Len Vlahos

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The Fishbowl Book Tour Playlist


The first leg of the Life in a Fishbowl book tour starts tomorrow, and that means it’s time for a new book tour playlist. When you travel to promote a book, you have a lot of time in cars, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. You need music. And for me, I don’t want to just put my iTunes on shuffle, I want a selection with a little more thought behind it.

The last time I went through this exercise was three years ago, with The Scar Boys book tour. I’m happy to say that, while there are many of the same artists on the new list, there is only one repeat song. I’ve also taken a completely different approach.

In 2014, I harkened back to my youth and treated the playlist like a mix tape. I restricted myself with a whole bunch of rules. But you know what? Screw that. The world has changed. Here’s how my appoach is different this time:

1. I’m not limiting myself to one song per artist. In fact, you’re going to see a whole lot of Sheryl Crow here. That’s right, I like Sheryl Crow. I like her a lot. I’m even going to cop to being a fanboy. Her voice just makes me melt. Deal with it. I also have two by the Eagles, and two by U2. Everything else is, I think, a one-off.

2. I have some guilty pleasure music on here, and you know what? I don’t feel guilty. We like what we like. It’s all good.

walkman3. As I created the last list to mimic a mix tape, the order of the songs was important. And truthfully, that is the art behind a great mix tape. But times have changed. My “Walkman” now has a “shuffle” button. (For you folks born after 1990, this is a Walkman. Rad, right?) With this in mind, the songs below are listed in the alphabetical order (by artist) in which they appear on my iTunes. I do not intend to ever listen to this list in this order. Shuffle baby, shuffle,

Now that you know my process, I want to know what you think. Specifically, I want you to look at this list and say, “Okay, Len likes this, he might also like this…” Turn yourself into a human Spotify or Pandora, because after all, it’s always better to get a recommendation from a human than an algorithm.

Let’s all have some fun talking about music!

Without further ado, I present to you the Life in a Fishbowl book tour playlist:

You Shook Me AC/DC This one reminds me of my kids. They love to jump around to AC/DC.
I’ve Got A Feeling The Beatles Has always been one of my favorite guitar riffs, and I love Paul’s vocal.
Lord Only Knows Beck Other than the pain-inducing opening scream, I love the haunting mood of this track.
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant Billy Joel I’m staying with my sister two nights on this trip. We saw Billy Joel in concert together when I was a kid.
Can’t Find My Way Home Blind Faith Like so many songs, this is one that gets in my brain and stays there…like an itch that needs scratching, in a good way.
Dreaming Blondie I haven’t included this song on any playlists in a long time, and since I finally got around to watching the CBGB movie last night (Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome!!!), I thought I should include it.
Thunder Road Bruce Springsteen We recently hosted Bruce at the bookstore I own, Tattered Cover.
Brick House Commodores This is a fixture on a lot of my playlists. I think it means I’m really old.
Big Yellow Taxi Counting Crows & Vanessa Carlton I like this version way better than the original.
45 South Reprise Craig Smith Craig is a Kiwi writer of Children’s books, and maker of great music. This is the final instrumental piece from his album 45 South. Since Fishbowl is being sold in New Zealand, I thought I should include it.
Life Is Long David Byrne & Brian Eno I was never really a Talking Heads fan, and Eno is a better producer than a song writer. But I love this song.
The Long Way Around Dixie Chicks I rarely make a mix tape without including the Dixie Chicks.
The Last Resort The Eagles This is a long, monotonous song, but I find it very, very soothing.
Desperado The Eagles This song played a central role in the Scar Girl launch party, and makes me think of my wife and partner in all crimes and misdemeanors, Krissy. She’s super awesome and especially cute in the video link in this paragraph.
Long Black Road Electric Light Orchestra I had forgotten about this song until I saw American Hustle. I love movie soundtracks.
I Still Have That Other Girl Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach Elvis has one of the best voices…ever. And it’s still great.
New Life Everclear Another song that I haven’t included on lists in a very long time.
That Old Pair of Jeans Fatboy Slim If you see me with headphones, dancing down the aisle of an airplane, there’s a good chance I’m listening to this song.
Hey Julie Fountains Of Wayne Happy little song.
The Message Grandmaster Flash This song reminds me of my teenage years, going to dance clubs in NYC. (So does Billy Idol’s Dancing by Myself, mostly because I was almost always dancing by myself. I would never include the Billy Idol song on a mix because, well, it’s annoying.)
A Quick One-While He’s Away Green Day Green Day, as a band, is the natural heir to The Who.
Some Nights Fun. The song is indeed fun.
I’m Yours Jason Mraz Some of my friends from back in my punk days — Chad, Rob, Jon, Steve, Joe — might scratch their heads at this one, but again, there are no guilty pleasures. It’s a goood song.
Barking At the Moon Jenny Lewis Okay, so yes, this is the theme song from the movie Bolt. Doesn’t matter. I love it, and love to play it on guitar. (And it’s even better with my friend Stephanie singing).
I’m the man Joe Jackson This song is perfect for 2017. It’s about cyniscism and corporate manipulation. (I could have also chosen Sunday Papers.)
With A Little Help From My Friends Joe Cocker One of the all-time great covers and great live performances, captured in a single track.
Ring of Fire Johnny Cash I’ve never made a mix without Johnny Cash. I never will. My kids and I love to sing Ring of Fire.
Picture Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow Great duet, fun to play on the guitar.
Can I Get a Witness Marvin Gaye The list was lacking a little soul…
So Far So Good Michael Bruce This was an old song I had somehow missed. This guy was Alice Cooper’s guitar player, but I like this better than anything Alice Cooper ever did.
This Year The Mountain Goats One of my favorite musical discoveries over the last few years. I love this guy.
Express Yourself NWA This used to go on a lot of mixes, then it fell off. I watched Straight Outta Compton (film) recently, and was reminded how much I like these guys. This is my favorite song from that incredible record. (Hey film and TV friends, check out how well this trailer for the movie was cut together…incredible.
Pretty Persuasion R.E.M. I owe a lot to Peter Buck, so I always like to include something of his. This is my favorite R.E.M. guitar riff.
Just Radiohead The Bends is a top five all-time record for me.
Old 8 x 10 Randy Travis I want this man’s voice. I’m not sure what I’d do with it if I had it, but I want it.
Seven Spanish Angels Ray Charles & Willie Nelson The only song to make the 2014 and 2017 lists, and one of only two songs – I think it’s only two – mentioned in Fishbowl.
For the Summer Ray LaMontagne I had this on a mix when I commuted to NYC, and associate it, along with a few other songs, with reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Go figure.
Basement Apartment Sarah Harmer Great song introduced to me by my friend Eileen from Cape Cod.
C’mon C’mon Sheryl Crow This song and album got me through the worst break-up of my life.
Detours Sheryl Crow Title track from an underrated album.
Mississippi Sheryl Crow Dylan wrote this. Sheryl sings it better.
First Cut Is the Deepest Sheryl Crow I told you I was a fanboy.
Waterproof Mascara Sheryl Crow I’m such a fanboy, I even like her contemporary country record.
We Will Become Silhouettes The Shins I need to listen to more Shins.
Jacksonville Sufjan Stevens Corey Whaley turned me on to Sufjan, and my friend Pete Stitcher told me it’s not pronounced Suf-Jan. Thank you both!
To Old Friends and New Titus Andronicus Sister of the singer in this band is a bookseller in NYC and a soon-to-be-published YA writer. Hey Stickles, I want to see your playlist when the book pubs.
New Year’s Day [live] U2 Krissy’s favorite band, and I like them a lot, too. This is the best live album start to finish I’ve ever heard, and that includes BB King, Johnny Cash, and Cheap Trick (all of which are great).
Out of Control U2 My favorite cut on this great live album (see above).
Oh! Sweet Nuthin Velvet Underground As noted above, I finally watched the CBGB movie last night and this was in the film, though, oddly, not on the soundtrack.
Leave the Pieces The Wreckers Good country pop that I sometimes use as an alarm tone.


I have worked in the book industry on and off for thirty years — my first bookstore job was at NYU when most of you were still gleams in your fathers’ eyes — and I have watched this industry endure one seismic shift after another. It has changed so much people don’t even want to call it the “book industry” anymore. Now we’re the “publishing ecosystem,” or the “published content community,” or, I don’t know, “Fred.”

But here’s the thing about Fred. He’s a resilient sucker.

First there was the massive retail expansion of the early and mid 1990s, when Barnes and Noble and Borders were dropping superstores on the landscape like Johnny Appleseed. The square footage devoted to book retail in America tripled in a few short years, while the overall size of Fred remained relatively flat. Do the math, it’s not pretty.

Then it was the rise of e-commerce. Not only was the retail pie getting cut into ever smaller pieces by the brick and mortar crowd, now it was being cut into wafer thin slices by a seemingly infinite expanse of virtual square footage.

But those were only the warm-up acts. They were Marshall Crenshaw and Aztec Camera getting the crowd ready for Elvis Costello and U2. Retail expansion was impactful, but it wasn’t transformational. No, for that, we needed something beyond comprehension. We needed digitization.

The digital transformation of Fred has been written about ad nauseam and covered from every conceivable angle. I’ve read how print books will be dead in two years, and I’ve read how e-books are just a fad. (“No,” and “gimme a break,” by the way.) I’ve heard speakers posit a world in which digital content will save Fred, destroy Fred, and introduce Fred to a nice girl from Hartsdale so they can settle down, all in the same speech.

And yet, when I ride the commuter train home from New York City, I see people reading books. Lots of books. True, many of them are Kindles or Nooks, but an increasing number — you read that right — an increasing number, are reading print. It’s as if there has been a collective sigh of exhaustion from looking at screens all day, and people are craving the tactile and visual sensation that is ink on paper.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if digital books are going to slowly fade into the sunset. They’re not. And it’s not as if Fred — and in case you’ve already lost the thread of this meandering post, “Fred” is the book industry — doesn’t have its problems. It does. People who used to buy books to learn how to cook spaghetti, or build a deck, or be a better lawyer, now often get their content from the Internet, and usually for free.

But even with that, there’s something about books that continues to hold our interest. Books, as artifacts, are special. Think about how quickly music changed. The iTunes store launched in April, 2003. and within five years, by 2008, people were buying twice as many downloaded singles as they were CD albums, and CD albums were in steep decline.

cd sales
ALBUM SALES 1973 – 2010

single sales
SINGLES SALES 1973 – 2010

In the book industry, uh, er Fred, while digital book sales have soared, the growth still pales when compared to the music industry. (For a clarity’s sake, we’ll continue to call “the music industry” the music industry.) Why? For one thing, listening to a downloaded MP3 is experientially identical to listening to a compact disc. For another, music can be sold in small discrete packages (songs). With books, neither of those things is true. Maybe that explains why for the most part, print has held its own even while digital has grown. (I say “for the most part” because mass market books have in fact taken it on the chin.) If anything, we should be thanking digital for growing the pie again.

calmbeforestormBefore any luddites out there rejoice, we might simply be in the calm before the storm. We could be one technological innovation away from another seismic shift. The truth is, no one knows and I’ve given up trying to predict the future.

But let’s not worry about the future. Let’s worry about the here and now. And for now, for right now and right here, Fred is alive and kicking, and people are reading books, print or digital, they’re reading books. And that, my friends, is good.

The Scar Boys Has a Pub Date!

The Scar Boys will publish on February 25, 2014!