5 things – Hannah Donovan

The brief: Tell us about 5 songs *and/or* films. It could be the ones you think are the greatest. Or that move you most. Or that are under-appreciated. Something along those lines.

The people: Webstock speakers and assorted Webstock people.

Today with Hannah Donovan, who writes, “Here’s five songs – most of which have also been my jams – that say “Hi Webstock People!” by way of introducing myself, and also relate to what I’ll be speaking about. Enjoy!”

Goldberg Variations 15 by J.S. Bach – performed by Glenn Gould

To me, Bach represents order, structure and peace. The Goldberg Variations in particular. People who know me well call this my “morning music” because I only listen to Bach at that time of day. Often while I write. It’s music for starting off with, gathering your thoughts, restoring balance. I’m also a big believer an habit for creativity.

***Flawless by Beyoncé ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

This, because it was the biggest musical surprise to happen to me in 2013. Beyoncé is one of the most interesting musicians working today and an incredible role model. Love. A much younger me would have eschewed pop music for not being cool enough or whatever, but that’s totally against my core beliefs about creativity today – that you need to let the unexpected in. Also, the message, the aesthetics, that dancing.


Musician by Homeboy Sandman

Besides discussing the hard stuff that anyone who creates for a living thinks about: legacy, aspiration and prolificacy to name a few – the main subject is something I’m sure we’ve all felt – being put “in a box” for what you make. (Sorry pop music! I’m making up for it now!) Related to the issue of conformity and acceptance within one’s area, is an anecdote I heard from Congolese-Belgian hip hop artist Baloji the other day on NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast (featured at 20:45) – he says “hip hop is the most conservative genre of music I’ve ever encountered”. I love hip hop, and I also think that’s a wonderful lens to look at the industries we work in and the art we consume.

Dirty Laundry by Kelly Rowland

This dark tune for the sheer courage it must have taken for Kelly to show this much vulnerability and record this song. ‘Nuff said.

Luda Goes To Church And I DL Lex Luger’s Drum Kit by Jonwayne

I love the irreverence of this track, and I also love it for its unconventional use of organ. There are two times in my life I thought, Damn, pipe organ! One was playing in the cello section of Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings, the other was listening to this. Doesn’t it just make you want to run into one of those old European cathedrals, crank this, and get down?

5 things – Aarron Walter

The brief: Tell us about 5 songs *and/or* films. It could be the ones you think are the greatest. Or that move you most. Or that are under-appreciated. Something along those lines.

The people: Webstock speakers and assorted Webstock people.

Today with Aarron Walter, who writes, “These are five of my favorite albums in my collection. I chose them because they’ve taught me something about creative thinking, collaboration, and taking chances.”

Son House: Father of Folk Blues

Son House

Contrary to legend, Satan didn’t give Robert Johnson private guitar lessons; Son House did. House’s influence has been felt by everyone from Muddy Waters to The White Stripes and so many in between. Despite his influence, there are precious few recordings of his work. In 1965 he laid down some killer tracks for Columbia.

I love the storytelling on Death Letter Blues, and the depth of the sound Son House extracts from his dobro.

His acapella track, Grinnin’ in Your Face, reminds us not to listen to our critics, but to just do your thing. Sage advice packaged in masterful music.

James Brown: Grits and Soul

James Brown

I love James Brown for his hustle and unending, funky passion. But when you think of the Godfather of Soul, images of sweat and capes come to mind, not swingin’ organs (not that kind of organ). But that’s what you’ll find on Soul and Grits. These instrumentals shake rumps with an early ’60s swing ala Austin Powers. I didn’t see that comin’.

Charles Mingus: Ah Um

Charles Mingus

This record is church. It’s moved by the spirit, and explodes with joy before becoming reflective and somber. “Better Git It In Your Soul” is inspired by gospel singing and preaching of the sort that Mingus would have heard as a kid growing up in Watts, Los Angeles, California.

While “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is a reference (by way of his favored headgear) to saxophonist Lester Young (who had died shortly before the album was recorded).

It’s clear that Mingus put his heart and soul into this record, and for that I love it.

Milt Jackson and Ray Charles: Soul Brothers

Soul Brothers

This record is full of surprises. Vibraphone virtuoso Milt Jackson, best known for his work in the Modern Jazz Quartet, absolutely shreds on guitar (who knew?!) and even plays piano on this record. Considering he’s collaborating with Ray Charles here, that’s kind of amazing. Did you know Ray Charles played alto saxophone? Yeah, me neither, but he does here while Milt backs on piano. No vocals here. No Ray Charles hits. This record will show you what real creative collaboration is all about. These guys give and take, experiment, and venture out of their comfort zones to create a brilliant piece of wax.

The Quintet: Jazz at Massy Hall


Jazz at Massey Hall captures a historic live performance by “the Quintet” given on 15 May 1953 at Massey Hall in Toronto. The quintet was composed of five pioneers of bop: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. It was the only time that the five men recorded together as a unit, and it was the last recorded meeting of Parker and Gillespie. Due to contractual agreements with other record labels, Charlie Parker is listed as “Charlie Chan” on the record.

This is quite possibly the most amazing recorded jazz performance ever.

5 things – Dan Saffer

The brief: Tell us about 5 songs *and/or* films. It could be the ones you think are the greatest. Or that move you most. Or that are under-appreciated. Something along those lines.

The people: Webstock speakers and assorted Webstock people.

Today with Dan Saffer.

These Fangs – Say Hi To Your Mom

A song about vampires that is really about acceptance and vulnerability.

I Let It Go – The Thermals

There was a dark period in my life where I listened to this song on repeat, yelling its lyrics until my voice was hoarse. It helped pull me through. Sometimes you do have to let it go, and what that it is is your sense of self, of who you should be.

All You Need is Love – The Beatles

I have often considered getting a tattoo of the lyric “No where you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.” Profound wisdom from a trifle of a song.

Devil Town – Bright Eyes

A cover of the Blues great Daniel Johnson. “Turns out I was a vampire myself.” (I really didn’t mean for there to be a vampire theme to these songs.)

You Got Yr Cherry Bomb – Spoon

The song that according to a decade of data from Last.fm is the song I actually listen to the most.

5 things – Maciej Ceglowski

The brief: Tell us about 5 songs *and/or* films. It could be the ones you think are the greatest. Or that move you most. Or that are under-appreciated. Something along those lines.

The people: Webstock speakers and assorted Webstock people.

Today with Maciej Ceglowski.

Happy Birthday – Russian style

America may be the most powerful nation on Earth, but its “Happy Birthday” song is almost as insipid as its national anthem. Compare the Happy Birthday technology enjoyed by the Russians:

The song orignally appeared in the animated series “Cheburashka”, but is now universally used. Gena the crocodile sings about how a magician will land in a blue helicopter, show everyone a movie for free, and leave 500 eskimo bars as a birthday gift. Too bad birthdays only come once a year! And Gena the crocodile is right.

Changes – KINO

To continue the theme of Russians having better music, while the West had to endure the Scorpions’ “Winds of Change” as the price for bringing down the Berlin wall, the Russians got to listen to KINO:

Our hearts demand change
Our eyes demand change
In our laughter, our tears
And in the pulsing of our veins
We’re waiting for change

Viktor Tsoi was the real deal—a punk, slacker and thorn in the side of the State who radiated cool. Tsoi wrote underground hits in a country where “underground” was not a safe marketing phrase, and rebellion was not a pose. Tragically, Tsoi died in an auto accident in 1991.

Shave your Beard – Ros Serysothea

This song is a window into a different world, before the Cambodian genocide. Rock and roll hit Cambodia in the 1960’s, and the Cambodians ran with it, producing an amazing and eerie sound. I find it beautiful but impossible to listen to without thinking of the awfulness that followed.

Casablanca Moon – Slapp Happy

Dagmar Krause, lead singer of Slapp Happy, is another source of amazing and eerie sound.

Black raven – Balagan

And for something older:

In Soviet times, folk music was sanitized and schmaltzed up past all recognition. The real stuff is a capella and sounds kind of spooky. This Cossack song has several elements typical of Russian folk singing-high overtones, strange intervals, a soloist that starts each verse, voices coming in and out with a kind of ‘wall of sound’ effect, and lyrics padded out with vowels for effect. A black raven brings back a golden ring; recognizing the ring, the woman knows that her lover has been killed in battle. Typical stuff. You can imagine hearing this on level 200 of Tetris. There’s a nice duet version on YouTube, too:

5 things – Sha Hwang

The brief: Tell us about 5 songs *and/or* films. It could be the ones you think are the greatest. Or that move you most. Or that are under-appreciated. Something along those lines.

The people: Webstock speakers and assorted Webstock people.

Today with Sha Hwang – who’s cheated a little and gone with a double-bill format!

The Fall

The Fall is not a perfect film, but no movie that looks this good should be. It’s a film that defies belief — made over years, largely financed by the director Tarsem, shot in locations all over the world (if you need a bucket list for places to visit, this is it). A labor of love, both of filmmaking and of the staggering beauty of nature, of harsh deserts and ragged mountains.

To be paired with The Fountain,

another equally ambitious and hopelessly flawed film. The film stars work by Peter Parks, who uses macrophotography of particles in liquid to simulate galaxies, space, stars. In his words, “you feel like you’re looking at infinity.


I am a total and complete sucker for Michael Mann movies, and Heat is no exception. It’s a simple cop and robber movie but blown out into epic proportions, soaked in the sun of Los Angeles. For me though, it all comes down to the sound design during the pivotal heist scene. There’s a trend with pop songs getting louder and louder, filling quiet with noise, and movies these days are similar. But in the buildup there is only the barest of scoring, and when the shooting starts, everything shakes (the screenplay apparently reads: World War III ERUPTS). Beautiful.

To be paired with The Dark Knight,

whose opening scene references Heat quite a bit.


And on the complete other end of the spectrum, there’s JCVD, with Jean-Claude Van Damme playing Jean-Claude Van Damme. That’s really all I need to say, right? It’s hilarious, silly, and honestly kind of touching.

To be paired with the trailer for Femme Fatale,

which is the entire film, fastforwarded, another very meta piece of work.


One of my favorite small scale movies, though, is Brick by Rian Johnson. Tight and focused it is a high school neonoir played with a straight face, and through its crackling dialogue it actually works. Not to mention that it features the ever amazing JGL.

To be paired with Chronicle,

another recent genre film set in high school, but with superpowers instead of gumshoes.

25th hour

And finally, 25th Hour. It is, again, not a perfect movie — it’s long and drawn out, a little messy sometimes, but it holds an incredibly special place in my heart. When I first moved to New York in 2007 I watched it the night I got in, and felt nostalgic for a place I didn’t even know yet. And when Rachel and I moved back to New York a few months ago, we watched it together. It’s an incredible portrait of a city, and now, again, it’s home.

To be paired with a long walk through a city you love.