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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.

Jul 13, 2018

One of the best things you can do as a fan of any art is to go into something with no real expectations and find something you think is wonderful. That explains my relationship with The English Beat. The band played their first show in 1979 and were part of the two-tone movement in the early 80s, but I didn’t hop on board until I saw the band last year. They were on the Retro Futura Tour, which also featured Paul Young, Katrina Leskanich from Katrina and the Waves, Modern English, Men Without Hats, and Howard Jones.

I had a vague notion of a couple of songs, but I didn’t know the band’s history, how it broke off into General Public and Fine Young Cannibals, or how many hits they’d had. “Mirror In the Bathroom,” “Save It For Later,” “Too Nice To Talk To,” “Hands Off She’s Mine.” After that, Wakeling and Ranking Roger split off into General Public and added “Tenderness” and “I’ll Take You There” to the pile of hits. But all I knew coming out of the auditorium that night was that The English Beat put on a hell of a show, even with a shortened set. I was hooked. This year, the band has a new album out, and since they tour frequently, I was able to catch up with them again at the Sinclair in Cambridge, just across the river from Boston. The new album, Here We Go Love!, is the first English Beat studio album since 1982’s Special Beat Service. It has some of the same qualities as the original three albums – an upbeat sound that sprinkles in a variety of world music influences with a pop/rock center, frequently anchored by lyrics with a heavy or knotty subject matter. Wakeling says in some ways the record sounds like what the band might have sounded like as the Beat morphed into General Public after the split in ’82. I spoke with him backstage at the Sinclair while the rest of the band did their soundcheck, and there’s a great moment toward the end where Wakeling is talking about some of the weightier lyrics while the band is pumping out some of the happiest, foot-moving music you’ll ever hear. Wakeling was a delightful conversationalist. He’s thoughtful but doesn’t take himself too seriously. And very direct and open about The English Beat’s history, his relationship with Ranking Roger and the possibility of working together again, and the struggle to get the new album out to fans. Of the new album, he said he wasn’t sure if it was going to be a “springboard or a swan song” for the Beat. I’m hoping it’s a springboard, because I’m just getting started with them. You can find out more about the new album and the band’s tour dates at

This week’s featured track is a short chapter from the Audible version of Sloane Crosley’s new collection of personal essays, Look Alive Out There. This is an essay titled “Our Hour Is Up,” which finds Crosley revisiting her grade school days. She writes about how little infractions can stay with you and even form you in some ways. As Crosley writes elsewhere in the book about driving past your old high school, it’s “at once everything and nothing.” Later in the story, she runs into someone who had slighted her back in grade school, which brings up some complicated feelings. That resonates with me. It’s something you have to be on constant lookout for, these tiny blocked arteries that build up and can eventually stop your heart if you don’t flush them.