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NOº 2035

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror: “30 Things I Love Right Now” Brought to You By the One-and-Only Jason Slatton


1. This gentleman, and the junkstore attic that is his mind. New music from him is a thing of rusty glory. Old music from him is, in fact, the same thing…
2. Arugula: Peppery, bitter, sort of tough, and sheer freaking bliss in a straight up salad mix…even better in an omelette, tempered with asiago, white onion and some pepper. The pissed-off little brother of greens, if I may…
3. ELO’s Eldorado: I was obsessed with it when I was 10. Recently found a copy on vinyl, and am spinning it while I compile this list. With the windows open, and the soft September air filtering through the room, I realize that very little of my collective sensibility regarding music has changed. This, by the way, is a good thing. You know what this sounds like, right? It’s ELO, fer chrissakes. A little grandiose, kinda claustrophobic and dense, hooky, and Bev Bevan’s drums sound like heaven. Or the way heaven might sound were it a drum track. Uh…yeah…
4. The Catcher In The Rye: What this really means is that I love navigating this book with my students — I’m now on my second year of this. They laugh, shudder, grow contemplative, nod, affirm, re-read sections, maybe grow a little angry or disturbed, i.e. what you should do when a good piece of writing knocks you around a little…
5. Alternate guitar tunings, particularly those found here. I’m sort of hung up on BEBEBE right now, which accounts for a bit of Nick Drake’s catalog. Meditative, restorative, and some kind of path, I think, meaning a path toward a greater truth. Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy  also traffic in these circles. Which leads me to…
6. Nick Drake: We (being my gal and I), spin a lot of Nick Drake ‘round our house, near constantly, but most certainly this time of year. His entire recorded output won’t even take up your whole morning (depending on what time you get up, I guess), but he’s more or less created the whole of a universe in his songs. The less hyperbole regarding Nick, the better. So…
7. Five Leaves Left (1969)
8. Bryter Later (1970)
9. Pink Moon (1972)
10. Jorge Luis Borges: I’m working my way through his collected short stories right now (some first reads, some re-reads), and am finding that I have to suspend (or perhaps throw out entirely) all the things I assume a short story (or, in totale, fiction) is supposed to be. I can thank Tim O’Brien, who read an excerpt of “The Aleph” to an audience of nerdy writer types I was a part of at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference a few years ago, for steering me toward this guy. I guess this leads me to…
11. Tim O’Brien: I don’t love him, er… “right now.” I sort of, well, continually love him, and the places that his writing directs me. A few writers have left me pretty wrung out of late when I finished one of their books: Kazuo Ishiguro, Virginia Woolf, and Mr. O’Brien. I’m re-reading “The Lives Of The Dead” tonight, so really this entry should be tweaked a little…
12. Antiseptic yet oddly wonderful Muzak versions of pretty okay Freedy Johnston songs from 1994 when heard transmitted through drug store sound systems in the mid- to late-afternoon, circa 2011. There are other artists that fall under this classification, but Mr. Johnston is the most recent, inadvertent offender. A good melody can shine through the most saccharine arrangement…
13. Fitful sleep: The dreams I had after taking Melatonin just last night for the first time. I rarely sleep fitfully, and can only gauge how well I slept by the width and breadth of my REM activity — upon digesting one chalky little pill, I soared across treetops, and lit midnight candles in cavern-like belfries that listed without foundation on top of dark oceans. Also, I swam with Scout, our recently deceased cat of well-deserved legend, in a nighttime lake. We would dive to the silty bottom together and chase fish. K. was there, too, wielding a flashlight to help us in our endeavors. She (K.) can corroborate this story…
14. Pepper. Lots of it. Freshly ground. Always. On every thing. And crushed red pepper. On pasta. Any kind of pasta. And this stuff
15. An odd documentary I just saw about one Winston Watson, onetime drummer for Bob Dylan, helmed by Mr. Watson, revealing loads of ephemera regarding rehearsals, touring life, and random, odd Bob-isms. All that to say: history is often found in the footnotes, and not in the headlines. So, a link. Really, it’s pretty great, and I’ve seen this guy play live. He’s a ferocious drummer…
16. Bass lines, any and all: McCartney, Jameson, Hood, Weymouth, Wilson, Squire, Stinson, Jones, and more. I always go in this direction when I’m driving and listening. Always. Can’t help it.
17. Battlestar Galactica: I don’t want to embarrass K. on this one, but we began streaming the new version of this show on Netflix Labor Day weekend, and we’re sort of hooked. We’re not nerds, really. It’s the requisite 2000’s dystopian vision of the future, but one that is nuanced in such a way that it also becomes a resolutely dark, troubled, disturbing vision of post-9/11 America. This is the kind of thing that Harlan Ellison would probably get behind, if only because he probably came up with most of these ideas LONG before 9/11, and maybe even the seed of the idea that is Battlestar Galactica (my evidence: The Starlost). Amazing writing, photography and character development in this one, though. So…
18. Harlan Ellison: …and, really, an early collection of his called Stalking The Nightmare. Oh, dear God, this book rearranges my DNA still. My mom bought me this when I was 15. I in turn become 15 again whenever I crack in to it…
19. Oof. This. I agree. Then I don’t. Also, Robert Smith is way older than you are, so respect is due…
20. Something I’m absolutely (1) waiting, and (2) socking away cash for...
21. The Guardian UK and all attendant editorial tangents therein, like this one. And Mr. Lydon’s book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. To my way of thinking, he’s sort of punk rock Alan Sillitoe. Or John Osborne
22. François Couperin: Discovered via Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, Couperin is responsible for the rolling, tumbling piano piece that shows up, if memory serves, twice in the film. Though this was music composed for the harpsichord, I think the piano version we hear in the film is from this, so thank you to Angela Hewitt if it is indeed you. All the pieces on this album are like odd, miniature pop songs, almost, or as some folks have suggested, “tone poems.” They have some of those flowery, trill-y, Baroque conventions, but tend to push off in another direction entirely. He was also pre-disposed to give his compositions strange, evocative titles like “The Mysterious Barricades.” Dig it. Special thanks to D. Gilliland for the “oh, I think that might be Couperin, maybe…” moment…
23. Harry Nilsson, in particular, his 1971 album Nilsson Schmilsson: Part of this is born of a recent screening of the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? Producer Richard Perry relates in the aforementioned doc that he and Harry were trying to make an album that would be as good as any Beatles record. It’s no secret that they (John, Paul, etc.) were rabid fans of Nilsson’s work — his songwriting, his uncanny harmonic sensibilities, his almost schizophrenic ability to shift voices, sometimes within the same song. One thing to note here: Nilsson was fluent in Tin Pan Alley, power pop, soaring balladry, dark, paranoid R&B…and I mean to say that he knew few limits when it came to song composition. He was also a bastard, a misanthrope, a drunk, a genius, and a tornado of love, tempered with a lot of madness. Who aspires to this man’s catalog and talents these days?
24. Urban bike rides: By this, I mean bike rides that have me out for several hours, winding through the city. Weekend roadbiking in Birmingham is a thing to be cherished; there’s often very little traffic, and I’ve found as we move toward fall, more people are just out there, living, walking, riding, breathing. It actually feels like a real city, as opposed to a decaying semi-city left empty from a late-70’s spate of “white flight.” Today found me circling Legion Field, touring Norwood, hitting all major downtown avenues, and winding back through Five Points for a stop at Camp Taco. Birmingham drivers are still in-part resistant to something as simple as a two-wheeled, self-propelled vehicle, but they’re slowly coming around. I’ve ridden in a couple of major American cities, and every year we get a bit more navigable, hospitable, livable. Good on ya, Birmingham. If you want to really see a city, see it from two wheels. So, then, this:
25. Camp Taco
26. Most anything this guy does. However, if you want just one to start with, I recommend a book he edited with Greil Marcus called The Rose & The Briar. Or Bob Dylan In America
27. The lyric: “I know what I know / I’ll sing what I said / We come and we go / That’s the thing that I keep in the back of my head.” Look it up…
28. Blue Diamond Almonds: Every variation available (Wasabi, Sea Salt, etc.).  Unmitigated beauty, sublime, resilient.
29. Mbaqanga. Re-issued in anthology form. Thank you Strut Records
30. The odd feeling of “completion” I have upon wrapping up this list. Oh, and mid-Sunday afternoon naps while listening to Jonas Starker’s cello ring through the house.