again the next day, but us, we get to have water whenever we want! And we even get to decide if its hot or cold! And we live in a fucking desert!).

But then you think about the character in the song, who has his life so regimented and how everything in society is designed for efficiency, designed not necessarily so we can enjoy our lives more, but so we can work more — and shoehorn in moments of time for our loved ones as an interruption from our “working, working”. The main character is precisely the kind of person the government doesn’t have to worry about (it’s almost as if he’s pleading with an interrogator when he says “Don’t you Worry About MEEEE!), an ideal citizen: someone who is appreciative of his comforts, whose life is consumed with work, but allows himself small indulgences that enhance his efficiency.

But of course the title is “Don’t Worry About the Government” so its like, “Look at all the good things the government makes possible for you! Buildings! Highways! The government makes life easier!” and all the simple comforts the narrator describes so movingly actually help to lull him into a state of complacency where questioning the government seems ungrateful. In short, “Don’t Worry About the Government.” The song itself is so sweet and jaunty, but then the title makes you think about all the wonder of the narrator through a different lens.