Who ordered the enchiladas and Motown?
Welcome inside The Food Dude kitchen, where the cook is more willing than able but the music is never boring. At least that’s what my family says to my face.
Music and cooking are both therapeutic vices for me, so I like to mix them. To keep things fresh, I create a new playlist each month to accompany the cooking I’m bound to do. Because I choose the recipes, I let the music choose me.
I've boiled down a lifetime of soundtrack-building to one basic rule: a balance of old and new. The only thing that inspires more creativity than discovering a new song is a well-placed familiar tune played loudly.
Sometimes I try to match the new music with old music I suspect influenced it. But this month I just kept my ears open. The January playlist I listened to while making enchiladas for my wife is mostly brought to you by Ferris O’Brien and Motown.
O’Brien’s The Spy FM is responsible for the vast majority of new music I hear. The January 2017 playlist bears that out. The Motown inspiration came from a recent airing of the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
I don't know if it was that first taste of red chile sauce or the surprising amount of delicious the beef filling bore, but somewhere between tastes and echoes of "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye, " "Stop in the Name of Love" by the Supremes, and "Needle in a Haystack" by The Velvettes I couldn't wishing I'd living in a time when a new Temptations and Supremes single was due as fast as they could be pressed into vinyl. What a magical world it must’ve appeared to be when all you had to do was turn your radio on and there was a better than average chance you’d hear Smokey Robinson or Martha and the Vandellas.
I wondered what kind of world we might live in had that time not had those songs to balance the tumultuous social setting it soundtracked. I wondered what kind of world we might live in had those artists not been held back by skin color. Living somewhere in between hope and tragedy 50 years later, I wondered why it's human nature to find reasons to take sides. I wondered if maybe it was some echo from our survival instinct run amok and whether the knowledge might help better manage it.
Then I heard "They Put a Body in the Bayou" by The Orwells and couldn't help noticing how much it sounded like Nine Black Alps.
While Ferris and Motown were this month's prime influences, there were a couple others I'm compelled to share. Somewhere in the middle of the month I watched the second episode of Black Mirror, the macabre anthology from the BBC able to leap The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected in a single bound. The episode, “15 Million Merits” includes a psychedelic cover of Irma Thomas’ haunting classic "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is."
Because I was still thinking about the episode, a breathtaking piece of existential dystopian science fiction, the next day the song made the list. And because Irma was a contemporary of Aretha Franklin, I added “Respect.” And because their Deep South roots triggered a reflex for Texas blues, I threw in some Guitar Slim and two of the three King of the Blues: Freddie and Albert.
I like to think this unlikely mix helped inspire something new in the enchiladas I made that night. Maybe it's what inspired me to approach calabacitas like a simple saute of mushrooms, using a hint of the umami-rich flavors of the latter dish to teach yellow squash a new dance.
As for the new music, I found plenty of stuff to push forward into future mixes. Japandroids appear to get more addictive with each new release. Same with Cloud Nothings. Each express a controlled recklessness that goes straight to your pulse. Local band Broncho’s breezy brand of droning nonsense is just the kind I love in "Jenny Loves Jenae." Kudos to Cherry Glazerr for winning the literacy award for “Nurse Ratched.”
I’m a sucker for covers, so when I stumbled upon The Crocodiles fusion of Dee-Light’s “Groove is in the Heart” with Beach Boys standard “California Girls” I couldn’t resist and I’m happy I didn’t. The same can be said of Leon Bridges’ cover of “Ball of Confusion.” Good to see Chrissy Hynde hasn’t lost it with her new stuff. Catfish and the Bottlemen appear serious. Dig the new offerings from Temples. The new Letters to Cleo just made me want to listen to the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack. “Donna” by Rubblebucket fit right in with the Motown sensibilities.
I continue to carry a torch for Shovels and Rope, perhaps inspired by their upcoming performance at Cain’s Ballroom. And because I can’t really listen to anything by Shovels and Rope without immediately wanting to hear Kacey Musgraves sings “Follow Your Arrow,” that, too, made the list.
I was in the kitchen three hours, making two kinds of enchiladas, rice and calabacitas, and this playlist made the time sail by. Part of the strategy of any smart cook is to starve your intended audience so that whatever you put in front of them tastes like it saved their life. Having a good soundtrack just heightens the fantasy. And a cheap bottle of wine that tastes expensive.
Be my guest to give this list a listen while you try your hand at enchiladas or any other kitchen excursion. And if you do, let me know what you thought.