Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer takes a stab at nonfiction with this month’s book-length essay on the allure of vegetarianism, Eating Animals. And just like you might expect from a big-hearted plant eater, when the author of Everything is Illuminated cruises around Brooklyn, he rocks the sweet, sweet stylings of Raffi.
Once upon a time, I would drive from coast to coast because I felt like it, because gas and time were cheap, because (like the dog who licks its balls) I could. Now I am decrepit and measured. The car has a busted cargo thing on the roof (with a stroller permanently locked inside it) and the Cheerios are always everywhere. Once upon a time, I drove 100 miles per hour on the Beltway without anyone bothering me. Now I can’t seem to turn on the car without getting a ticket for something as un-fun as abusing the HOV lane or using my cell phone to get test results at a stoplight.
My road trips are now to the Brooklyn Fairway. The drive lasts about three songs, or six pages of an audio book. Because of the cobblestone roads and neglected, lunar potholes, CDs tend to jump a lot. My son finds this hilarious. He finds people who stutter hilarious, too. I find it hilarious when he finds something hilarious and so I speed up when the road ahead of me looks especially broken.
1 “Six Little Ducks,” by Raffi. God forbid NPR is asking for money when I’ve forgotten to bring along a case of CDs, I’ll find myself stuck listening to my son’s “music.” True, Raffi’s voice can sound, at times, almost exactly like Will Oldham’s, but I haven’t figured out a way to give a shit about the one little duck with the feather on his back.
2 “New Partner,” by Will Oldham. This is Raffi for heartbroken adults.
3 Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won’t Do), as read by Michael Wex. What can I say? A pish un a fortz iz vi a khasene un a klezmer!
4 “Exit Flagger,” by Guided by Voices. Inspiring, depressing, rousing, deflating—a classic, at least within my life. I’ve tapped my hand against a lot of surfaces to this song. “Propeller” was my initiation into GBV, and indie-rock more generally. I’m not gonna race you today. What an ethic!
5 A Guide to Alternative Self-Healing Techniques for Heart Disease and Hypertension, as read by Dr. William Collinge. What can I say? Es tut mir a groisseh hanoeh!
6 “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1,” by Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s hard to think of a song that has affected me more. On my very worst writing days, when there’s no prospect of anything working ever again, I’ll put this on. The writing almost never improves, but I care about it less.
7 Great Jews in Sports, as read by Robert Slater. I can listen to this three times in its entirety each way. Ba da bing!
8 “Straight, No Chaser,” by Thelonious Monk. I spent my high school years pretending to be a jazz aficionado. I owned a dozen CDs for every one I actually listened to. I’d swap out the Fugazi for Monk, Mingus or Coltrane when picking someone up. I did grow to like it very much—Monk in particular—but love is something else.
9 “Waiting Room,” by Fugazi. I grew up with this music, have listened to it more than any other kind and still want to drive my head through a wall (in the good way) whenever I hear it.
10 “Six Little Ducks,” by Raffi. Confession: I actually choose to listen to this, even when [radio talk show host] Leonard Lopate is talking about something fascinating, even when I have at my side a full selection of adult music. Of course it’s not the music itself that I enjoy. It’s about making slightly more present the phantom ears in the empty car seat. It’s about knowing he would ask for it, if only he were with me then.