Adam Goldberg: What Are You Listening To?
Actor Adam Goldberg’s (Zodiac, Dazed and Confused, Saving Private Ryan) musical project, The Goldberg Sisters, have released their third collection of music, titled Home: A Nice Place to Visit. To celebrate the release of his newest record, Goldberg shared a collection of his current crop of favorites in this TIDAL-exclusive playlist.
John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things”
This is an easy and obvious choice, but this track broke the jazz world right open for me as a kid. I was the guy during our lunch break at school, with the windows rolled up, listening to the Art Tatum tape I had made from my double LP the night before. In other words, a virgin. When I hear this Coltrane, or really any jazz, it sends me back to a period in my life that was already steeped in obsession with ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s’ “hipster” culture: jazz, film noir, Beat aesthetic, etc. My first film I directed, Scotch and Milk, opens and closes with a Coltrane tune and is replete with jazz, so much so that I could never legally release the movie, just played all over the world in festivals. (PS: Charles Mingus’ wife is the coolest and would have totally have donated the music. The other estates? Not so much.)
Jimmy Scott, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”
Before I got to know Mark Eitzel a bit, I discovered and revered his band, American Music Club. I was told that Jimmy Scott was his favorite singer. So, a pal and I went to the old Catalina’s Bar and Grill in Hollywood and saw a set that mesmerized me. This tune, in particular, shook me deeply. I wrote a scene in Scotch and Milk for him and that tune and we had just enough money to pay for the tune and the expense of flying his group out for a gig, but no time to record playback, which is how one conventionally shoots these scenes (lip synching to playback). So, I just sat mesmerized by the monitor, while he performed two live takes, realizing only later it was like a 10 minute take the way they did it live and I’d later have to truncate and combine versions, etc. An existential highlight.
Elvis Costello, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
Not because it’s the best Elvis song, or even the best version of The Animals song (I’d probably give Nina Simone that honor), but this was the song that opened the door to his oeuvre and led to a steady diet of My Aim is True through Blood and Chocolate throughout my last couple years of high school. The night I got my driver’s license, I drove to Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard and bought King of America. I anticipated every new release and relished every first listening thereafter religiously. Many years later, I would write a part for him in my film, I Love Your Work, assuming he would never do it. But, oh fuck, he agreed. Suddenly, I was confronted with the prospect of meeting one of my holy trinity of idols at the time, with David Bowie and a pre-scandal and relevant Woody Allen being the others. Elvis couldn’t have been more gracious and cool, but it was all a bit through the looking glass.
David Bowie, “Stay”
How to pick one Bowie song? I used to learn how to play the drums by drumming along to Station to Station more than any other album, when I was a kid. These albums have the same profound resonance today as they did then. Strange how a 47-year-old version of one’s self can feel just as intensely about something as he did more than 30 years prior. This sort of icy soul that was born out of his Philly soul stage on the way to his Eno trilogy has found its way into heavily influencing at least a couple of my tracks.
The O’Jays, “Back Stabbers”
I dig soul Bowie, as stated, and the soul that inspired soul Bowie. And this track…..mmmmmmmmm. I literally can’t not dance. Even with a migraine or something, or in a moving car.
Curtis Mayfield, “The Makings of You”
I really love this man. I want to be him. That’s not gonna happen, is it? I borrow my falsetto, or vainly do so, from his records. This song has special significance to me. The morning that my wife and I went to the hospital to have our boy, Bud, this tune just came on the clock radio and woke me up — just playing on KCRW. It was like a dream. I’d later make a small film about his first year for his birthday, and I scored it with this Curtis gem.
Bridget St. John, “Making Losing Better”
My friend and poet, John Tottenham, has turned me on to some of my favorite artists, lesser known ones, I guess you’d say. One example is Gary Higgins. Another example is the recently passed Tom Rapp, so goddamn good. But, Bridget is in a league all of her own—though arguably you can group her in with Nick Drake, with whom she played shows. Drake’s posthumous fame never really seemed to rub off on the very much alive and vital Miss St. John. Tottenham gave me a tape of her recordings the night before I learned one of my dearest friends, musician John Glick, died. I first played the tape on my boombox in a fugue-like stupor after learning the news. Her music fills me up. This song is a heartbreaker. I use it in my film, No Way Jose, and used that as an intro into a friendship and eventual collaboration with Bridget, who appears on my new record. She is doing a duet with me on a song for which I had music, but no words, which she inspired. Jesus, I just realized that JOHN Tottenham turned me on to Bridget St. JOHN the day my pal JOHN passed. This should do wonders for my OCD.
Colleen, “The Sun Against My Eyes”
I promise these aren’t all self-reflexive plugs! In fact, here is an artist whose music I fell in love with and who rebuked my offer to collaborate, albeit, super cordially and in a lovely correspondence. If I made solely instrumental music, I’d want to make this. She does organic loop-like stuff, not unlike what I attempt to do with intros and outros and some musical “islands,” but far more profoundly and expertly than I could ever hope to. Deep and moving stuff.
Bill Evans, “Peace Piece”
He, in many ways, has also been a savior. I would listen to his Village Vanguard recordings, along with Billie Holiday’s ‘30s and ‘40s recordings, on constant rotation during my one miserable year at college. He soothed my soul. This track should be required listening, once a day, for everyone. I’m convinced the world would be a better place. Come to think of it, every restaurant should play Bill Evans. I don’t mean this derogatorily, it just would make dining less of an anxiety-inducing experience than whatever crap they’re blaring. Sorry, I’m losing focus here.
Again, hard to pick a tune, but Doolittle was the album which opened my eyes and ears to this particular strain of indie rock, eventually opening others sonic doors for me and bands which may have been influenced by them. When I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I was like “What the fuck is this ripoff?!” I was pissed about it, until I eventually acquiesced to its powers, the blow being lessened by the fact that Cobain himself admitted the Pixies influence. Anyway, the Pixies’ world and the David Lynch world, which I was obsessed with around the same time, are all sort of bound up together. This scratchy, darkly guttural, but gorgeous world you enter. I saw them play twice. One of them was opening for The Cure (at Dodger Stadium). The only reason I went to The Cure was to see the Pixies, but it was laughable, they were so fucking far away. Then, I saw them at UC Irvine in 1990? I was horribly hungover and agoraphobic in what was essentially a huge mosh pit. I just wanted to hear the music, man! I was obsessed with Joey Santiago’s playing and his cooler of Heinekens just off stage.
Built to Spill, “I Would Hurt a Fly”
My dear, late friend John turned me on to their second album when I was visiting him in Madison, WI in 1994. It was a sweltering summer, that one that killed several hundred people in Chicago. I was just getting into Pavement and Guided by Voices, which seemed to be wafting out of every other house in Madison and had begun writing and jamming and recording my own stuff into 4 tracks. Everyone in Madison seemed to have a basement studio and homemade beer in their fridge. I was trying to develop a sound, but it was really a default sound that I guess could be likened to roughly what was going on at the time, scratchy and lo-fi. Anyway, at the end of the trip, John said buy this album, and it was Ancient Melodies of the Future. At first, it took me a bit, I kind of felt it was too tongue-in-cheek, maybe lacking the guttural angst I required and found in bands, such as Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, etc. Eventually, I picked up on what they are putting down. Then, spent the better part of that decade trying to be them, to little avail. When I was making my first record at Aaron Espinoza’s studio, “The Ship,” the Built to Spill boys were recording in the studio next door, and I got to talking to Doug, who had become a guitar hero of mine. Such a good guy. He even agreed (I’m told through a 3rd party, I was too shy) to play a guitar part I couldn’t figure out what to do with on one of my songs, “Your Words Not Mine,” but I guess I felt like it would just be too easy and I slogged through some Aladdin Sane-inspired piano “solo.” That said, I got to watch them record a bit, and when we were mixing and recording we would often hear their stuff bleed through the walls. So maybe, if you listen very very closely, to the LANDy album, you’ll pick up some far-off Built to Spill bleed.
File under music I probably heard a lot of when I was kid, but dismissed until I became obsessed with the ‘70s “studio” sound and have tried my best to replicate it in my garage.
File under guys who succeeded in capturing this sound, and with whom I became unhealthily obsessed.
Carole King, “It’s too Late”
File under music my mom played that I dismissed, until I became obsessed with Carole King and her brilliant, moving songs. I began to shift “my sound” from Sonic Youth-inspired exercises to songs with chords and changes and stuff.
Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, “Don’t Make Me Over”
I’m obsessed with all things Burt, but something about his collaborations with Miss Warwick really get me in my gut. This song, in particular. I made no bones about the fact that my song “The Difference Between” on the eponymous Goldberg Sisters LP was a vain attempt to emulate the sound and changes, and while I got nowhere near it, it began to take on a life of its own. It made for an interesting challenge. I blatantly looked to Bacharach and other “standard” makers to make my song “When” from Strangers Morning LP. No doubt the song with more changes than I ever thought I’d write.
Neil Young, “Just Like a Hurricane”
Bought this album, America Stars ‘n’ Bars, in an attempt to find “Cowgirls in the Sand” on Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, before I knew the titles of his songs. But, this would have to suffice as my first Neil Young album. A girlfriend and I drove up the coast with which I’ll always associate the tumult of that song, the thick fog we’d encounter on the drive, and the storminess of the relationship, itself.
Nick Cave, “Knockin’ on Joe”
From the first Nick Cave album I bought, and from the same road trip. His songs evoked movies, much like Waits, and I always responded to music that either inspired visuals, or which put me in the role of some fucked up protagonist. His live act is maybe the best fucking thing I’ve ever seen, next to….
Tom Waits, “Shore Leave”
I don’t know where to begin with Waits…or where to end. A score for so much of my life and inspiration for an aesthetic to which I aspired. This is from the first album that would begin to forsake singer songwriter/faux “Beatnik” jazz-infused thing for the cling-clang deep, growling, surreal noir he’d paint for the second half of his career.
Elliot Smith, “Between the Bars”
Along with Sparklehorse, I think Smith’s music affected the way I would eventually come to approach songmaking. What he was able to do with just his playing, I’d certainly never achieve, but he inspired me to be quieter, to double track my vocals (whereas I was using lots of slap prior to that), but beyond all this, he simply moved me to my core. Such a devastating loss. I’ve only ever felt so gutted that I cried when an artist I did not know died four times: John Lennon, Elliott Smith, Mark Linkous, and Bowie.
Sparklehorse, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
I’m fairly sure if I had to choose one sound for one production model, it would be Linkous. His music scored some dark periods for me, and I suppose, for himself, as well. I’d always been obsessed with the sound of an amp with a “wah-wah” pedal plugged into it, while they both sat dormant. The snowy, sonic wilderness into which you could disappear when you placed your ear against the speaker of the amp. This layer, and his optigan use, which would later become an obsession of mine (was living in a hotel at one point with a suitcase and an optigan) and showed up all over my music, but this layer of analog fuzz combined with his wrenching melodies, were about as much as I could take. And, again, I suppose as much as he could.
John Lennon, “God”
Okay, okay, I sound like John Lennon. I’m not comparing myself to the man who compared himself to Jesus, but I’ve heard it countless times. The timbre of my voice, whatever. Do I like the Beatles? Yes, fuck yes. Are they clearly an influence? Yes, likely on 75% of popular music. Do I set out to sound like them? Not really, I find myself playing what I know how to play and then oops, those are the chords to Imagine. Anyway, “God.” “God” is the one. I’d love to cover “God,” including the line about Yoko. It’s the song I’d make.
The Flaming Lips, “Race for the Prize”
The Soft Bulletin kind of changed the game, I think. This idea that you could take a kind of bombastic film score approach to just good songwriting has clearly made its way into my sound. But again, at the time I was playing more power trio stuff and this was just intoxicating driving music. Through a friend, I would eventually befriend the band, particular Steven, with whom I collaborated on some of the music I made for I Love Your Work. We discovered our love for guys like Bernard Hermann and Brian Wilson. In fact, when a few years later we collaborated on a few songs for what would become the LANDy record, we would often invoke the name of Wilson’s infamous Svengali shrink when we were having hard time laying a track down.
The Beach Boys, “Surf’s Up”
Brian Wilson’s solo version of this was eventually cannibalized and tracked on top of for one of the many Beach Boys album that “borrowed” from the unfinished Smile sessions. The chords are crazy. It’s ineffable really. It’s a feeling. That track and his “Til I Die” is probably my favorite. This stuff is the apotheosis of California melancholy.
Electric Light Orchestra, “Evil Woman”
I used to hate Electric Light Orchestra. Why? I thought they were some poor man’s bastardized, disco-ized Beatles. Rick Linklater, for Dazed and Confused, gave us all tapes of music he thought our characters would be into and I got some prog shit (which I hated, though would eventually come to love live King Crimson, etc.). I pitched one take of the “I want to dance” scene, when instead of going on about becoming an ACLU lawyer, we had “Evil Woman” playing on the stereo in real life, then I lean over and turn it down, and improvised some whole rant about how Jeff Lynne thinks he’s the second coming of The Beatles, etc. Then, launch into the misanthropic “I want to dance” bit. Anyway, ironic, because I fucking love them now, and my song, “The Heart Grows Fonder,” accidentally got more and more ELO, no matter how hard I tried to stop it.
Yo La Tengo, “Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)”
This list is getting completely out of control and I gotta sleep. I just starting listening again to Yo La Tengo, their new album is gorgeous. I was hipped to them that same sweltering Madison summer. I remember distinctly listening to them in my CD Walkman headphones on the plane home, how enveloping and meditative that sound was. They would score countless anxious flights of mine. I would interchangeably play Painful and Electro-O-Pura. I was heavy into the sound of sound at that point, as mentioned, and they just seemed to tame sonic chaos, in the most ethereal and concise way. I would always marvel when I’d seem them play live how not loud the shows were, how they managed to control the feedback, the symphony of textured noise beneath the quiet melodies.
Spoon, “Everything Hits at Once”
Yeah, yeah, everyone likes Spoon now, every movie cuts up their tracks, every restaurant has them on their playlist, but I liked them first! Maybe not, but this record scored my post-9/11, post-breakup stupor, as I wandered miserable and seething sad through the NYC winter of 2001.
Nick Drake, “Fruit Tree”
I think his records were re-released around the same time as Big Star’s, or at least I discovered them the same summer of ’93 or ‘94 and both of these disparate artists would become lifelong touchstones for me. This song, in particular, is just drenched with so much beautiful sadness, it’s hard to know which emotion comes out on top.
Harry Nilsson, “You’re Breakin’ My Heart”
I mean, I wrote a song about the man. Is this his best song, his most vocally acrobatic? Probably not. Is it Harry at his most pissed? I’d like to think so. I used this track in my film, No Way Jose. Earlier that year, it popped up in an episode of Girls, though I had already had this temped in my film and, in fact, written into the script for years. I’m still bitter about it.
The Modern Lovers, “Dignified and Old”
As a counterpoint to my tattoo of Chet Baker’s “Blame it On My Youth,” I got this, my favorite, angst-ridden Modern Lovers’ track, tattooed on my forearm. I later covered it up. It was a shitty tattoo. Such a good song.
Billie Holiday, “Solitude”
She’s also tattooed on my arm. But, that was redundant, because she’d she left a forever mark on my heart from the moment I heard her as a teenager. And this song, well, it’s one of the saddest, therefore the Billie-est, no?
Leonard Cohen, “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
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