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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.

Aug 24, 2017

If you caught Zeshan B on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert a couple of weeks ago, you know how powerful a soul singer he is. On that show, he covered the George Perkins civil rights anthem “Cryin’ In the Streets,” which he also recorded for his debut album, Vetted. Zeshan can soar and swing, and he did that when I caught up with him at Sonia in Cambridge, Ma a week after that appearance, ripping through a dozen tunes at a late-night show. The set list drew heavily from the new album, with outstanding versions of “Hard Road To Travel,” “Ain’t No Love In the Heart of the City,” “I’m At the Breaking Point,” “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” and “Meri Jaan,” a gritty Chicago blues sung in Urdu. Toward the end of the set, he said he was going to try something a little different. He was tentative in his introduction, explaining the song was suggested to him and he doesn’t normally do it. He and the ban then launched into Italian composer Ernesto De Curtis’s “Tu ca nun chiagne,” a song people would associate with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti or Enrico Caruso. Zeshan needn’t have worried. His voice was clear and strong, and the crown might now have known what hit them, but they were appreciative. I sat down with Zeshan before the show in the green room in Sonia. He had just finished soundcheck and was trying to finish dinner while the opening act played, so my apologies to Zeshan and the listening audience if you hear him finishing up a bite when he answers a question. We discussed the politics behind “Cryin’ In the Streets,” which was written as a reaction to Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, and why he thought it fit into current events. I’m glad we got to talk about his musical roots, from his father’s soul records to the Indo-Pakistani music he grew up with, and some history about his harmonium.