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The Department of Tangents Podcast

Years ago, playing a sort of improv game with friends in which we all picked super powers based on our personalities, I dubbed myself “Tangent Lad.” I was not a very strong superhero, and I could not defeat a super villain on my own, but I could distract them with Monty Python quotes and football trivia. I have many times since apologized to an interview subject in my capacity as a journalist by saying, “I am either very good or very bad at tangents, depending on how you feel about tangents.”

I had a rough time coming up with the concept and naming this blog/podcast. I knew I wanted to create a place where I could address things I’m passionate about – comedy, music, and horror. Finding a name that communicated all three of those things proved a bit impossible. I bugged my friends, and they all tried to help. To no avail. Then I thought, maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe my lack of focus should be the focus.

As a journalist, I have written for The Boston Globe since 2000, starting out writing CD reviews and then writing a regular column on comedy for seven and a half years. I still contribute there, and to Kirkus Reviews, and other publications. I’m also a musician, and released my debut full-length album, Blue Skies and Broken Arrows, in March of 2015. And I’ve been publishing short horror fiction for a couple of years.

I like to climb into things I love and see how they operate. That’s what the Department of Tangents is for. I’ll be writing regular features, essays, and news bits about the big three – comedy, music, and horror – and offering clips from people I’ve taped interviews with over the past nearly twenty years of writing. Some of the best parts of the interviews I’ve done have been completely off-point and inappropriate for print. I’ll get to explore more of that here. I’m also hoping to convince some friends to tell me about the things they love that I might not even know about, and pass that along to you.

The DoT podcast might be short or long, depending on where the conversation leads. You cant purposefully create an interesting tangent in conversation – it has to happen naturally. But I can confidently forecast that there will be moments in the individual podcasts where things veer off wonderfully.

The main thing here is love. To write about the things that make I’ve loved forever, and some new things that might stand the test and be around, at least for me, for decades to come. I’ve had to be critical in my writing at times, and it might not all be nonstop roses here, but in the end, what I really want to talk about is the good stuff. That’s why I will regularly write about things I think are “Perfect,” even if someone can demonstrate empirically that they are flawed. Still perfect to me.

Also, fish.

I hope you, dear anonymous surfer person, will come to expect only the highest-quality, free-range, grass-fed tangents. And I hope some of you love the same things I do and find it useful. Or at least a welcome distraction until the others get here.

Nov 9, 2018

I have known Perry Serpa for several years as a press guy. He has been a regular in my inbox, sending me notices about new music. A couple of years ago, I was surprised when he sent me a press release about his own music, helming a band called The Sharp Things. After doing my homework, I found out he is a skillful pop and rock craftsman, and I featured a print interview with him about Everybody Everybody on the Department of Tangents blog.

Then, a couple of months ago, I got an e-mail detailing his latest album, Wherefore Art Thou? I had just gotten used to Serpa as himself, the musician. And with this album, he changed identities yet again. Serpa is a big fan of the Nick Hornby book, Juliet, Naked, which is about a retired rock star named Tucker Crowe, his biggest fan, Duncan, and his long-suffering partner, Annie. Duncan is active on a community board of “Crowologists,” fans who obsess over Crowe’s music, especially his masterpiece, Juliet, and where he might have gone since he stopped making music. 

Hornby names every track on Juliet in the book, describes several songs, and even provides a few lyrics. All of this began to roll around in Serpa’s head as he read the book, and then read it again. He started to write the songs on Juliet, or at least the tribute album Hornby mentions, Wherefore Art Thou? After a few years of letting all of this digest, writing and rewriting and recording, Serpa released his album in October. It’s as all-over-the-map stylistically and dynamically as Hornby describes, and consequently, very much in line with what Serpa does with The Sharp Things. There is the country duet, “Dirty Dishes,” the Dylan-esque rocker “And You Are?,” the fuzzed out “The Twentieth Call Of the Day,” and the epic album closer, “You and Your Perfect Life.” 

I caught up with Serpa by Skype to talk about the mind trip of paying tribute to an album and artist that don’t exist, and what’s next for the project. After the conversation, stick around to hear this week’s featured track from Serpa’s album, “You and Your Perfect Life.”