A Summer Playlist Inspired by SAL Authors
July 25, 2019
What’s better than a summer playlist? A summer playlist of songs that SAL authors love! Find out what Lindy West, Malcolm Gladwell, Rachel Maddow, and others are listening to.
Access the playlist on Spotify here, play it below, or click on the song titles for YouTube videos of each track.
A Tribe Called Quest: “Can I Kick It?”
Something about A Tribe Called Quest screams “summer playlist.” Essayist, poet, and music critic Hanif Abdurraqib’s book Go Ahead in the Rain is a history of this revolutionary rap group, but—as Long Reads says—”more importantly it’s a memoir of listening and feeling, a deeply personal book unafraid to pair music criticism with intimate reflections.”
Tracy Chapman: “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”
When Pitchfork sat down with Lindy West this March to ask her what she’s been listening to lately, she was full of great suggestions. “What’s happening with R. Kelly and Michael Jackson is making me want to only listen to female singer-songwriters from the ’90,” she told them. Enter Tracy Chapman, obviously.
Blood Orange: “Love Ya”
Ta-Nehisi Coates actually makes an appearance on this track! As the song nears its end, you’ll hear Coates’ voice, sampled from a session with The Aspen Institute. (View the video of the original source here—the focus of the talk was the question: “Is violence a function of our culture?”)
Mary Gauthier: “The War After the War”
When NPR asked Malcolm Gladwell to name his favorite song of the year last year, this was it—Mary Gauthier’s album is all about Iraq War veterans and their stories, and Gladwell says, “I felt like if there was ever a time for a gut punch and a protest song, it was now. It’s the one thing we weren’t protesting in 2018.” (Read the full interview here.)
Patti Smith: “Free Money”
We could hardly forget punk poet laureate Patti Smith, could we? Straight off her 1975 album Horses, this song starts of gradually with piano and builds into a classic track. (Personally, we’re hoping she breaks out the tunes at her SAL Presents event in October.)
Luis Alberto Urrea
The Beatles: “A Day in the Life”
If you haven’t listened to Luis Alberto Urrea’s fascinating interview with Terri Gross, you should probably go do that now. While chatting, Urrea discusses growing up with a mother from Virginia and a father from Mexico, and the competition his parents had to instill their son with their cultures. “My dad was eager to find a text in Spanish ’cause he saw my mom winning,” Urrea remembers, recalling the time he discovered Mark Twain’s writing. “You know, I all of a sudden didn’t care for mariachi music. I liked the Beatles, you know? [My father] called them Los Beatles.”
Frederic Chopin: “Nocturnes, Op. 9, No. 2”
In one of the most memorable scenes of Amor Towles’ swoon-worthy novel A Gentleman in Moscow, Count Alexander Rostov—who is living under house arrest for an incendiary poem—discovers a secret. His daughter Sofia has been studying piano without his knowledge—and she’s extraordinary. This is the piece she plays him, widely regarded as Chopin’s most famous work, performed in this track by Garrick Ohlsson.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Maps”
We love this poem by poet Natalie Diaz, who name-drops the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Beyoncé in the first stanza—it’s a great demonstration of a poet in conversation with a song. “America is Maps,” Diaz writes, in reference to this track. “Maps are ghosts: white and layered with people and places I see through.”
Sleater-Kinney: “Youth Decay”
The top comment on this YouTube video says it all—“I always thought she was cool, but had no idea she was THIS cool.” Rachel Maddow goes on Late Night with Seth Meyers to share her own curated playlist of punk songs to get us through the midterms. (These were the 2014 midterms, but this video still applies.) Olympia’s riot grrrl stars, Sleater-Kinney, make the cut.
Fleetwood Mac: “The Chain”
As SAL’s resident music critic for 2019/20, Abdurraqib definitely earns two spots on this playlist. In his essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which takes us from punk mosh pits to underground hip hop shows, he spends some time describing this killer Fleetwood Mac song and the band’s tumultuous Rumors era. “I like to think of this as the great lesson hiding in Rumors: there are people we need so much that we can’t imagine turning away from them,” he writes.
Talking Heads: “Stay up Late”
The New Yorker illustrator Maira Kalman’s late husband, Tibor, was the graphic designer who created the Talking Heads record cover for Remain in Light. It’s not really surprising, then, that when Kalman released her first book, it was a text for children set to David Byrne’s lyrics for the song “Stay Up Late.” (Read more about Kalman’s career over at The Cut.)
Carmen Maria Machado
Horror-author-meets-feminist Carmen Maria Machado tweeted in 2017 that she wishes she could play this Kesha song for every queer teen ever. (Read Machado’s recommendations for books or stories queer teens should read over at LitHub.)