Worldly Wednesday: “Tango Fugata,” Astor Piazzolla



I’m about to head into three days of mostly day-long meetings and I am fully anticipating that they will be feel and sound like this, one of my favorite pieces by Argentine tango genius, Astor Piazzolla.  Put a group of fun, smart, interesting people together in a room, give them a cool topic and a lot of coffee, and watch them go.  Nothing better.


Termagant Tuesday: “Pennies From Heaven,” Louis Prima



To follow up on yesterday’s super-inspiring Peruvian llamas post, about which a number of you wrote me to suggest perhaps I needed a vacation (thanks, genius), here’s a song that will make you feel like you just won one for free.  And because you got lippy with me, I’m going to tell you, in the longest, wordiest possible way, how it was I came to find this song.  Aren’t you excited?  …Say you’re excited.

Long before there were iPods and MP3 players (aside: I love how we still say “MP3 players” even though the market for Apple alternatives only existed for about 20 minutes), there were discmen and CDs.  And poor students have existed since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of the $800 college textbook (hi, Dad!).  So it was a big deal when my university’s student union would have CD sales.  This being a student union at a small university in the middle of nowhere that nevertheless attracted a healthy international student body, the selections were really weird.

This one particular afternoon, after I’d slept off my hangover (sorry, Dad…), I padded down the street to the union to get a cheap late lunch before gently installing myself in the library. And when I walked through the front doors, what hit my senses first?  Well, yes, stale beer on the floor, but – a huge rack of CDs.  Hot damn!  I got three: a Meatloaf album, a classical thing of some kind, and our pal Louis Prima.

Whenever I have a hard day that still allows some room for bucking up, unlike those days that are so frustrating you just want to hide in a dark closet, I put this on.

Now aren’t you glad I took you on that stroll down Memory Lane?  …Say you’re glad.

Modernism Monday: “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down,” The Ramones



Ever wake up and think, “oh, the hell with it?”  No?  Well you’re probably hiding a deep sadness so go see someone.  I’ll wait.


…Ever wake up and think, “oh, the hell with it?”  Yes?  Yeah, it’s a gross, hands-in-the-air, “I’m moving to Paraguay to raise llamas at this rate” kind of feeling.  So put this song on.  I recommend very, very loud.

Sacred Sunday: “Om Namah Shivay Dhun,” Jagit Singh



This is one of the most popular mantras in Hinduism, and the most important in Shaivism, the sect of Hinduism that reveres the god Shiva.

Shaiva temple in Sibsagar, Assam, India.

Shaiva temple in Sibsagar, Assam, India.

These words are known in Shaivism as the panychAkshara mantra, or the Holy Five Syllables.   Its loose translation is, “Adoration to Shiva,” but its essence is much more closely associated with the sublimation of the ego along with complete devotion.  The mantra has been set to countless melodies but this is one of my favorites.

Today is the Sunday in church we read the gospel lesson in which Jesus tells his followers, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  As Bishop Mariann Budde, the head of the Diocese of Washington, preached this morning, it’s a deceptively difficult statement to wrestle with because it seems to imply exclusion – i.e., the only way towards the divine is through Jesus, and therefore through the Christian faith.  Bishop Budde said that, to her, this is much more of a statement of love between Jesus and his disciples than it is a commandment that those who are not followers are condemned.  The Holy Five Syllables is another such love song.  What a wonderful thing that humans evolved so many ways of approaching the divine, and that each of them begins with love.

Salubrious Saturday: “Gemini Dub/Jibal Al Nuba,” DJ Rupture



I like using my brain.  It is my favorite thing to do.  I love to spend hours thinking, turning things over in my mind, then talking about these things with people.  I remember great conversations like they were trips I went on.  I get the same high from intellectual stimulation as I do from my favorite physical activity, running.  The rhythm of this song reminds me of both, and therefore makes me happy.

Funk Friday: “No Parking on the Dance Floor,” Midnight Star



This song goes out to two dear friends of mine who are today beginning their cross-country moving trip to resettle on the west coast.  (Pro tip: if you want to speed past the odd and theatrical intro, the music starts at 0:57.)   Westward, ho, dudes!  Pedal to the metal – no parking on the dance floor.

Throwback Thursday: “Die Forelle,” Franz Schubert



I’d like to learn how to fish.  I don’t really know why.  I guess it just seems like something a normal, calm, reasonably happy person would do in their spare time.  I don’t know whether I’d classify my hobbies as such, given I don’t classify myself as normal or calm.  Come to think of it, I don’t really know what my hobbies are.

The dictionary defines a hobby as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.”  By that logic, the following things could be hobbies of mine:

  • Sleeping
  • Holding a wedge of cheese and eating it like an apple with the fridge door open, at night, with the lights off
  • Avoiding Swiffering my floors
  • Noodling aimlessly on my piano
  • Walking aimlessly around D.C.
  • Staring off into space
  • Taking a Buzzfeed quiz when I should be [fill in anything remotely more useful than taking a Buzzfeed quiz]
  • Reading a New Yorker profile of someone interesting, regretting my degrees and career choices, frantically opening my computer, and searching for jobs in the profile-ee’s field
  • Daydreaming of how great life would be as a [insert profession of New Yorker profile-ee]
  • Looking at real estate I’ll never be able to afford unless I abandon reason, ethics, and hope

Anyway.  Here’s a song about a trout.

Worldly Wednesday, “Imidiwan Matanam,” Tinariwen



I have a vision of the northern Sahara at dusk.  There are bare scrubby trees, and sentient-looking rocks carved by wind and sand.  It looks like a place called Tassili N’Ajjer Plateau, in Algeria.  This is where the Tuareg group Tinariwen recorded their 2011 album “Tassili,” from which this song comes.  The album was recorded outside in the desert.  I have a lot of wanderlust by nature, but this song – and the vision this song gave a tune to – makes me all but grab my passport and run out my front door.

Tassili mountains, Algeria

Tassili N’Ajjer Plateau, Algeria

Imidiwan ma tennam dagh awa dagh enha semmen?
Tenere den tas-tennam enta dagh wam toyyam teglam
Aqqalanagh aljihalat tamattem dagh illa assahat
Tenere den tossamat lat medden eha sahat
Aksan kallan s tandallat taqqal enta tisharat
Aqqalanagh aljihalat tamattem dagh assahat

What have you got to say, my friends, about this painful time we’re living through?
You’ve left this desert where you say you were born, you’ve gone and abandoned it
We live in ignorance and it holds all the power
The desert is jealous and its men are strong
While it’s drying up, green lands exist elsewhere
We live in ignorance and it holds all the power

Termagant Tuesday: “Jeeves and Wooster,” Annie Dudley



I’ve lived in D.C. for ten years now.  Before that, I lived in the U.K.  Both places have the same arresting, and misunderstood, quirk, which is this: everyone spends the first five minutes of each new interaction trying to size the stranger up.  This manifests itself in different ways in both places.  In the U.K., I was asked questions about what school I attended, where in New England precisely I had lived, and – delightfully – what my family was “in.”  (That one in particular made me feel like I was at Epcot Center and the British person to whom I was speaking was actually an acting student from Gays Mills, Wisconsin.)  The obvious purpose behind all this was to assess where in the crusty social strata I fell.  Here is where the misunderstanding kicks in.  I learned over the course of many years that it doesn’t stop there, that there was a further point beyond that one, which was to ascertain how much of their own life were they now going to feel comfortable divulging.  It really didn’t have much to do at all with stereotypical snootiness, beyond the tacit acknowledgement of the existence of a social strata in the first place.  They just wanted to know who they were talking to so they didn’t do anything stupid.

The exact same principle exists in D.C.  Washington also has social strata, layered on top of which is the fascinating reality that no one just sort of ends up here: people come to D.C. by choice.  Therefore, where you work can speak immeasurable volumes about who you are, and everything that means: your politics, your background, your values, your level of cultivation, your drive, your everything.  So, the very first question you get asked in D.C. is, “So where do you work?”  Again, like the U.K, this isn’t only a yardstick of how you stack up against this stranger as much as it’s a gauge of how much you can relax around them.  Say you and your work friends from the E.P.A are out at a bar blowing off steam after a terrible day, and you run into an old college acquaintance who’s got some friends of her own in tow.  You’re not going to ask people where they work so you can pat yourself on the back again for going to Bennington.  You’re going to ask them where they work so that you know whether you can sound off about that coal country Senator who is still deciding whether or not to block the passage of muscular clean water legislation, or whether that new guy in the madras shirt is his legislative aide.

This is one of the many reasons I felt so at home in the U.K., and why I feel equally – if ironically – at ease in D.C.  I like living a life that cautions me against gum-flapping about Russia because I might be sitting next to the new President of the German Marshall Fund at the symphony.  True story.  (It was so awesome OMG.)  Puts me mind of my favorite Wodehouse quote, whose hilarious “Jeeves and Wooster” stories were turned into one of the best TV shows ever made:

“I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.”  — P.G. Wodehouse, “Carry On, Jeeves”

Modernism Monday: “Delirium,” Euphoria



It’s gonna be a big week this week, Tune-Up fans.  Work is picking up, a dear friend is moving across the country to start a new chapter in her life, another dear friend is interviewing for a new job – the list goes on.  This is a good song to boost morale and energy levels.