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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, 2017

The first time I remember seeing Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams was at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. They were backing up Levon Helm, and as I delved deeper into Helm’s music, I would find the Campbell was that band’s rudder. With Williams on acoustic guitar and vocals and Campbell’s sizzling guitar work and ability to switch to violin, mandolin, or whatever the song called for, Helm could go whatever direction he wanted. Campbell had done the same for Bob Dylan on tour for several years starting in the late 90s, but he hadn’t really explored a solo career, outside of the 2005 album Rooftop. Working with Williams in Helm’s band gave them both a platform to start singing for themselves.

This Friday, they release Contraband Love, the follow-up to their self-titled debut album from 2015. The songs on the new one deal with more serious subjects than the first, a consequence of a rough few years, watching friends suffer through death and addiction. For Campbell, it was a reminder of days long since past when he was struggling with similar issues. It’s a tribute to their strength as a couple and the depth of their love for each other that these songs are a catharsis rather than a lecture or a character study. Onstage, they are charming, teasing each other about lyrics and feeding off each other’s energy. They are much the same in conversation, and I’m thrilled to have them on the Podcast.

It’s a packed episode, because I also interviewed their opening act, Patrick Coman. I really enjoyed his set and decided to try to snag him before Campbell and Williams started. Coman is an independent musician based in Boston, and he also works as a DJ and producer at WUMB, a local Americana station. His new album, Tree of Life, is out February 18. You can help him give it a proper release by contributing to his PledgeMusic campaign.

And finally, to close out the podcast, a track from Sasheer Zamata’s new album, Pizza Mind. Pizza Mind is now available on vinyl from Comedy Dynamics. You can follow her on Twitter at @thesheertruth.