Music I listened to obsessively while writing this book:
Powaqqatsi soundtrack — Powaqqatsi is the second film in Godfrey Reggio’s “Qatsi” trilogy. The title is a Hopi Indian term for an evil sorcerer who steals the life force of others, and the film, chock full of slow-motion images of brown-skinned pit-miners and village farmers, is intended to be an indictment of Western exploitation of the Third World. What it really is, though, is one of the all-time great dope movies: Toke up, crank the bass on the TV surround-sound, and let Philip Glass party in your limbic system while you watch the pretty pictures. My dope-movie days are behind me now, but I still keep the Powaqqatsi soundtrack around for those times when I want music without lyrics. The Powaqqatsi Anthem, which is reprised twice, is especially stirring, and I’m not the only person who thinks so—it’s shown up in a number of other movies, including Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.
Billy Joel — Storm Front and River of Dreams — Still the man.
Elton John — Sleeping with the Past and Made in England — Ditto.
Elvis Costello — Spike and Mighty Like a Rose — And ditto.
Kansas — In the Spirit of Things — The band was definitely losing steam by this point, but I still like track number 9, “The Preacher.”
Meat Loaf — Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell and Welcome to the Neighborhood — Wow. Two good Meat Loaf albums in a row? Jesus must be on his way back.
Aerosmith — Pump — And speaking of resurrections…
Eurythmics — Savage — I spent some of my Fool on the Hill advance money on a railpass trek around Europe. Very early one morning I stumbled out of a horrible rented room in La Linea, Spain, and crossed the border into Gibraltar, with Savage playing on my Walkman. The opening lines of “Brand New Day” coincided neatly with the sunrise, searing the moment forever in my memory. It was nice, in the often leaner years that followed, to be able to transport myself back there any time I wanted just by listening to Annie Lennox’s voice.
Prince — Batman soundtrack — I hated the movie, but the soundtrack was weirdly addictive. Graffiti Bridge was pretty good, too.
They Might Be Giants — various albums, but especially Flood and John Henry — Also check out Factory Showroom, which has my favorite TMBG song, “James K. Polk.”
Lava Hay — Lava Hay — A Canadian folk duo who came and went in the early ‘90s without leaving much of a trace. I happened on their first CD in a used record store in Portland, Maine, and got hooked.
Indigo Girls — Rites of Passage — I actually only like one of the Indigo Girls: Emily Saliers, the blonde Indigo. I figured this out while looking over the Rites of Passage liner notes, when I noticed that all the songs I loved (“Galileo,” “Ghost,” “Love Will Come to You,” “Virginia Woolf,” “Airplane,” and “Let it Be Me”) were written by Emily, while the songs I was indifferent to or hated (“Three Hits,” “Jonas & Ezekiel,” “Chickenman”) were credited to Amy Ray.
NWA — Straight Outta Compton — Like many white boys, I only enjoy two kinds of rap music: violent, mysogynistic rap with lots of swearing, and Queen Latifah. This would be an example of the former. “Fuck the Police” still cracks me up every time. The Fear of a Black Hat soundtrack, with its parody song “Fuck the Security Guards,” makes a nice companion CD.
Queen Latifah — All Hail the Queen — Amen.
Timbuk 3 — Greetings From Timbuk 3 and Eden Alley — A brilliant little alternative band. They had one big hit, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” but to really appreciate their genius you’ve got to listen to the non-top-40 tracks like “Hairstyles and Attitudes,” “I Love You in the Strangest Way,” “Sample the Dog,” “Welcome to the Human Race,” and “Reverend Jack & His Roamin’ Cadillac Church.”
Joan Armatrading — various albums — I had several of her albums on vinyl, all lost now. My favorite tracks included “Drop the Pilot” and “(I Love it When You) Call Me Names.”
Toni Childs — Union — Structurally, this album reminds me a lot of 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe; in particular, the closing track “Where’s the Ocean” feels like a musical first cousin to “Verdi Cries.”
Sinead O’Connor — The Lion and the Cobra and I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got — The herald of my mortality. I was living in Boston a couple years after college when one of my housemates came home and said he’d spotted Sinead at the Charlestown Mall. During the ensuing conversation it came up that, despite being technically an adult, she was younger than we were—the first celebrity of whom we were aware of that being true. This led in turn to the frightening realization that we really were going to grow old and die, and that, oh my God, the process had already started. Of course it’s funny to look back on this now, when there are adult celebrities less than half my age.
Juluka — Scatterlings and Stand Your Ground — A South African band led by “white Zulu” Johnny Clegg, Juluka eventually morphed into Savuka.
Michelle Shocked — Short, Sharp, Shocked and Captain Swing — After being unavailable for years, apparently due to a lawsuit between Shocked and her record label, Short, Sharp, Shocked and Captain Swing have finally been rereleased, with extra tracks.
Roxette — Look Sharp!, Joyride, Tourism, and Crash! Boom! Bang! — ABBA, with half the calories.
Graham Parker — The Real Macaw and Human Soul — Elvis Costello, with half the brains.
Lyle Lovett — Lyle Lovett, Pontiac, and Joshua Judges Ruth — My friend Peggy Grace turned me on to Lyle in 1993, when she took me to see him in concert with Bonnie Raitt. The next day I bought all his albums, and unlike Nick of Time, I still play them regularly.
Nanci Griffith — Storms — Another Portland, ME friend named Jean Wells played this a lot.
Bryan Adams — Reckless — Happy Canadian pop.
Patti Scialfa — Rumble Doll — Bought this after I saw the “Lucky Girl” video on MTV.
Jude Cole — A View from 3rd Street and Start the Car — Not sure why I bought his first album, but I liked it a lot.
David Byrne — Rei Momo — Just for one track, “Dirty Old Town.”
George Michael — Faith and Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 — Say what you want about him, but “Freedom! ’90” is still one of the coolest videos of all time.
Berlin — Pleasure Victim and Love Life — A holdover from college.
Bangles — Different Light and Everything — How can you resist a band with a girl named Michael?
Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians — Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars — I expected bigger things from her, but the follow-up albums, Ghost of a Dog and Picture Perfect Morning, were really a disappointment.
Cyndi Lauper — She’s So Unusual, True Colors, and Hat Full of Stars — We’d have been friends in high school.
Amy Grant — Heart in Motion — In the immortal words of Beavis & Butthead, “Is this a Clearasil commercial?”
Def Leppard — Pyromania, Hysteria and Adrenalize — Good clean heavy metal.
Sophie B. Hawkins — Tongues and Tails and Whaler — “Damn I Wish I was Your Lover” was her big hit, of course, but I preferred some of the other tracks, like “Mysteries We Understand” and “Did We Not Choose Each Other.”
Deborah Harry — Def, Dumb & Blonde — I was never a Blondie fan, but I bought this after seeing the video for “I Want that Man.”
Tom Cochrane — Tom Cochrane & Red Rider and Mad Mad World — Bought the first album for “Boy Inside the Man” and the second for “Life is a Highway.”
Sheryl Crow — Tuesday Night Music Club — All I wanna do…
Weird Al Yankovic — Alapalooza — Not one of his better efforts overall, but “Frank’s 2000-inch TV” had me hooked.
Boston — Boston — I’m not sure how I got through the ‘80s without discovering these guys, but when I finally heard their first album at my downstairs neighbors’ place (in Boston, natch), I was belatedly blown away. The follow-up albums mostly suck, but I really like “What’s Your Name” from Walk On.