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On the stereo I’m a dictator

April 29, 2014

In a tree in the park, just past the stairs where I come out of the subway, there are flags, a dozen or more. Tibetan prayer flags, fluttering in the stiff April breeze. There’s a storm rolling in, but the flags look bright and cheerful. It’s a study in contrasts.

I feel like a study in contrasts too. As things shift and I find myself called upon more and more to stand up and speak, I am at the same time inclined to crawl inside myself, to plug in my headphones, to ride the subway in my own invisible cone of silence.

I have been listening to Late Night Tales since Sunday, when I heard Captain Beefheart’s “Observatory Crest” on the radio and went looking for a recording and found it on a mix tape curated by Snow Patrol.

Late Night Tales is an interesting project. They ask musicians to curate a mix tape that includes them playing a cover song (newly created for the mix) and a spoken word track (also, I think, created for the mix, but I’m a little fuzzy on that). I feel like I should have heard of these before, because it’s so up my alley in so many ways. A lot of the bands who built the mixes are getting regular play in my headphones. The mixes are appealingly quirky and genre-bending. Some things are familiar, some things are new. Some things are great, some things are awful. This is the peculiar pleasure of the mix tape. As an added plus, due to the late night theme, these are all mellow enough for office listening and also fall into that fairly narrow category of tunes I call “Music to keep you from murdering people on the subway.” Never underestimate the power of tunes to take the King Kong out of a girl.

It is dark now and the wind has kicked up. I can hear it howling in the chimney, rattling the doors of the fireplace, and feel it elbowing its way across the windowsills, bullying through the cracks around the air conditioner. It’s a good night to be inside arguing with your teenager about why he needs to buy yet another new video game and listening to him pick out tunes by a Canadian rock band called Three Days Grace on his guitar while wondering whether it’s a good thing that the song he’s trying is called “Pain” and not “I hate everything about you.”

It’s probably a good night for the prayer flags too. There is wind upon wind to carry the prayers away, to anyone who can hear them through the howling. It’s a good night for playing your kid’s favorite songs too. He emerges from behind the closed door of his cave to correct me when I accidentally play “Painkiller” instead of “Pain.” “It was good of them to plan ahead,” I say. “You can play one before the other.”

“What if you play them backwards?” He almost smiles. I’ll take what I can get. Prayers answered. To the wind: bring it on.

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