Random Rules: Berkeley Breathed

Random Rules: Berkeley Breathed

The shuffler: Berkeley Breathed, the writer-artist behind the comic strips Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, plus a series of children's books, including A Wish For Wings That Work, Red Ranger Came Calling, and the brand-new Mars Needs Moms! Breathed shuffled his music from his home computer, telling The A.V. Club, "I don't believe in portable music any more than I believe in portable toilets."

Britney Spears, "…Baby One More Time"

Berkeley Breathed: This is a mistake. I'll take a mulligan.

Danny Elfman, "Finale," Sommersby soundtrack

Ah, good, this is what I live for. When I'm painting illustrations for a picture book, I spend some time finding the right music that matches the emotional beats I'm targeting in the story. And then while sketching and painting, it will play, set at volume level 11, over and over and over until my family is knocking—pounding—at my locked studio door, like the villagers with the pitchforks in Frankenstein. Elfman's achingly sad score oozes from the book I'm working on now, called The Thaw. I will have to be careful that the story's tone doesn't get too sad, given Elfman's input here. Come to think of it, I should put on "…Baby One More Time."

The Moody Blues, "Nights In White Satin"

BB: Oy. Ugh. Can't listen to it again. Why do I have it in my computer? It was the soundtrack to my first, uh, love life in high school. In a 1969 Mercury Cougar with wavy pinstripes I put on one morning. I keep the song like women might keep their baby hair in a locket around their necks, or guys might keep their foreskins in lumps of amber.

ABBA, "Knowing Me Knowing You"

Christ, another mistake. I've obviously imported the playlist from my idiot neighbor who shares my IP network. Mulligan.

Van Halen, "Why Can't This Be Love"

BB: Oh, a goodie. It's been playing continuously my entire marriage, because my wife knows it is the one song she can play and I will stop whatever I'm doing and air-guitar. Now my kids have discovered this weird Pavlovian-dog response, and they sneak up behind me and punch "play" while I'm on a business call with Bob Weinstein. Eddie, heal and come back.

The A.V. Club: Have you ever played Guitar Hero?

BB: Honey, why would I have to play a guitar hero? Does Tiger Woods need to play Xbox Golf God?

Elmer Bernstein, "Main Theme," To Kill A Mockingbird soundtrack

BB: A perfect creative storm of perfection: book, movie, score. It was the imaginative grease I employed while writing Red Ranger Came Calling. Fun fact: I received a letter from mysterious famed recluse, Mockingbird author Harper Lee, in 1994. No, I'm not telling you what she wrote about. Okay, a hint, and I'm not kidding: Tonya Harding.

AVC: How do you normally find soundtracks you like? Do you watch movies thinking "I'm going to have to buy this CD"?

BB: Unlike most people, I am weirdly aware of the soundtrack in a movie, the same way a porn producer is acutely aware of people's body hair as they walk around. I concoct stories in my head as they play, whole scenes playing out perfectly synched to the instrumental beats and movements, as if they were written for my story, not the movie. If you point to one of the pages in my picture books, I can tell you what piece of music from what old movie was playing while I sketched it. I've probably invited some sort of damn lawsuit with that admission.

Winston Churchill, "Their Finest Hour"

BB: It's his most famous broadcast at the darkest hours for Britain, when the Nazis were expected to be landing on the beaches. I like this popping up in the midst of the usual cacophony of pop fluff to remind me of these things: Despite 9-11, Americans have no idea what real existential fear feels like. And they have no idea what a real leader sounds like. Play this, and almost hear the air-raid sirens behind him. Ain't no movie score. Chilling. I love chilling.

AVC: Did you acquire this as part of a collection? Are there other speeches in your playlist?

BB: I have a whole playlist with Churchill's greatest hits. I have Alec Baldwin's volcanic speech to the losers in Glengarry Glen Ross. I have some old bits that John Cleese and various partners concocted. I like these sparkling jewels of sublime writing to break up the jingles, so as to keep the other half of the brain lubed.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, "Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World"

BB: Not many songs can sound desperately sad and hopeful at the same time. Who would have thought an 800-pound Hawaiian guy named Israel would nail it?

Klaus Badelt, "The Black Pearl," Pirates Of The Caribbean soundtrack

BB: This is interesting. This was what I played while I painted my latest book, Mars Needs Moms!, and it's become one of my favorite "get the juices flowing" pieces. But my kids have inherited my love of soundtracks, as they independently started demanding that this music be played. At the first notes, my 4-year-old son retrieves a pirate pistol and sword and acts out the entire movie, shooting and stabbing everyone in the family, all of whom are amused except for Pickles the pit bull.

David Gilmour, "There's No Way Out Of Here"

BB: Eric Clapton isn't God. There isn't one. But David Gilmour and Pink Floyd fill the void. My good friend Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, died shockingly early, but lived long enough to step onstage and play guitar alongside Gilmour for a birthday present. Almost worth dying young. I think of Douglas when this song pops up, and that's good.

AVC: Who arranged that present for him?

BB: Gilmour, who was a friend of Douglas'. There's something to be said for celebrityhood as a writer.

Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats"

BB: Oh. Another import from Idiot Neighbor. But if, you know, it was mine, I would probably say that I discovered it by accident on Sunday evening on a mistaken flip to AM radio. Now that it's playing right now, one has to agree that the line "She's probably up singing some white-trash version of Shania karaoke" would be enough to kindle the passing intellectual interest of an erudite Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist curious about the social pathologies of people living in places that get hit by tornados.

Motley Crüe, "Primal Scream"

BB: To hell with it. Yes, these dreadful songs are all mine and not my idiot neighbor's, and I listen to them, but not all their parts. For instance, "Primal Scream": I only listen to the first 36 seconds of growling slide Fender guitar. The rest is utter adolescent rubbish, and I run back into the comforting arms of Winston Churchill.

AVC: Okay. Which part of "…Baby One More Time" do you listen to?

BB: For Chrissake, maybe I listen to all of it, but when ABBA's "Fernando" comes on, I never let it play past that first killer chorus, which, you know, is pretty much all the "Fernando" one needs in a day. Year.

Filed Under: Music

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