Under The Influence

Under The Influence Episode 3: Anthony Bourdain   

Well it’s been one year since we lost you.  What can be said?  … We are sorry, truly sorry to have lost you.  Words can’t begin to express the impact you’ve had on my life and the lives of countless other adventurers that you touched through your world explorations and musings.   

As I myself entered naïve into a post-graduate future with a post-9-11 world laid out before me you came on the scene with No Reservations in 2005.  This provided a platform for the curious, the poor, and the tentative to live vicariously with you as you globetrotted to far flung destinations.  In the lighter moments we were able to share in life’s simple pleasures: food, drink, art, music, architecture, culture, etc.  And in the dark moments you elucidated the invisible thread that binds us all as a human civilization.  Regardless of age, race, sex, and background you showed that we all can connect and find common ground.   

There were a couple standout moments:  Your ad hoc (and Emmy winning) coverage of the Israel–Hezbollah War in Beirut.  Your positively magical, truffle and foie gras infused, trans-Canadian fling with the “Joe Beef Guys” and Martin Picard.  Your Sichuan excursion with Eric Ripert… Poor Eric, it was delightful to watch you absolutely destroy him with spicy food.   

Once I had the means to travel I was able to visit some interesting places myself:  Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Singapore, and even Canada (twice).  I tried to approach each trip with the level of openness you demonstrated.  In doing so I opened myself up to the culture and the people of those places.  I experienced my time not as a tourist but as an eager explorer willing to engage the locals and immerse myself in the deeper, quieter aspects of everyday living. I thank you for that. 

Ultimately, after 13 years, you felt like a close friend.  I think a lot of people feel this way.  That’s why it was so hard on us all when we found out we lost you. Who was going to vanguard the adventures?  Who was going to protect the world against the rising xenophobia?  It’s scary to think about where the world is going these days and I hope that those of us willing to do so will pick up the torch and carry the worldly message of inclusion and love.   

It must be said; we all saw your grief.  I don’t think any of us expected it to happen so suddenly, but many thought it would eventually come.  There was deep seeded pain that was left untreated and ultimately it proved to be your undoing.  I don’t know if anyone really tried to help you.  I don’t know if you tried to help yourself.  I hope that for those out there still struggling that they turn to the help they need.  There are resources out there: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  We all process grief differently and in the only way I know how, I wrote you a song.  I hope that you are now at rest and free of the demons tormenting you.  Maybe someday I’ll join you in the next big adventure and if I do I’ll be sure to bring along some Xiaolongbao for the road.   

Much love, 



Under The Influence Episode 2:  Jens Lekman  

My contemporaries, the folks that were small children in the 80s (but are old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall or even the 1986 Challenger disaster), surely have saccharin sweet memories of that time. While much of the world was in either outright turmoil or threat of turmoil, the everyday life of a middle class family living in Massachusetts was quite peaceful. Weekends were spent bouncing around the house with MTV blasting, and summers were spent with friends and family in Ocean City or on Martha’s Vineyard.   

If I look back on any given day in 1987 I find myself hard pressed to not remember some new musical discovery…for that matter I’d be hard pressed to find a day that’s not awash in the Bangles hit, “Walk Like An Egyptian.” Bangles aside, in those days when MTV wasn’t filling the room with new wave hits we always had the record player spinning. That’s when I first fell in love with The Beatles, Motown, and soul music. My sister and I would put together dance routines to the tune of my dad singing some Temptations song… Or sometimes I would don 8 to 10 rings and pretend I was Ringo banging away at my toy drum. Now, some 25 to 30 years have passed and I look back and see how formative those times were for me. Which brings me finally to the point of all of this:  

Jens Lekman, a Swedish contemporary and inspiration of mine, clearly was also deeply shaped by the music of his childhood. In his stellar song, “Maple Leaves,” he pays homage to the AM Gold of yesteryear by sampling both The Mamas and The Papas and Glen Campbell! A few years back Brad Sanders at Stereogum had this to say, “The appeal of Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman has often been described in terms of his apparent lack of appeal. His signature baritone is slightly nasal and far from classically accomplished, and his arrangements borrow recklessly from 20th century pop — both canonized and disreputable. The conventional wisdom holds that much of what makes Lekman great is his ability to recast forgotten or critically dismissed popular music as being artistically equal to more serious, beloved work. That’s only fair to an extent. While “Maple Leaves” surely drove some listeners who never would have otherwise to check out the Mamas & The Papas and their great version of “Do You Wanna Dance?” that the song samples, it wouldn’t have had that effect if Lekman didn’t make his own song work first.” Here I think Brad nails it: Unlike many modern hip hop artists (I’m calling you out Kanye!), Jens integrates these samples in such a way that they not only breath life back into old or forgotten songs but also give his music even more meaning and depth.   

His story telling and his uncanny grasp of the English language heavily compliment his musical depth. There are few native English speakers in this day and age that utilize subtle double entrendres, puns, and idioms as well as Lekman. While in “Maples Leaves” there is not any outright language-trickery, Lekman utilizes a clever metaphor to enhance the song. In the song, the main character keeps mishearing his partner’s words (e.g. swapping ‘make believe’ for ‘maple leaves’) which echoes his inability to emotionally understand his partner. Emotional weight is really felt in this story and song, which comes about through Lekman’s tasteful melding of nostalgia and earnest.  

All in all it’s both Lekman’s use of sampled music and his unique story telling methods that have inspired me. In recent years I’ve been diving back into the 60s and 70s pop catalog for inspiration and I’m not going to lie I found a few gems that I plan on sampling as well. I hope you find “Maple Leaves” as intriguing as I do; and if you do you’ll be happy to hear that he will be releasing his next full-length album on February 17th entitled, “Life Will See You Now.”  

Cheers everyone,  

Jens Lekman's "Maple Leaves" 

Under The Influence Episode 1:  Billie The Vision & The Dancers 

So here we are, the first of a series of exposés that delve into the musicians and music that has had a profound influence on my life and writing. When I first thought about starting this series I figured I would start at the very beginning, because as Julie Andrews once sang, "it's a very good place to start." However, that would be too obvious and if you know me well I'm sure you could easily guess who my first influence was/is. Any ways, I'll go ahead and buck the trend and start with a band that has influenced me more recently.  

Billie The Vision & The Dancers, a Swedish group from Malmö, won over my heart with their light, airy, and downright tropical (at times) style of music. Brainchild of the skirt and nylon donning Lars Linquist, the group has been active since ~2003 and has released a series of albums that lyrically and musically revolve around a character named, "Pablo Diablo." Pablo is clearly a reflection of Linquist but also the people he himself has been influenced by both real and fictional. The group's second album, "The World According to Pablo" (2005), not to be confused with Kanye's similarly named album, sees the titular character lost deep in a depression caught between the person he wants to be and the person everybody around him expects him to be.   

A clear standout track, "A Man From Argentina." sees Pablo on the path toward reforming his prior debaucherous lifestyle which he obviously misses. As the song jauntily rolls into the chorus he proclaims, "Catherine says, "Mono's coming on Friday and I must be the happiest girl in the world" I'm thinking I wanna be you I wanna be you I wanna be you, you, you. So send me a man from Argentina, to make me the happiest girl in the world So come to me on Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday, but I can't wait 'til Monday" The simplicity of the lyrics and the tone of the music struck a deep emotional chord with me. I think most of us at times envy others happiness so much so that you'd like to switch places with them. It's something that I've been guilty of in the past and continue to shamelessly do to this day.   

From a composers perspective, Billie The Vision & The Dancers reminded me of two critical things: 1. You don't need to write dense heavy melancholic music to get a deep emotional response, and 2. Lyrical simplicity can often be the most effective when trying to convey human emotion.   

Any ways, the goal of my new musical endeavors is to be more lighthearted, to embrace my early musical upbringing, and to use drums and percussion more sparingly. I know I haven't exactly stuck to those rules right out of the gate but that is something I want to strive for. I hope you will listen to the linked song below and feel touched or inspired in the way I am.   

Cheers everyone,  

Billie The Vision & The Dancers' "A Man From Argentina"