Category: mixtapes

I have a bit of an obsession with creating iTunes playlists. Currently I’ve got almost two hundred regular Playlists and probably a hundred Smart Playlists in my XXL iTunes library. I like to give my lists snarky (okay, embarrassing) names like Ham on Whole Wheat, Sunshine and Farts, and Rawk Yer Face Off. Who doesn’t do this? Wait – nobody does iTunes playlists anymore? What’s that? Get a life? You get a life.

I have a constantly evolving playlist that I keep onboard my iPod shuffle for running, mostly comprised of songs from the soundtracks to the novels I’m writing, or just plain buttkicking, step-it-up songs.

Every so often though, I need to make a new playlist whose sole purpose is to keep my spirits up. It’s random, dorky, fist-pumping shit that probably no one but me likes, but here is my latest. The best part is you can listen to it online at 8tracks! See below for my ramblings about the songs and a direct play-link (some tracks couldn’t be uploaded because of copyright issues, but you still get 21 songs and over an hour of free music!).

Songs For The Weary

  • Josh Ritter  “Lantern”   The song that started me writing this blog post. You can’t do much better for a lighters-high, hopeful tune.  That line about the book of jubilations just slays me every time.
  • Talking Heads  “Slippery People”   I have a newfound zesty amour for this song after seeing Twenty Feet From Stardom.
  • Lou Rawls  “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”  Because you won’t. Lou Rawls is my personal god.
  • Gogol Bordello  “Mishto!”  There is no band on Earth like Gogol Bordello.
  • Joe Strummer & The Mescalaros  “Get Down Moses”  The day I discovered this band’s three albums (and never more, RIP Joe) was the day I died a little, and lived a lot.
  • Bob Marley  “Could You Be Loved”  How can I not have a Bob Marley song on this list? This is my hands-down favorite.
  • Mötley Crüe  “Kickstart My Heart”  Yeah, I got the double umlauts on there, baby. Oh, this song.  Yesssssss.
  • Swing Out Sister  “Am I the Same Girl”  Uh huh, following up Crüe with Swing Out Sister.  It’s my playlist, and this song is some sweet brassy sweetness.
  • Prince  “Baby I’m a Star”  Forget everything and just remember that you are a star.
  • Angélique Kidjo  “Lon Lon Vadjro”  I used to listen to Angélique literally nonstop in my twenties. Gotta get back to that because she is the boss.
  • Shovels & Rope  “Fish Assassin”  Ain’t nothin’ beats Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent fish-and-grits harmonies.
  • Robbie Robertson  “Shake This Town”  I love the Storyville album and Robertson’s self titled album so much I actually get a little choked up just thinking about listening to all the songs.
  • Timbaland (feat. Miley Cyrus)  “We Belong to the Music”  Yep, a Miley song.  I don’t answer to you.
  • AWOLNATION  “Knights of Shame”  I love a song that changes it up at least three times (see next bullet point); this one orchestrated my last road trip, all my recent running, and a poem I wrote about a tree.
  • Jenny Lewis  “The Next Messiah”  Another long-ass song that feels like a saga and rocks like a hurricane. Oddly (or not?) I used to treadmill-run exclusively to this song. Jenny rules.
  • Bruce Cockburn  “Tie Me At The Crossroads”  Some perky action from Bruce. Me love.
  • Wasis Diop  “Toxu”  As you may know, Wasis Diop is a genius.
  • Queen  “Rock It (Prime Jive)”  Every Queen song is my favorite, but this one is…prime jive.
  • The Spencer Davis Group  “Gimme Some Lovin'”  Yes, please do gimme some lovin’. I have a serious crush on Steve Winwood. No shame.
  • Suzanne Teng  “Lhasa Love”  I can’t even explain how much I geek out to this song. It’s pure exuberance for life.
  • Robyn  “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do”  Because DON’T.
  • Traveling Wilburys  “End of the Line”  Guaranteed to lift your spirits. Just think about ’em – Tom, Bob, Jeff, and George – jamming out on that train with Roy’s guitar in the rocking chair. Bittersweet. Love you guys.
  • Meat Loaf  “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”  This song, plus Roger Waters’ double disc live album, got me through more than one tax season. This song. Nothing beats it. I mean, nothing MEATS it. Oh!
  • Billy Idol  “Dancing With Myself”  Title of my Autobiography.
  • Jackson Browne  “Here Come Those Tears Again”  I wish I could sing like Bonnie Raitt and Rosemary Butler and belt out that chorus. Okay sometimes when I’m on a long road trip alone and I’m listening to this song, I totally do. Badly.

Go to Songs for the Weary on 8tracks, courtesy of Superhermit (me). Or listen right here:

Photo from Unsplash


For July’s 2015 Document Watch Project pick, I took a friend’s suggestion and watched a Rockumentary! Yes, I’m fully aware that Nina Simone doesn’t fit into the “rock music” genre. Nina does rock, though. Confession: Growing up, I had virtually nobody to school me in the ways of cool music. I had to get there on my own through roundabout channels. The first time I heard Nina Simone was when I saw the movie Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda in 1993. Thus began my infinite love for Nina Simone’s voice and my fascination with assassin films.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 8.22.36 AMThe first Nina Simone album I bought was At the Village Gate. I have no idea why I didn’t grab one of the many greatest hits collections (I think I’ve said before I’m no purist) but I’m so glad I picked a live one. Hearing Nina perform live – even if it’s a recording on a CD – is life-altering. There’s no holding her back – blues, jazz, folk, hymns, Bee Gees covers – she can do anything, and she does it her way.


Sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.  – Nina Simone

So, going into this “Netflix Original” film, I knew a bit about the life of Nina Simone, aka Eunice Waymon, but nowhere near enough. I knew she played piano from a very early age, a performer at the get-go. I knew she went to Juilliard, aligned with the Black Power movement, and ended up living in France for the last part of her life. Everything else about her came to me through her songs.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is a biographical documentary jampacked with photos, videos (that clip of Simone performing for a young Hugh Hefner and his bunnies at the Playboy Mansion – whoa), music – of course music – and even her diary excerpts. Interviews with Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly (herself an executive producer of the film) and guitarist and friend Al Schackman provide emotional, revealing truths. The arc of her story – from small town North Carolina to Atlantic City to Newport to Carnegie Hall to the Liberian coast – is spellbinding, not to mention her life’s intertwining with the Civil Rights movement, her abusive marriage to ex-cop turned manager Andy Stroud, and her struggle with bipolar disorder. It’s not fair that Miss Simone is no longer here to speak for herself – though yes, she does, through her music – but Liz Garbus’ documentary does an outstanding job of bringing Simone’s many interviews and journal writing to the forefront.

How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?  – Nina Simone

Because Nina had a lot to say – she was ferocious; whether striding across a stage inciting riotous revolution or calmly sitting at her piano singing about love. I know that’s why I’m drawn to her – that fire of creativity in the heart of her that burned through the delicate veil between dazzling genius and self-destructive madness. It’s tempting to write that Nina’s talent was otherworldly, but I’m more compelled to say that her music is the best of our world.


La chanteuse américaine Nina Simone en concert à Morlaix (Bretagne, France) en mai 1982. “Nina Simone14” by Roland Godefroy – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

get reel mixtapes

Nobody told me February has only 28 days, so uh…that’s why this blog post is a little late.  I did watch Twenty Feet From Stardom (my February choice in my planned 12-Month Documentary Watch Project) last night, which has to count for something.  And I’m still thinking about it this morning.   That’s definitely a sign that a film has affected me.

I feel like everyone but me has seen Morgan Neville’s Twenty Feet From Stardom and I’m late to the party, so for those of you who watched it when it came out in 2014 and cheered when it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary – I think we both know where I’m going with this.  This what?  I hesitate to call this a review (or to call any of my Documentary Watch Project posts “reviews”) – so call it an After-Party.

Quite simply, this is a documentary about backup singers.  And of course, it is so much more than that.  It’s a fiery, tearful, rollicking portrayal of a gifted group of artists – mostly women – who have given their lives to music.

I keep imagining that one day I’ll have to convince someone (a friend who avoids documentaries, an acquaintance who’s “not really into music that much,” someone who’s just too busy) to watch this film.  I’ll start with the music.  How pretty much everything good in the worlds of Pop, R&B, Blues, and Rock and Roll is rooted in the power and glory of gospel.  I’ll say, if you love the girl groups of the sixties and Ray Charles and The Rolling Stones and Talking Heads, then you should see this film.  And then I’ll realize that’s not what I meant to say at all.  What I want to say is, if you’ve ever listened to a song that moved you like being lightning-struck, chances are it’s because of the background vocalists, and here, go watch their stories, watch them sing their hearts out because they deserve your full attention.

I’m talking about:

Merry Clayton telling the story of how, hair in curlers in the middle of the night, she recorded her shattering howl of an aria that made the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” the timeless song it is.  How, in her own words, she sang the crap out of “Sweet Home Alabama,” and then went on to record Neil Young’s “Southern Man” with bluesy, life or death gusto.

The Waters Family, sitting around a kitchen table singing an impromptu, a cappella rendition of “Up Where We Belong” and blowing the roof off the house.

Darlene Love talking about how she’s actually the signature vocalist for not just one but two songs that were attributed to The Crystals (“He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure The Boy I Love”).

Lisa Fischer, whose voice surely is powerful enough to be heard in Interstellar space.

You’ve never heard of any of these singers?  I hadn’t either, but we’ve all heard them.  In the background.  What a joy that this film grabbed ahold of the spotlight and aimed it away from the foreground, if only for a while.

Twenty Feet From Stardom is a celebration of music, but of course like any industry it’s about work and survival.  The struggle for fame, and failure despite extraordinary talent.  Claudia Lennear, who performed with practically everybody and danced like nobody’s business right next to Tina Turner for years, is now a Spanish teacher (and yes, who’s to say that’s not as, or more, meaningful).  Darlene Love was finally inducted into the Music Hall of Fame in 2011, but so many of the background singers portrayed here have dreams of making it big by going out on their own.  There are the solo albums with rave reviews and little commercial success.  I have to say I admired Lisa Fischer so much because she can blend her voice into a backup group as is necessary, but still assert her own musical identity.  And, if there’s just a hint of melancholy about her, she carries on.

I think that’s the most difficult part of being an artist, and it’s my takeaway from this film.  So many of us who want to do art – be it music, writing, painting, photography, sculpture, dance – so many of us are never going to “make it.”  We will have day jobs in the background for all our lives.  But we keep going, because it’s worth it.

In Twenty Feet From Stardom, there’s a moment I almost missed, when the singer Táta Vega says, softly and humbly, I just loved music is all.  It’s all I wanted to do.

Read other Posts in my 2015 Documentary Watch Project

Stage photo from Unsplash

get reel mixtapes

Happy New Year’s Eve, people!  

It’s that time when every website on the internets is banging out a “Best Of” list and yammering at you to make resolutions.  So while I’m still trying to wrap up my 2014 To Do list and write something coherent about my recent trip to New Orleans, I thought I would share some of my own favorite fun bits of the past year.  Have a safe and happy night!

Noon Pacific’s Space Jams  By far my favorite weekly treat is the music playlist that Clark Dinnison publishes every Monday at – yep – noon Pacific Standard Time.  Here’s a compilation of his picks for 2014’s best spaced out jams.

Jay Sizemore  Absolutely my new favorite poet.  I discovered his work after Rattle published his poem ‘how to remove a hazmat suit.’   It blew my mind.  Just go read it.

io9  Great gobs of geekiness, I am so glad I found this website.  Always something interesting for me here, and frequent contributor Charlie Jane Anders is now one of my favorite bloggers.

The Leftovers  I admit I haven’t watched the final episodes because I don’t have cable TV, but this HBO series about life in a small town post-Rapture was freakin’ badass.  So many unexpected twists and turns, so much to ponder, and also Carrie Coon.  I can’t wait to watch the finale.  Don’t tell me what happens.

Luna Station Quarterly  So happy to be part of this wonderful women’s speculative fiction website.  My first audiobook review comes out January 6th!

Maplecroft  My one-night stand read of the year!  Couldn’t put down this Cherie Priest novel, so I didn’t!  Read it in one day.

Why do I study Physics?  I love this short animated documentary by Xiangjun Shi – I re-watch it constantly, like a daily affirmation.

book reviews get reel grab bag mixtapes

I was so excited writing about Wasis Diop’s music in my last post that I created a new playlist on 8tracks!

It’s called Dakar Moon, after the fantastic song by Baaba Maal (on the playlist!) and celebrates the musicians of Senegal as well as music inspired by Senegal.

Please head over to 8tracks for a listen, and check out my other groovy playlists here  – it’s free to stream online or with the 8tracks app for iPhone and iPad.

I don’t get any kickbacks for this – it’s all for love of music.

Moon photo from pixabay


A new album from the Senegalese musician Wasis Diop is always an extraordinary gift.  His latest release, Séquences, came out October 20th, and is available at Amazon as an MP3 – click on the album cover to buy it, or any of his other brilliant records.  Séquences further showcases Diop’s genius at blending the traditional music of many countries to create new rhythms and melodies – celebrating, never sacrificing, the integrity of his source inspiration.

Born in 1950 in Dakar, Wasis Diop left for Paris in the 1970’s to study for an engineering degree.   Perhaps that’s why his music feels so mathematically elegant, structured and precise, yet layered with nuances of passion and grace.  In 1979, Diop left academia to pursue music, forming the afrojazz fusion band the West African Cosmos with Umban Ukset and a host of musicians from all over the world.

Indeed, Diop’s influences span the globe: from the folk music of his home country to Parisian jazz; to his collaborations with Tunisian singer-songwriter Amina Annabi, reggae veteran Lee Scratch Perry, and Japanese avant-garde saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu.  He’s also internationally renowned as a soundtrack composer, mainly for his brother Djibril Diop Mambéty’s film, Hyènes and also the award-winning Chadian movie Daratt.  He’s been included on numerous Ibiza dance CD’s, a Starbucks compilation, and his song ‘Everything is Never Quite Enough’ is perhaps his best Western audience cross-over, in part because it was on the soundtrack to the film The Thomas Crown Affair.

All of this speaks to Diop’s well-deserved inclusion in the canon of modern music, and places him at the forefront of what’s often categorized as West African Pop or World Music in record stores and libraries.  But it cannot convey the astounding quality of his compositions, the profound resonance of his baritone, the multitude of ways he incorporates his guitar and a veritable orchestra of global instruments into songs of varied style, tempo, and tone.  Diop’s music is an exuberance – he sings in French, English, and Wolof, and always he’s honoring what is good about life and elegizing what is tragic.  Even the title of his album Judu Bék translates as “the joy of living.”  His songs are prayer and protest embraced in layers of vocal harmonies, stormy percussion, delicate piano, funky bass, spoken word, and at times even his wonderful, throaty laugh.  His songs are glorious art – and you can dance to them.


Here’s just a few of my favorite songs by Wasis Diop:

  • ‘Holaal Bu Baah’  from No Sant    That voice.
  • ‘Automobile Mobile’ from Judu Bék   Check out the video for this song, a poignant lamentation over pollution in Dakar and Paris.
  • ‘Mori’  from Toxu  Lively folk rhythms and guitar.
  • ‘Ma Na’ from No Sant  Love the way this song builds to rousing crescendo.
  • ‘Tui doah’ from Séquences  Gorgeous choral vocals and Diop’s own soaring voice, carried on strings, woodwinds and drums.
  • ‘Dames Electriques’ from No Sant   Just wow.  The vocals of the Sine Ladies, from Diop’s childhood in Senegal.
  • ‘Once in a Lifetime’ from Toxu  A Talking Heads cover. Diop takes this quirky song and makes it his own: imaginative, resounding, joyous.  Best cover song ever.
  • ‘So La La’ from Judu Bék   Dreamy and ethereal, with threads of electric guitar and drums to keep you tethered to the earth

I’ve put together a Wasis Diop Spotify playlist with selections from Séquences, Toxu, and Judu BékClick here to Enjoy!



Shovels & Rope

I’m tearin’ it up with some fan poetry for Cary Ann and Michael and their new rocking album Swimmin’ Time.



it’s a pourin’ down stomps
rainin’ thunder handclaps
hell yeah I do need ya
to tell me ‘bout that
sing the story of a fire
like a choir
like a primal benediction
like a motor
like friction
come on listen
and repeat
and repeat
and repeat
I need songs like this
like a rainshower sweet
wash the stink
of mean people
to a puddle at my feet
roll a stonkin’ piano
plow a guitar buzz
O Evil
that’s alright bayyyybee cuz
you do it ominous like
the way I like it like
pull me up by my boots
alright alright
uproot me lady
root for ya sir
give ‘at gravelly mix a good rockin’ stir
you wanna shake it to my bones
roll da tambourine home
slap a rattle and a cheer
the devil’s comin’ y’hear
throw them gritty rhymes
spank the kickdrum in time
makin joy
voices joy mechanism
chapel style
raisin’ rafters
splittin’ light like a prism
hip-janglin’ to it all
pinned right to the wall
let me fly let me fall
keep it loud keep it true
let it roll on y’all


It’s been scientifically proven that one out of five people in the United States have either secretly or publicly air-guitared to the Guess Who’s ‘American Woman.’ Okay, that’s a lie, the research only applies to the Lenny Kravitz cover.  But you know it probably could be proven, if anybody had time for that.
The best Guess Who song (Now, this HAS been scientifically proven.  Okay no.) is ‘No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.’  Which just happens to be the B Side to ‘American Woman.’  Love that folky acoustic intro that, around the 45 second mark, gets its gentle ass kicked by the chorus and Randy Bachman’s guitar.
And you got to show respect to a song telling you that a new Mother Nature is here to divide and conquer.   Is she now?  I think so, people.  Deny it all you want.  The Splendid Lady is coming for us all.
The Guess Who started out like a lot of rock bands in the ’60’s – doing covers and scrambling for the top of the charts with all the other British Invaders.  Except these guys were from Canada, so they could get away with writing a snarky song like ‘American Woman’ and then have it reach the #1 Billboard spot in America in 1970 – the first Canadian group ever to do so.  Whether it was meant to be truly anti-American or sexist, Pat Nixon requested that the boys skip that one when the band played a concert for the White House that year.
After forming as The Silvertones in 1958, the band wasn’t entirely successful outside of Canada right away – they had a string of hits, as well as personnel and name changes (The Silvertones, The Reflections, The Expressions, The Winnipegans (just kidding on that last one), then released a cover of ’Shakin’ All Over’ in 1965, under the name ‘Guess Who?’ –  a record company ploy to fool music buyers into thinking they were getting some kind of Brit supergroup recording.   Then the band officially became the Guess Who (and got rid of the question mark).  And then they STILL ended up broke and in debt after a UK promotional tour.
Did the Guess Who give up?  Hells no.  Their producer, Jack Richardson, mortgaged his house to pay for their next album’s recording session.  That album was Wheatfield Soul, with the top ten hit ‘These Eyes.’  The band went on to have three more Top 40 songs – before the lead guitarist Randy Bachman became a Mormon, broke off from the group and started a band called Brave Belt, which would eventually morph into Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Is the Guess Who one of the best rock bands ever?  Errr…not really.  But they put out some killer songs.  I’d call that a win.  And they’re still on tour.   Bachman also hosts a pretty sweet old school radio show on CBC called Vinyl Tap.
I’ve been listening to the Guess Who a lot lately (you probably got that) and reading about failure.  Everybody fails, everybody makes mistakes.  It’s the best way to be successful.
That’s not always easy to accept – maybe it’s shouldn’t be.  We’re human beings, capable of making important decisions every single day about how we treat other human beings, and how we treat this planet, which is our only home.
Mistakes are gonna happen.  They have already happened – and there’s no UNDO button.  There’s only NEXT.  Keep going.
The best thing to do is OWN IT.   And don’t let it kill your spirit.
If we don’t fail, and don’t make mistakes, then what do have to learn?  I have a lot to learn.  I’m good with that.  NEVER GIVE UP.