Auburn, ME (Population: 23,267)/Androscoggin County (2020 Election Results: +2.8 Trump, our first swing county of the trip!)
Miles Driven: A staggering 767.55, a new personal high (3,981.91 total)/Top Speed: 78.5 mph/Cups of Coffee: 4 (41 total)/Lowest Gas Price: $4.89/Number of States Visited: 16
Lodging: A new low--the front seat of my 2012 Ford Fusion (more to come on this misadventure in the book).
I consider myself a pretty versatile, well-rounded guy. I have a decent understanding of politics, sports, history, science, movies (although those closest to me would argue that "understanding" and "good taste" are far from synonymous). I try to keep up with pop culture and scan the paper every day.
But by far the biggest hole in my knowledge, my Trivial Pursuit Achilles heel, is something so integral to many of your lives that you may find this simply not credible--music.
"What kind of music do you listen to?"
It's one of the questions I fear the most when getting to know someone, right up there with, "why are you still single?"
Rather than give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question, I hear myself stumbling and bumbling through half answers and lame analogies: "Ya know, I don't know, my taste is kind of like the Bud Light of music...I like a lot of different stuff..."
The truth is that while my peers were scanning liner notes from their latest mall purchases while watching MTV instead of doing their homework, I was, well, doing my homework. Don't get me wrong, I like music, I like it a lot, but I never turned to it for solace after a brutal breakup (of course I didn't have any breakups in high school because I didn't have any girlfriends) or to channel my anger when I was furious with my parents. I liked what everyone else liked, liked what was on the radio, and as a result my taste is way off-brand from my usual embrace of all things obscure, unsung, and underdog. Saying you love Wangchung in the '80s or the Cranberries in the '90s doesn't exactly set you apart.
So with nine weeks and 16,000 miles of solo driving ahead of me, I decided to do something to rectify this situation--I would look to my editor to save me.
Book editors are like hair stylists--when you get a good one, you never want to change. And I've got a good one, and not just because his name is perfectly suited to a book about pro wrestling: Brant Rumble. He has a charmingly unique name that is easily butchered (for some reason you want to say Brent Ramble) and an eye for the nostalgia aesthetic that makes him a perfect fit for my Gonzo pursuit of underdog quarry.
He also knows music, having edited literary giant and music aficionado Chuck Klosterman for many years. With plenty of time to kill on the open road, I asked Mr. Rumble if he would share a "good taste" 1980s playlist with me, a primer to set me on the path. And he more than obliged, providing me with 14 songs, complete with liner notes; seven "radio" songs and seven recommended deeper cuts that he considers essential.
I got to listening on today's marathon drive, and will start sharing his choices below. I'd also like to invite you to send me your favorites to A) save me from my ignorance and B) create a comprehensive Six Pack playlist to accompany the book.
MY EDITOR BRANT "LET'S GET READY TO" RUMBLE'S ESSENTIAL TRACKS WITH LINER NOTES:
“Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. I mean, let’s. There are few better ways to hit the road, or discuss 80s music, or music period, than with Prince. So, as a professed neophyte of music history, what is your opinion of the artist formerly known (and then again known) as Prince?
“I Will Follow” by U2. A theme song for all of your followers. This was actually not a radio hit, but it was one of U2’s earlier stabs at such a thing, prior to when—as my next-door neighbor from 1983 to 1991, Joel Levenberg, informed me from inside his garage while practicing ollies—preppies starting listening to them. I believe I was wearing a Polo at the time.
“Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears. I’m guessing the guys in Tears for Fears were not thinking of wrestling when they composed “Head Over Heels,” but you might not guess it from the song’s title. This is a very 80s track, and also provides one of my favorite cinematic music drops approximately a third of the way through Donnie Darko.
“Cruel Summer” by Bananarama. If nothing else, I assume your ears felt this song when you watched The Karate Kid, which I’m assuming you’ve watched multiple times. Probably not a historic recording, but it’s a jam, and there aren’t enough female artists on this list, so we’ll fix that going forward.
“Don’t Ask Me Why” by Billy Joel. Billy Joel was probably my first favorite musical artist. I’d had plenty of affinities before my dad snagged a copy of Billy’s greatest hits on cassette for our 1985 family roadtrip to Disney World, but Billy became the first artist (of now many) whose entire discography I collected. By the time I left home for college in 1991, that collection had its own black 15-cassette CaseLogic case. Anyway, in my humble opinion, this is one of Billy’s more underrated greatest hits.
“Modern Love” by David Bowie. Like Prince, we can’t talk music history without Bowie. By the 80s, he’d fallen more in line with pop music, but as pop music, this is a hell of a single. Or at least I think so. How does it sound to you now, blasting from your car speakers on the open road, or stuck going 60 behind an 18-wheeler?
“Rock Box” by Run-D.M.C. They were my own introduction to rap, before those floodgates fully opened. I can’t say I was hip to them in time for this record, but it’s one of the places where they combined rap and rock prior to doing that, for the MTV generation, with Aerosmith. And rap and rock, it does.
“Pretty Persuasion” by R.E.M. Okay, now for songs that were not on the radio or MTV with any regularity. Growing up in the Southeast, R.E.M. was formative for me, an eternal symbol that Southerners could be creative and weird. For others throughout the country, I suppose Stipe and the boys were simply a cornerstone of what became “alternative” music.
“I Will Dare” by The Replacements. They were sometimes billed as the next R.E.M., which never quite happened, commercially, but they were a hell of a band, and if they don’t sound good on a roadtrip, I don’t know what does. Or we disagree on what does. But that’s okay. Music is like that.
“Wave of Mutilation” by the Pixies. Frank Black (then known as Black Francis), Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering were my own introduction to “alternative” music. It was with their album, Doolittle, that I really started to think more open-mindedly about music and what might sound good. It was not this song, but another song on the album, “Tame,” to which my dad said, “I don’t even think they like this song.”
“Waiting for the Great Leap Forward” by Billy Bragg. I didn’t get to know the excellent work of the other Billy on this list until I was in college, at which point I caught up quick. His distinct accent and politics aren’t for everyone, but, yeah, actually, they’re for everyone. Give it a listen.
“Every Day I Write the Book” by Elvis Costello. And you do, too. This is a marvelously clever pop song, which actually did scrape the Top 40, though I don’t think I ever heard it on the radio back then. But I did have the good fortune of working with Elvis when actually was writing the book. If you want to know more about music, read that book. It will take you awhile, but that guy loves music, and has studied it deeply for a long time.
“Traveling at the Speed of Thought” by Ultramagnetic MC’s. Now if you’re looking for some cred, try out Ultramagnetic MC’s. You can fake knowing something about hip hop by casually mentioning Kool Keith in any conversation. This track samples “Louie Louie” and “Honky Tonk Woman.” But I’m sure you already knew that.
“Made of Stone” by The Stone Roses. Looking ahead to the 90s: I got deep into Britpop. That starts here, in 1989, with The Stone Roses. They never quite escaped out from under the long shadow of their debut LP, but they inspired a whole lot young British musicians who rocked my world for the next decade or so.