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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 13, 2018

If you listened to EP69 with comedian and author Guy Branum, you heard a little taste of the new PR Newman album, Turn Out. If not, I hope you’ll take a listen and come back to this conversation. There is a lot to talk about with this music. I got an advance of the album a month or so ago, and wound up listening to it in the car over and over for the next several days – which is the mark of a good album. Car listening is essential. Every time I listened, I heard something different. It starts out with an optimistic song that is nonetheless called “Got To Hell.” I enjoy that kind of contradiction, a friction between the sound and lyrical content. I heard Apostrophe-Overnite Sensation era Frank Zappa in the next track, “Here Come the Rangers,” especially in regards to Zappa’s wonderful use of the Ikettes as backup singers. I heard solo Frank Black in one song, the Kinks in the next, countrified Byrds in another. Spencer Garland, the musician behind PR Newman, has chops as a player and a songwriter, and he has a sense of humor. That’s a full toolkit. 

I caught up with Garland just before he left for a short tour of Germany to talk about how PR Newman came about and the inspiration for the songs. Turn out is the debut full-length album for the project, which is mostly Garland with some other players. Garland spent years in bands as a side guy, playing guitar or organ, so this is him stepping out front, even though it’s not under his real name. The name PR Newman comes from a comment someone made after seeing him play, calling him a “punk rock Randy Newman.” There is a bit of a persona involved, and Garland reserves the right to wait for a different project until he releases something as Spencer Garland. 

Our featured track of the week, “Look Out From Your Window” by The Innocence Mission from their latest album Sun On the Square. This is the band’s tenth album over their near thirty-year history. If you’re new to the band, you might think this is an Irish import because of the pastoral sounds and subjects and the lilt in singer Karen Peris’s voice. The band actually started in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and when I went looking for an explanation for the accent, I found a show review from the L.A. Time back in 1991 written by Chris Willman, who also puzzled over its origin. His best guess, he wrote, was “European and otherworldly.” 

The music reminds me of that moment when winter is changing to spring, a time with a promise of warmth and growth, when your bones still remember the cold and isolation. “Look Out From Your Window” starts with the narrator asking, “Look out from your window now/Can you see me cheering for you, up and down?” The story seems to follow two people looking at the same weather, the same snow and leaves, and the narrator wondering if they are seeing it the same way. The refrain is, “All I cannot say I hope you know/All you cannot say I hope I can hear.” Take a listen for yourself.