September 26, 2014
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Dmitri Samarov's illustrated memoir is a captivating account of the artist's time driving a cab.
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Music has haunted me my whole life. I played violin from ages 6 to 14 and fought it through most of those years. I chose drawing and painting but could well have switched instruments and continued on making sounds. It just didn't happen, but music has never really gone too far away. I'd have to say it's as much of an influence on my art and writing as any book or picture ever was.
Where To? is my second book of illustrated work memoirs from my days driving a cab. It's a summing up of my 12 years behind the wheel in Boston and Chicago. I started driving upon graduating from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993 and moving back to Boston. The first few years I'd hear Bernard Herrmann's "Taxi Driver Theme" every time I drove over a steaming grate. That movie was my first frame of reference for the strange job I'd gotten myself into.
Boston wasn't ever a happy place for me. It's not a place that welcomes outsiders and I'd felt like one there ever since my family emigrated from the Soviet Union to Brookline, Massachusetts in 1978. There are certain songs that sum up a city and "24" by Sorry has always done that for Boston with its frustrated refrain about "turning something into nothing..."
One of the pleasures of cab-driving in Boston was the luxury of parking the cab and going to see bands at the Middle East, t.t. the bear's, The Rat and other holes-in-the-wall. From '93 to '97, I saw few bands more than Come. Songs like "New Coat" expressed the frustration and longing I felt from being alone, looking back at my college-years relationship, with no dating prospects or much hope of any kind.
The Cheater Slicks were another favorite. "I'm Grounded" and all of their Whiskey LP, really, were a go-to in the '90s. These bands any many others made the loneliness and confusion of my 20s a lot more bearable. There are records that I've gone back to—like Double Nickels on the Dime by Minutemen, Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, and Roland Kirk's Rip, Rig and Panic—which have served as barometers of my inner condition at various points. I couldn't point precisely to how they inspired particular pieces of art or writing but they're a constant, and thus inevitably part of my creative process.
When The Handsome Family sing about the wind screaming up Ashland Avenue in "The Woman Downstairs" I know that screaming wind all too well.
David Berman singing about wanting to be like water if he can in Silver Jews' "Horseleg Swastikas" seemed like good advice on nights when I was ready to snap at the nth group of drunk fratboys giving me a hard time on a Saturday night. The couple hours at the Empty Bottle or the Hideout, when I could draw people onstage playing their songs made the 12-16 hours behind the wheel fade away.
In my last few years of driving I got to know some of the people that made the music and even got to work with them occasionally. Whenever I hear songs like "Yours for Today" I remember the time I took a break and ran into Azita at a bar and she asked me to paint the cover for her record. It was due a week from that night. Cab-driving allowed me to do things like that. No one called wondering where I was when I wasn't driving. The company got their money in advance so they were happy my cab was parked on Western Avenue rather than wearing down from use.
I drove Lou Reed once when he was in town for Lollapalooza. I wracked my brain the whole ride for something to say but could only mumble, "Thanks for the music". I think he was glad not have to make smalltalk. Dozens of his songs were soundtracks in my cab, but a few like "Perfect Day" stuck around like regular passengers through all those years.
Dmitry Samarov and Where To?: A Hack Memoir links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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