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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.

Sep 6, 2017

About four songs into her set at New Hampshire's Prescott Park, Valerie June addressed the crowd. “What about the things that are going right?” she said. Random cheers from the audience. “I hear a lot about what’s going wrong, what about what’s going right?” She had just finished a hip-shaking rendition of “Shakedown,” from her latest album The Order of Time, a roots-folk-soul gumbo with a bit more of an electric attitude than her breakthrough album, Pushin’ Against a Stone. June is no saccharine neo-folk artist. Many of her narrators don’t have what they truly want. They either just missed it or it’s forever hovering just in front of them. That’s the case in the next song she played, “Slip Slide On By.” “Well, I knock at your door,” she sings, “Gather your heart from the floor/When no answers come/Ever still, never run.” The attitude is, if you’re going through hell, keep going. June wrote the song “High Note” for Mavis Staples’s recent album, Livin’ On A High Note, and the influence is obvious. I have said in the past that if you don’t leave a Mavis Staples show feeling good, I don’t know how to cure you. June is made from that same mold. She may sing about heartbreak and struggle, but she does it with an irresistible joy. There may be more happy tunes on the way. “I don’t have many positive songs,” said June. “I have maybe two or three.” Then she described an inspiring conversation she had with Staples. “After I got off the phone with her I had like ten or twelve. I’m still waiting to put out my spiritual album.” At Prescott Park, June and her band played a note-perfect set of songs June wrote for herself and others. She danced with a group of children in front of the stage and brought a girl up onstage to keep dancing. It was uplifting, by design, even as she tore through a fierce rendition of “Workin’ Woman Blues” and the more wistful “With You.” “Got Soul” was the closer, and that’s the bottom line. I spoke with June before the show in the “green room” at Prescott Park, which is an open tent outfitted with comfy furniture and a bar in front of the dressing room trailer. We started off talking about a “fashion show” she had done, just for herself, in her trailer that day. She had started to talk about it as I was setting up the microphone, and I thought there might be something there, so I asked her about it as we started, and wound up with a wonderful tangent right up front, about confidence and attitude, and David Bowie. We spoke about her career, which began long before she broke through in 2013 with the Dan Aeurbach-produced Pushin’ Against a Stone. The conversation ended somewhat abruptly as my memory card filled up at the same time June had to get going to get ready for the show. So hopefully, we’ll get her back on the Department of Tangents somewhere down the road. Maybe when that spirituals album comes out. After the conversation, hear a hilarious new track from Shane Torres’s new album, Established 1981, on which he defends one of America’s cheesiest chefs, and one of Canada’s cheesiest bands. The track is called “A Man Named Fieri Filled With Fury.” Established 1981 is out on September 8 on Comedy Central Records.

Encoded with Triumph