Our August issue goes live tomorrow (8/15). Now Playing gives a sneak peek at the issue's contributors, what they're playing, and what it means.
I listened to a BBC podcast about Arthur Russell, a musician and composer who died in New York in 1992, broke and mostly unknown. He lived in an East Village walkup with electricity provided by an extension cord running from Allen Ginsberg’s apartment. Nights he wandered the streets till dawn, pockets full of scraps of paper and score sheets, headphones on, playing cassettes of the music he was continually making and rarely finishing. He left behind hundreds of hours of it when he died, some of which has since become available, but while he was alive he released only one record, "World of Echo." It’s just his voice and his cello and a little percussion, beautiful, ghostly, forgettable as songs but not as music, and not like anything I’d ever heard before.
Arthur Russell was in New York when I first lived there, but I wouldn’t have known him. I had a day job, paid my electric bill, spent a few off hours trying to write. I wish I’d been crazy enough to be braver.
I’m a little obsessed with mortality, not in a morbid way—if that’s possible—more in a kind of “bad accident” fascination way with the infinitesimal line between life and death. It started when I was nine years old. I answered the phone and my friend, Little Dawn, said, “Mommy’s dead.” Watching Saturday morning cartoons in bed, Dawn thought her mom had fallen asleep, but she’d died, of a suffocated heart—the result of her 2+pack-a-day habit. This is all to say, I’ve been listening to one of my favorite artists, Danielle LoPresti. “Don’t Wait” from her “House of D” album speaks to and soothes that nine-year old part of me that knows the fragility of life, even as I try to ignore it. “Don’t Wait” brings me back to this moment, right now, which is, of course, everything.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I sing is "Zuka Zama" by a cute little honey badger named Bunga. The evening is reserved for my rendition of "Tonight We Strike" originally sung by a plotting hyena named Janja. Throughout the day, I will do random impressions of James Earl Jones's cameo in the touching song "Kion's Lament" where Simba's son Kion struggles to find his roar. I think I've listened to "Outta the Way," also by Janja, more than any other song on Spotify. Ever. So if you like Paul Simon or Vampire Weekend or the chance to pick up a few new words, you can't go wrong with The Lion Guard soundtrack for the television show. Besides, have you tried listening to the songs from PJ Masks?