The last few months have been a long, strange trip indeed. My teenage daughter came upstairs last weekend and asked when I was going to work, then seemed confused when I told her, “It’s Saturday.” 2020—since March, at least—has been that kind of year. It’s hard to know when one day begins and another ends, with the actual day of the week ceasing to be relevant. As my filmmaker friend Jonathan puts it, “Every day is Blursday”.
I’d like to share what I’m listening to this week in the studio: call it my Blursday Playlist. Five things I’m listening to, reading and watching that inspire and inform and serve to remind me that I’m actually connected to a bigger world out there. I may not always know what day it is, but I can still use my time well.
“1619“, New York Times (Podcast)
Hands down the favorite thing I’ve listened to in a while. The six-episode series takes us back to the very beginning of slavery in America, when a pirate ship called the White Lion landed at the British Jamestown Colony near present-day Hampton Roads, Virgina and traded between 20 and 30 African prisoners for supplies. This small group of Angolans were the first of the multitude of African slaves to follow. 1619 is long-form audio journalism at its best.
“The Jordan Harbinger Show” (Podcast)
I’m sure I’m late to this particular party, but I only started listening to Jordan’s podcast post-pandemic, when I was looking for something I could do while taking walks. His long-running show (currently with 378 episodes) consists of interviews from interesting and inspiring people as varied as Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Frank Abignale Sr. (the real-life subject of the movie Catch Me if You Can). Very entertaining and always interesting–you’ll definitely learn a thing or two.
My daughter Maggie is the source of this lo-fi playlist, available on Youtube and Spotify. The creator, ChilledCow, started a 24/7 livestream on Youtube featuring this music back in 2017 and just…never stopped. By the time Youtube mistakenly shut it down temporarily earlier this year, it had chugged on for some 13,000 hours, churning out mellow hip hop beats that somehow are that perfect white noise when you have to study or chill.
“Shadow Country” by Peter Matthiessen (Novel)
Matthiessen’s sprawling historical epic is actually three books in one: “Killing Mr. Watson” (1990), “Lost Man’s River” (1997) and “Bone by Bone” (1999). At over 900 pages, it’s perfect for these socially isolating days. Set in the lawless wilds the Florida frontier at the turn of the 20th century, Shadow Country is a portrait of an American outlaw and sugar planter who meets a violent end amid a landscape of racism and exploitation.
“I am Not Your Negro” (Documentary)
A searing essay by Raoul Peck based on author James Baldwin’s unfinished book that NYTimes critic A.O. Scott calls “an advanced seminar in racial politics.” My daughter chose this one for movie night, which lead to a deep discussion about race, history, and equality. A few months ago, my daughter was perfecting the dance to “Renegade” on TikTok and today she’s deeply passionate about the state of our world. Watch it, but be prepared to really see.