The Book Tour Playlist

I’m writing this from 34,000 feet above the Great Lakes, strapped tightly to my seat but still jostled by turbulence so intense that the flight attendants have suspended servcie. I’m en route to Denver for the longest single leg of The Scar Boys Book Tour. Five separate flights, three hotels (plus my brothers’ couch), three states, and fifteen events over nine days (and ten nights).

I. Am. Stoked!

While I will see many friends along the way, I’ll also have a lot of alone time. And what do I fill alone time with? Books and music, of course.

The only books I’m bringing with me — I tried e-books and they didn’t really take, so I’m still lugging print — are Dave Egger’s The Circle, and Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing. I am, however, bringing a lot of music.

My laptop has a sizeable library of my favorite tunes. While it’s fun to put that library on shuffle and let it play, it’s more fun to construct an actual playlist, which is basically this generation’s version of the mix tape. Those of you old enough to remember mix tapes, also remember how many painstaking hours you spent trying to get the tape just right. While it’s much easier with a playlist — each song on a mix tape was an irrevocable commitment, the invisible magnetic filaments on the tape having a feeling of permanence once a song was recorded — the construction of a playlist is done with no less care and attention. And of course, there are rules:

  1. Only one song per artist.
  2. Each song has to mean something to me.
  3. No Journey. (I don’t actually have any Journey in my library, but I have a whole lot of other stuff that could be labeled as “guilty pleasure” by me, or “Len, really?” by you.)
  4. Thirty songs total. No more, no less.

I should note that there is a Spotify playlist of all The Scar Boys’ chapter heads, and while that’s fun, it’s not really what I want to listen to. Those chapter heads were chosen for literal relevance to the action about to unfold in the story. They don’t necessarily make for a cohesive listening experience. No, I need something to draw me in, “to pick me up and undress me, lay me down and caress me,” as Joe Jackson sings in song # 30.

So here, then, is my first book tour playlist. What do you think? What would you change? What’s on your playlist?

Song Artist Notes
A.M. Radio Everclear One of a few songs on this list about or connected to music, it’s a kickass groove that is a great way to get us started. Everclear is a seriously under rated band.
Pulling Teeth Green Day One of my all-time favorite bands, with one of my all-time favorite songs, off one of my all-time favorite albums. Keeps the list caffeinated through the second song.
Birth of Serpents Mountain Goats Toning it down with this quirky and fun recent Pandora discovery.
Long Black Veil Johnny Cash Not necessarily my favorite Johnny Cash song, but the one I’m listening to (and playing) right now.
Worst Day Since Yesterday Flogging Molly A nice mix from JC to Flogging Molly. Worst Day is great romp from this LA-based Celtic punk band. It’s a pick me up for when you’re feeling down. (Or maybe brings you down when you’re up? I don’t know.)
Growin’ Up Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band My sister is coming off just about the worst year a person can have. As this is her favorite song, I recently learned it to cheer her up. It’s now become one of my favorites, too. (And check out this awesome video of Bruce playing it when he was just a kid.)
A Whole Lot Better Brandon Benson A recent Shazam acquisition with an infectious groove to get us amped back up.
Everyday I Write the Book Elvis Costello Let’s keep the tempo upbeat. (And seriously, I’m on a book tour. Did you think I would leave this one out?)
Lua Bright Eyes A super talented tenth grader sang this song at a high school event I did outside of Chicago and it completely floored me. I downloaded the original and immediately learned it on the guitar. (For the record, I like the high schooler’s version best. A portion of her performance can be viewed here.)
Landslide Dixie Chicks Keeping it mellow for a bit. I love this song and this is my favorite version.
Something to Hold Onto Parachute Another Pandora discovery. This was on a playlist I was listening to while reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The song and the book are now permanently intertwined. Music’ll do that to you.
Ball and Chain Social Distortion We play a lot of Pandora where I work, and one band that seems to be on everyone’s Pandora channel is Social Distortion. We’ve started to refer to them as the BISG house band. This will help me remember my colleagues, remind me to check work email as often as I can, and also remind me that I still very much need a day job!
Sorry Mr. Harris Tom Robinson When I was 13, older friends took me to see a band called Sector 27 at Irving Plaza in New York. Sector 27 was fronted by Tom Robinson, who was better known for his own ensemble, the Tom Robinson Band. I ran out and bought a copy of TRB II and have loved it ever since.
Midnight Radio Hedwig & the Angry Inch Another great song about music, this from the soundtrack to the film Hedwig & the Angry Inch. The film is a brilliant exploration of gender, sexuality, and connectedness with incredible music throughout. (Parents and kids, the film is rated R.)
Pleasant Sounds Me with my friend Jess Yes, yes, I included one of my own songs. Sue me. This is something I wrote a long time ago and got my friend Jess to sing. I love Jess’s voice, and love the way it brings this song to life. (If you come to a book tour event, you’ll understand why I’m a guitar player and not a singer.)
Seven Spanish Angels Ray Charles with Willie Nelson I sang Seven Spanish Angels to my older son, Charlie, every day for the first two years of his life. It’s the only song I can almost sort of not completely mangle a cappella. (Okay not really. I suck. Still love the song though.)
Pretty Persuasion R.E.M. One of my all-time favorite Perer Buck guitar riffs. And hey, his name is on the cover of The Scar Boys, too.
CBGB’s Syd Straw Another song with a musical connection. As CBGB’s figured prominently in the book, I thought I should include it.
100 Years Blues Traveler Kristen, my wife, gave me this song years ago and it still makes me think of her and smile today. It’ll be a visceral reminder of why I love her so much while I’m on the road.
Ripple Grateful Dead I’m couch surfing at my brother’s in San Francisco’s East Bay on this trip. My brother is (was?) a Dead Head. ‘Nuff said.
Half Acre Hem Three mellow songs in a row? Yeah, well, I’m getting older and need some extra chillax time. Anyway, a friend made me a mix tape before she moved out of the area — a mix tape is a great way to say goodbye to someone, as it helps keep them in your memory — and this song was on it. I’d never heard it before, but now it winds up on a lot of my playlists.
Queen Bitch David Bowie Let’s counter the three mellow songs with three songs with a killer groove. I love old Bowie, and this is one of my favorites. (Heroes was the other choice for this list. The “Bitch” won out.)
Brimful of Asher Cornershop (w/Fatboy Slim) Who better to keep a groove going than Fatboy Slim?
Hot Wax Beck Beck, that’s who! When Odelay, Beck’s seminal album, first came out, I have to admit, I didn’t get it. But as time wore on, the groove got into my bones. This is my favorite track.
I Will Follow You Into the Dark Death Cab for Cutie Let’s hit the brakes and bring it all the way back down. This is one of two “death” songs on the list. (See “Kite” below.) There’s been entirely too much of that going around lately. This is one of my favorite songs to sing and play.
Tears of a Clown Smokey Robinson & the Miracles Simply put, one of the best pop songs ever written, and a nice antidote to the darkness of the previous track.
Hey Soul Sister Train A song with great personal meaning that helps keep it happy, until…
Kite (live) U2 The other “death” song on the list, and my favorite U2 song. This version is incredible. (This whole recording — U2 Live at Slane Castle — is a must
listen/see.)
Bangers, Beans, and Mash Infant Sorrow I guess this song is supposed to be a joke, but I don’t care. I love it. I first watched “Get Him to the Greek” on a night when I was feeling really low, and it was like a magic elixir. The tune always makes me smile.
A Slow Song Joe Jackson This song has been on my mix tapes since it came out in 1982. It closes out Joe’s Night and Day album, and is perfect for ending any playlist (or mix tape!)

5 Comments  to  The Book Tour Playlist

  1. Katia JB says:

    This is all music I listen to now hahaha! Just add the Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty and my playlist would be pretty much the same

    • Len Vlahos says:

      I have in fact been listening to it on the entire trip. I finally got tired of listening in order, so now it’s on shuffle. :-)

  2. Len Vlahos says:

    It’s only the first day on the road and I already miss you guys a ton, even when you do leave snarky comments. And besides… pot, kettle, black?

  3. Kristen says:

    “This song has been on my mix tapes since it came out in 1982.” bwwwahhahhahaha!!!! So have several others. I’m pleasantly surprised to see some new stuff on this list, sweets. ;) By the way, one of my fave posts from you EVER.

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