‘The Oranges’ Star Alia Shawkat Curates a List of Songs to Stew By

Alia Shawkat may be best known as Maeby Fünke from the cult TV show Arrested Development, but the California native has been transitioning to the big screen with roles in Drew Barrymore’s Whip It and Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. This month, Shawkat inches even closer to the center of the action with two starring roles. One is as a sex addict opposite Anne Heche in the biting comedy, That’s What She Said. In The Oranges, out October 5, she plays Vanessa Walling, a moody New Jersey suburbanite whose father is seduced by her best friend, played with Lolita-like charm by Leighton Meester. This is, obviously, not easy for Vanessa to process, and here Shawkat channels her character to share some of her favorite songs about jealousy, gossip, and being blindsided by love.

“Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” by Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday is one of my favorite singers, and this song has her usual sadness to it. It is full of regret, melancholy, and beauty. The narrator is telling her lover not to believe anything he hears about her until she says it to him herself, though she’s not denying the rumors, either. It’s a beautiful song, and I think she’s singing it with a smile.
Operative Lyric: “True, I’ve been seen with someone new / but does that mean that I’m untrue? / When we’re apart, the words In my heart / reveal how I feel about you.”

“Mr. Chatterbox” by Bob Marley and The Wailers
This is another song about people talking shit. Mr. Chatterbox is the guy who goes around town telling people things about you. There’s a lyric in it that goes, “Always to receive but never to give.” He’s always putting people down, but he’s going to get what’s coming to him, too.
Operative Lyric: “You cheek, cheek, cheek, and tongue, tongue, tongue / a-go let you down / And a-when them let you down / we a-go batter you around, hey.”

“How Do I Know” by Here We Go Magic
This is from the Brooklyn-based band’s newest album, A Different Ship, which I love. In this song, the singer, Luke Temple, sings about his uncertainty whether he is really in love. He loves the small things his girl does, like how she smells when she gets out of the shower, but he still has doubts. It’s something everyone can relate to. Sometimes you’re so close to something, you question whether it’s real or not.
Operative Lyric: “How do I know if I love you? / When all these things come and go? / You can’t stand them together In some neat little row / So how do I know, how do I know, how do I know?”

“You Know More Than I Know” by John Cale
This song, from his 1974 album, Fear, is incredibly haunting. It’s like Cale’s not responsible for himself. He feels as if there is only so much he can do for himself without help. There’s a romance to it, too, because he seems to need someone to take charge of things, and when you’re looking for that, it’s great to actually find someone who knows you more than you know yourself.
Operative Lyric: “Instead, we read the morning news / in bed, what endlessness ahead / And there’s no more to be said / You know more than I know.”

“Don’t Give It Away” by Syl Johnson
Johnson’s a really awesome ’70s kind of funk/soul guy with a huge collection of songs. On this one, he’s saying don’t give it away to somebody who hurts you—don’t show them that you’re weak. It’s really about making sure no one sees that you’re vulnerable.
Operative Lyric: “If you know somebody you wanna sock it to / Let me tell you, honey, what I want you to do / Don’t gIve it away, baby.”

“But She’s My Buddy’s Chick” by The Nat King Cole Trio
In The Oranges, Hugh Laurie plays my dad and sleeps with my former best friend— the daughter of his best friend, played by Oliver Platt. They know it’s wrong, but they can’t help the way they feel. Of course, it tears the two families apart. It reminds me a bit of this song. Of course, Nat King Cole knows better than to pursue his attraction.
Operative Lyric: “Startedonce to move right in / Changed my mind but quick / She could send me, yes she could / But she’s my buddy’s chick.”

“Jilted John” by Red Sauce
This is an old British punk song that’s super fun, and I fell in love with it when I first heard it. The singer is singing about this girl who broke his heart—she ran off with some douchebag one day—and obviously he’s not dealing with it well. In his British, punk way, he lets out all of those feelings and frustrations in the span of just a few minutes.
Operative Lyric: “Oh she’s a slag and he’s a creep / She’s a tart, he’s very cheap / She’s a slut, he thinks he’s tough / She is a bitch, he is a puff.”

“Typical Girls” by The Slits
The Slits were in their late teens, early twenties when they recorded this song, and I think it’s pretty great that they were in the moment—they weren’t a group of older women remembering the past. It’s very honest about how girls can be annoying. When you’re a teenage girl, you hate other girls more than you ever will for the rest of your life.
Operative Lyric: “Who invented the typical girl? / Who’s bringing out the new improved model? / And there’s another marketing ploy / Typical girl gets the typical boy.”

“Tryouts for the Human Race” by Sparks
This is such an epic song, and one of my all-time favorites. It’s about how we’re all trying to be the best humans we can be, but every day is like a struggle, an audition for our own lives. We’re not all going to make it through, but we’ve got to keep trying.
Operative Lyric: “We’re the future and the past, we’re the only way you’re gonna last / We’re just pawns In a funny game / Tiny actors In the oldest play.”

“Right By Me” by The Magic
This song is from my friend’s band, The Magic, based in Toronto. I don’t even think this one is on iTunes yet! The song is about unconditional love. He’s sitting around, making dinner, waiting for his lady to come home, and he’s thinking about her and how much he just loves the spirit she has about her. All he needs from her is to be an honest person and true to him.
Operative Lyric: “I don’t care what you do as long as it’s right by me.” 

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Brilliant Corners Brings Bobby Womack, John Cale, More to Chicago

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement is a Chicago-based performance series that takes one of the most frequent formats of live entertainment today (the curated festival) and combines it with the feel of the vaudeville shows of yesteryear. Mike Reed, a former organizers of the Pitchfork and Umbrella Music Festivals, launched Brilliant Corners last year with a series of performances in Eckhart Park, including sets from heavy-hitters like Shellac, Jeff Mangum and Chicago soul icon Charles Bradley. 

"As a production the event has no stylistic boundaries: it can incorporate circus artists, music, comedians, short film and hopefully more," reads the festival’s website. "Additionally, it is not wedded to a festival, time or place. We may pop up in your neighborhood park, at a nearby theater for one night, or just parading down your block."

The festival will return September 21st through 23rd, this time at the Riverfront Theatre, and Reed has assembled another crack team of performers, including John Cale, Zola Jesus, Conor Oberst, Van Dyke Parks, Helado Negro and Bobby Womack. Yes, you read that lineup correctly. That’s okay. We’ll give you a minute. 

New to the festival are free comedy night on Friday and Saturday, featuring local funny people Megan Galley, James Fritz, The Puterbaugh Sisters, Drew Michael and Brian Babylon, former Chicago funny person Brandon Wetherbee, Seaton "The Pimpin’ Referee" Smith and voice actor/comedian H. Jon Benjamin, who you may know better as Sterling Archer (or Bob Belcher), and El Circo Cheapo will be performing death-defying stunts for matinee shows. 

By the way, Brilliant Corners headliner Bobby Womack’s new album, The Bravest Man in the Universe (released this month on XL), is absolutely phenomenal. Just makin’ sure you knew.