Sign up for our Headlines morning newsletter.

The most interesting things on the web, handpicked each day. Sign up for our Headlines morning newsletter.


Strangers on the Doorstep

Two nights ago, our buzzer rang at around 11 o’clock. We weren’t expecting anyone. On the stoop stood a tall guy with a backpack, staring through the front gate. I unlocked the interior door and asked him if I could be of any help.

“Man, I’m hoping you can,” he said. His tone was waxing partially indignant—as in, why haven’t you opened the gate yet? “Come on, man, you know me, I used to live—”

“I don’t know you,” I said, interrupting him. “What do you want?” Our neighborhood does not rank lowest in Brooklyn’s crime census.

“Fuck, man, you know me. Look,” he said, “I’m just looking for a room for the night—”

“Can’t help you.” I shut the door. He grabs the gate with one hand.

“Man, you can! You can have my passport! Christ come on—”

I glance over my shoulder as I’m walking upstairs and he’s still there, fiddling with his backpack, looking very angry and shocked that I haven’t invited him up to our bed. “My friend,” I want to shout after him, “my familiar friend, do not run your game on people who want to go to sleep!”

* * *

Etta James was a similar surprise when, six years ago, my wife showed me the light that James’s “At Last” is only one song in a big career, and that even a song endorsed by Hallmark Greeting Cards can be the single you dance to at your wedding (as we did, in our first dance, because it was our song, though we share it with 5.8 million people).

My favorite Etta James song is “Sunday Kind of Love.” I got into it during a black diva period—Etta James and Betty Wright and Nina Simone and Timbaland-produced-Brandy, followed by my white diva period, followed by my Brazilian diva period—and it’s still my favorite of hers, because who doesn’t want some affection on a lonely, dreary Sunday?

Why was Sunday ever enlisted as part of the weekend anyway?

» Hear “Sunday Kind of Love” at Soul Sides

* * *

But I’ve never had a Czech period. It just hasn’t come up, I’ve been busy, but now I sense what I’ve been missing. I quote Will Butler from Arcade Fire on “Ziletky” by Filip Topol, of Psi Vojaci, and the Agon Orchestra:
In 2000 the lead singer of Psi Vojaci worked with the Agon Orchestra (a fairly well respected Czech avant-garde orchestra) on orchestral versions of Psi Vojaci songs. This is a beautiful album. You can hear the clarinetist breathing. And you can hear his playing get ragged towards the end. These Czechs mean what they mean when they play music. This song “Ziletky” is the best stuff of Czech rock and roll. It’s really catchy, but not in a dancey way. The clarinet part isn’t that far off from “Take On Me”—but it’s melancholy and orchestral and Eastern European. And Filip Topol still sounds like he really means what he’s singing. Whatever it is that he’s singing.
This song, along with the others linked by Butler in his guest spot at Said The Gramaphone, gets even better with repeat listenings, even if you’re not picturing Lena Olin in a bowler.

» Hear “Ziletky” at Said The Gramaphone

* * *

I have an undersea, irrational calculus for picking appropriate music for the occasion. As in, I do not play Martha Argerich when guests are over for dinner. I do not play Miles Davis when guests are over for drinks. Math rock is wrong if my parents are over for lunch, and I never play Neil Young when my father’s around, ever, because he had to “suffer that whiny crap for an entire decade.”

Some guests aren’t served country in our house and some aren’t served rap, and some guests will never get to hear Coldplay covering Kylie Minogue because they’ve let me know what side on which they stand when we reach the Coldplay divide. And though I do not play metal when I’m trying to work, I do play metal when work is trying. And I am learning to play Boris, as much as I can get my hands on.

» Hear “Rattlesnake” at Vociferous Slam

* * *

Summer jolly pop: Lily Allen, of meandering hype, may be August’s parade princess though I’m sure we’ll find someone else to nominate by then. But the songs are fun and sweet. Will Lady Sovereign no longer have a regular stool at Spotted Pig? (Or, could Allen be no-go anyway once the majestic, magnificent, Feist-like Regina Spektor assumes her rightful throne?)

» Hear Lily Allen’s “LDN” at Shoes Are For Work

» Hear Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity” at Berkeley Place


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. He is the author of three books, including his latest novel The Last Kid Left (NPR’s Best Books of the Year). His nonfiction appears in a variety of magazines, mostly GQ. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin

blog comments powered by Disqus