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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.

Oct 4, 2017

Corin Ashley was in the middle of recording his powerful new rock and roll album Broken Biscuits in January of 2016 when his plans were derailed by a stroke. He was at the gym, feeling a bit numb, with a grey band obstructing his vision. That began what would be a nightmare scenario for anyone, much less a musician in the middle of a project. With the help of medical specialists and a voice coach, Ashley had to learn how to sing and play all over again. What used to be instinctual became purposeful. His fingers didn’t recognize the fretboard of his guitar, and his vocal cords were paralyzed.


Ashley is back now, almost fully recovered, with just a few lingering effects. He’s back onstage, and back out promoting Broken Biscuits. The album was half finished when he had his stroke, and that influenced the songwriting, though Ashley would prefer not to be too on-the-nose about which songs in particular were written about the experience later. It’s a dynamic album, full of pop hooks with a big rock sound reminiscent of Queen and Mott the Hoople, but he also includes lighter touches like "Powder Your Face with Sunshine," which was a hit for Dean Martin in 1948. You can find the album on iTunes or on Ashley’s Web page.

He was very open about his stroke and recovery in this conversation, and I thank him for coming out to the new podcast kitchen to talk. There was a technical glitch at the end of the interview, and the last part of the initial conversation was lost, including a big chunk about his recovery.

The podcast is split into two section, including the original conversation and a follow-up by phone to expand on his medical experiences and how that influenced the music. We compared experiences -- his with stroke recovery and mine with recovering from my first MS attack to come back to playing guitar and drums. Unfortunately, in between the two interviews, we lost Tom Petty, so we took a few minutes to talk about the huge hole he leaves in rock and roll. In the first section, we go through his musical history, starting with his early band The Pills, and how they navigated the grunge era, letting his singer-songwriter and Beatles influences loose as a solo performer, and recording at Abbey Road.

Afterwards, stick around for a track from Fern Brady’s new album, Male Comedienne, in which she discusses her femininity and Twitter comments.