Something about me: I am a very auditory person. I read out loud to myself. I remember what I’m told without taking notes. And I surround myself with as much music as possible, including my relatively constant internal soundtrack. The movie of my life is mostly boring, but that doesn’t stop me from scoring it like Dances With Wolves. Enjoy these songs that call Pittsburgh to my mind.
1. Ask Me About Pittsburgh – The Asteroid No. 4. Much of this song is a little too experimental for me, but the melodic middle is just right. Evolves from apathy to hope between its two references to the city in the title.
2. Return to Hot Chicken – Yo La Tengo. I can’t begin to explain why, but this short instrumental conjures a vivid sense of driving across the Fort Duquesne Bridge into downtown. It’s early in the morning and the sun is low enough in the sky that sunlight is slanting into the lower deck, and the water is sparkling. It is spring. Like I said, I don’t know why, but there it is.
3. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) – The Arcade Fire. I had a Sirius satellite radio for awhile, and I heard a lot of interesting new music on it. I can tell you just where I was when I first heard this song: driving north on Evergreen Road in the North Hills (lost like I always am when I’m looking for something on the myriad incarnations of Evergreen). It made me think of my neighborhood.
4. Pittsburgh – The Lemonheads. I don’t know what inspired the title of this song, but for some reason it fits. Interestingly, the 2006 self-titled album on which this track appears includes a credit to John Kastner (of the Doughboys) as “Pittsburgh Guidance Counselor.” I have no idea why. Do you?
5. Teach Your Children – Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Dude, say whatever you want about Pittsburgh’s Olde Tyme values of family and community. There’s nothing shameful about them.
6. Passenger – Iggy Pop. Another song that has me driving around the ‘Burgh, sunroof open, the lights of downtown beaming from above. I must do too much driving – time to reduce that carbon footprint.
7. Born in the 70’s – Ed Harcourt. Sirius gave me this one too. I liked it, so when a coworker took me to Paul’s Compact Discs in Bloomfield to show me where he got all his cool indie stuff, I bought the album. Turns out this is the only song on it that I liked. Paul’s was still awesome though.
8. In Step – Girl Talk. Hard to pick a single Girl Talk track to include, but this one feels like a hair-raising helicopter tour of the heart of the city.
9. Jesus, Etc. – Wilco. This song is the heart of my playlist. It has such pathos. So hey, did you know that “passion” is from the Latin for “suffering?” Of course you did. The city of Pittsburgh has suffered so much over the years – fire, flood, economic and cultural upheaval that threatened to kill the city – and perhaps that’s why it inspires such passion. We feel the pain in the city’s bones. “Tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs.” If you want to feel connected to your city by suffering with it, listen carefully.
10. I Feel So Good – Richard Thompson. Another very specific memory in this song. I was walking Walnut Street after a very long day, feeling a deep sense of satisfaction with my work and my life, and this song was playing on the street from Record Village. I went upstairs, asked what they were spinning, and bought it straightaway.
11. Ball and Biscuit – The White Stripes. Doesn’t it just make you feel young and hungry, prowling the South Side in the middle of the night? Yeah.
12. Smalltown – Lou Reed. Seems like a lot of the play the ‘Burgh gets in music is none too kind. “Ain’t no Dali coming from Pittsburgh.” That’s okay, not everyone can appreciate.
13. I Feel Like Going Home – Muddy Waters. Hats off gents. This is American music royalty. And he’s singing to all of you in the diaspora – don’t wait until you wake up and all you have is gone. Get on home.
14. I’m Not Dead (I’m in Pittsburgh) – Frank Black. Sounds like complaining, but it’s goodhearted. Co-written by Reid Paley, a Brooklynite who made punk music in Pittsburgh for some years, this one is a classic that will make you feel okay with wherever you are, home or away.