In response to The New York Times article “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.”
277. “What Are You Listening To?”
“Listen to this,” my buddy Andrew said, handing me his right headphone piece. The plane had taken off moments before. From the window you could see our ascent. We were going hundreds of miles an hour, hundreds of miles up in the air. He hit play, and just like that, this became the song of our week-long trip to the Pacific beaches near Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. It has been in rotation since, even now. “Play it when it I die,” one of us jokes. “At your funeral?” the other replies. The taste of light beer, spicy mango and sand is evoked between percussion beats; a good time getting sun-soaked, and repeated inside jokes are recalled between vocal samples. “Por favor, no.”
278. “What Songs Are On Your Favorite Playlist?”
The original playlist was recommended by a friend: it’s Lytebryte25’s Songs to lie on your bed and stare at the ceiling to. I played it a lot at the start of 2011, and it’s often on my mind, even when I’m into other kinds of music; it was always something to go back to: Sufjan, Death Cab, the Kooks make a great set-list.
Four years later, I took the tracks, added a few, and came up with a new playlist based on the things I was feeling at the time. I call it The Millennial Hipster’s Blueprint To a White Wall. (Currently accepting add ons.)
1. The Kooks – See the Sun (Alternate Version)
2. Iron & Wine – Flightless Bird American Mouth
3. Snow Patrol – You Could Be Happy
4. Sufjan Stevens – Casimir Pulanski Day
5. Death Cab For Cutie – Passenger Seat
6. Beach House – I Do Not Care For The Winter Sun
7. Damien Jurado – Everything Trying
8. Mirah – The River
9. Cat Power – Sea of Love
10. Bon Iver – Re: Stacks
11. Animal Collective – College
12. Matt Weddle – Hey Ya (Acoustic Cover)
279. “What Musicians or Bands Mean the Most to You?”
My musical awakening per se happened in 1999, when my uncle and father took my brother and I to see Sting live at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. He was touring for his Brand New Day album, which we bought on the way out, and I played until the jewel case cracked and the disc got scratched. The song “Fill Her Up” was my favorite for a long time. And my love for pop not random. The road trip band for my family all through childhood was The Police, clearly from my parents’ time, yet whose songs my siblings and I have all memorized.
Next, in high school, following an 80s music coma, I came across my dad’s Genesis records, among other prog rock LPs. From Gabriel to Collins and beyond, the rhythms and groove and lyrical playfulness in the band’s 31 year trajectory showed me how much a band could change. From discordant experiments to glimmering pop, from “Sussudio,” to “I Know What I Like,” to me the band is a testament to artistic growth, not just something the Patrick Batemans of the world sing along to.
The day my musical tastes merged with the contemporary world was the day I discovered Animal Collective. Until then I had been stuck, caught up, immersed in a synthpop, house retro world. Coming across AC’s video for “In The Flowers” made me feel many things, but mostly proud of living in a time when great music was being made, in having faith that music will always be good, and that there is room for both nostalgia and innovation, sometimes in a single track. The very act of creating music verifies this. Remixes, mixtapes, collaborations, yes even rehashes, all sound is in concert with itself. Jazz proves this too, playing sheet music is always a re-imagining. (Another band that means a lot to me, and who epitomizes this old-to-new phenomena is Daft Punk. In an article from ROBOPOP, Thomas Bangalter says of Discovery, “This album has a lot to do with our childhood and the memories of the state we were in at that stage of our lives. It’s about our personal relationship to that time. It’s less of a tribute to the music from 1975 to 1985 as an era, and more about focusing on the time when we were zero to ten years old.”)
280. “What Music Inspires You?”
Music that makes you dance, makes you think, gives you goosebumps.
281. “Who in Your Life Introduces You to New Music?”
Friends, my brother, strangers at the bar, YouTube, Billboard’s top 100, and the pop stations in Houston.
282. “How Much is Your Taste in Music Influenced Based on What Your Friends Like?”
A lot. The Brand New Day album would not have been as fun or long lasting if my friend Adam hadn’t jammed it on our carpools to and from our houses. In High School I wasn’t (just) alone listening to the Cure and Depeche Mode; friends and I would walk around our campus and blast those on a stereo slung over our shoulder, and “Eye of the Tiger.” The mutual respect for Animal Collective in college led to other conversations at the cafeteria — between scoops of ice cream and slices of pepperoni pizza — about Grizzly Bear, MGMT, Tegan & Sara, naturally. And, now, most of the new music I listen to comes from word of mouth, from friends. What beats that feeling of singing a line from a song (new or oldie), and having the group of friends you’re with finish the song in a chorus?
283. “What Role Does Hip-Hop Play in Your Life?”
Not a big enough one. That said, I’ve had the line “bitch, be humble” stuck in my head for the last 36 hours. And the last concert I went to was a J Dilla tribute at the Lincoln Center. Still, I need more.
284. “Which Pop Music Stars Fascinate You?
Longevity and eclecticism are in an Artist what draw stars in my eyes, inspire me to put pen to paper. Prince or Cerati would make the list, r.i.p., but who remain with us:
285. “Who is Your Favorite Pop Diva?”
286. “What’s Your Karaoke Song?”
A-ha — “Take On Me” (taaaake meeeee ooon!)
287. “Which Artists Would You Like to See Team Up?”
Another Panda Bear, Daft Punk collab wouldn’t kill anyone.
Beach House could bring in Robert Smith to help write their first pop-forward song, or St. Vincent their first guitar shred (which would pace quickly unto a cloud, float slowly into a haze of keyboard reverb).
Jeremih and Diplo, for a bedroom dance track.
DJ Khaled and Khalid, for a first.
Aphex Twin and the Weeknd, with a track-long album that tells the story of an alien in a big city here on Earth, going in and out of pop/dance/experimental sections, clean hooks, many a wild chorus, yeah, something grand.
288. “How Closely Do You Listen to Lyrics?”
Inside out. With liner notes in hand. Forums for details. To repeat. To borrow. To sing. To remember.
289. “What Are Your Earliest Memories of Music?”
My aunt (and godmother) shared not long ago a home video of the cousins, my brother, and I, all singing “Roxanne” in the car, with eyes bulging, and throats high-pitched. I am not sure if that is my earliest memory, or if my memory of that night has been affected by me having watched the video. But it’s a hell of a moment, anyway. And I will never forget…
You don’t have to put on the red light.