This week, The A.V. Club introduces a new occasional feature, Random Rules, in which we ask our favorite rockers, writers, comedians, or whatevers to set their MP3 players to "shuffle" and comment on the first few tracks that come up. No faking us out with cool playlists or skipping embarrassing tracks is allowed, so you, the reader, will be given access into the uncensored, private world of someone else's music library. Can you handle that much truth?
The shuffler: David Berman of Silver Jews. Berman's song "Random Rules" inspired the name of this feature, but he doesn't own his own iPod, so The A.V. Club let him bend the rules slightly by using his wife Cassie's instead. Though he notes, "I've had a real influence on her, so I think this'll work out fine. Do you want me to just, like… say the song to you and then free-associate?" Exactly.
Don Williams, "Amanda"
David Berman: Cassie likes Don Williams a lot. To me, he's very much of a lullaby-singer-type guy. When Will Oldham was down here doing Greatest Palace Music, he wanted to get Don Williams to sing on it, and we tried and we tried… And then we were trying for Dolly Parton. We went over to her studio complex and threw a penny over the wall. We couldn't get through to either one of them.
Phil Lee, "You Should Have Known Me Then"
DB: Phil Lee is this local guy who's like 52 that Cassie and I really love. He's not very well known, but he has this record—this isn't on that record—The Mighty King Of Love, which is just a great country-rock record. It was his first record, like, four years ago. He drummed on one of those very late concoctions of the Burrito Brothers that only included the janitor from the original band. But he's amazing, and he has this kind of spirit that reminds me of David Yow [of The Jesus Lizard]; he kind of looks like David Yow, and he has long hair. He has this amazing voice that is just so… the best.
The White Stripes, "Offend In Every Way"
DB: I love this song, I think. Bob [Nastanovich] told me about them years ago when they opened for Pavement, and I remember I was at his house and he put the record on really loud—the first record—and then I didn't hear about them until this record came out. I think that the character that Jack White puts on, the bitchy guy in the pince-nez from the old films, is hilarious. A lot of his character takes—which is all I assume that he's doing; I don't feel like I had a meeting with the man behind the voice when I hear his songs—are amazing. They're like these clueless, kind of obtuse wizards, and they're very bitchy and extremely interesting.
Lee Ann Womack, "I Hope You Dance"
DB: I really think Lee Ann Womack has an amazing voice, and I was really disappointed when I found out she was a Republican. I saw her once in the lobby of the Hermitage Hotel here [in Nashville]. I really love this song. There was a country version, I guess, and a pop version. I think they both have background vocals by this kind of also-ran country threesome called Sons Of The Desert. It's really cool. They sang, "Time is a wheel in constant motion." I can't remember the next word, but they sing it in counterpoint to her in this really interesting way. To me, it seems like a waterwheel going backward, but…
The A.V. Club: Was there more to that story about seeing her at the hotel?
DB: It was a party for Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose album. I just was interested that she was sitting by herself in this huge, crowded lobby with, like 300 people. There was another time with Reba McEntire in the gym… I'd gone swimming, and I think she was waiting for her kids to come out of hockey practice. I've always been attracted to cross-eyed women, and I figured out years ago that it had to do with some childhood belief that cross-eyed women got that way from giving a lot of oral sex. Anyway, she was in the gym that day, and… This story's going nowhere. I just sat on a bench across the way and felt really creepy.
AVC: You didn't approach her at all?
DB: No. I should've. But Ginger, of Gilligan's Island… When I was a guard at the Whitney Museum, there was a party, and Tina Louise was there, and I was on duty by the elevators, and maybe she was just bored or whatever, but I felt like there was a real chemical attraction between us, and she pretty much sat next to me for the whole party.
Shania Twain, "Come On Over"
DB: I love Shania. Shania Twain's singles on that Come On Over record influenced my own playing, as far as emphasis and stuff. She's not here in town very much; they stay up on this mountain in Switzerland. I just see [Twain and producer/husband "Mutt" Lange] on top of the world on this mountain, making this pretty great music. I like that song, "That Don't Impress Me Much." She kinda does these talking parts in the middle, and I think of it as, like, this place where music bumped up against Hollywood romantic comedies.
Aztec Camera, "The Crying Scene"
DB: I actually asked Cassie to download this song, because I really liked Aztec Camera when their first record came out. Roddy Frame was famous at 16, and writing heart-on-his-sleeve poetry, you know, written to girls in berets, and it's very overflowing and somewhat embarrassing to listen to. I was thinking about them, so I bought their greatest hits, and "The Crying Scene," the comeback song for them—which I thought was an amazing song—wasn't on the greatest hits. And I just thought, "No one even cares. No one probably even knows that this song isn't on it." And then I listened to the rest of the songs and I realized why. So I said, "Will you go fetch this song off the computer? Will you go to the music well?"
The shuffler: Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service. Death Cab will launch a co-headlining tour with Franz Ferdinand this April and will soon release videos for each of the songs on its latest disc, Plans.
Emitt Rhodes, "She's Such A Beauty"
Ben Gibbard: He was like a singer-songwriter guy—very, very, very Paul McCartney-esque, almost to the point where you go, "Are we listening to Paul McCartney?" It's pretty derivative, but at the same time, he dodged a lot of the showtunes-y elements of Wings. This song's on his… I think it's his first solo record, which is the really good one. Everything else I've heard by him has paled in comparison.
Jandek, "Message To The Clerk (Part 2)"
BG: My iPod's cooler than me right now! My intro to Jandek was through my girlfriend, Joan. They're both from Houston and I remember her at some point bringing up Jandek and me being like, "Who the hell is Jandek?" She gave me the whole backstory about this reclusive, secret singer-songwriter that makes these weird records. At some point a couple of years ago, I bought three Jandek records and realized at that point that I really only needed one.
Jack Kerouac, "The Sounds Of The Universe Coming In My Window"
BG: I guess for touring musicians… The urge to be on the road is inspired by the desire to share music as much as the romance of travel and wild friends in crazy places. I still kind of feel like doing punk-rock, indie-rock tours in the States—and it's obviously changed for us—is the closest thing to that Beat sense of being in constant motion. It's so fun to roll into Milwaukee and see the friends you only see once or twice a year, going out and getting drinks and catching up or whatever. Time stood still between the last time you saw them, and nobody complains, "Why haven't you called or written me an email?" To me, in my romantic mind, I associate that with the way travel was for the Beats in the '40s and '50s.
Pink Floyd, "A Saucerful Of Secrets"
BG: Continuing the hip trend… I hope the Third Eye Blind track on here doesn't pop up next, though actually that might be kind of cool. This is the real transitional record from Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd into the Dark Side Of The Moon era. Barrett's on like half the record; I think when they were recording was when they stopped picking him up for gigs, if I recall correctly. It's not my favorite Pink Floyd record, but it's certainly better than Atom Heart Mother.
One Be Lo, "Wake Up (Original)"
BG: My knowledge of hip-hop is pretty pathetic, but I saw this guy open for Blue Scholars, which is this Seattle-based hip-hop group that I like. I wouldn't be able to tell you what this track sounds like; it's been a while.
Guided By Voices, "Man Called Aerodynamics"
BG: This was the first Guided By Voices record that I bought. In college, Guided By Voices was a band that I would hear about… I think I just went out and bought Under The Bushes Under The Stars cold, thinking, "Well, people that like music that I do seem to like this band, maybe I'll go check them out." I think because it's the first one I heard, it's probably my favorite. They're now one of my favorite bands; you can't deny Guided By Voices.
The shuffler: Eugene Mirman, the "indie-rock comedian" who's opened for Modest Mouse, The Shins, and Yo La Tengo. A leading light of the current New York comedy scene, and a really funny guy. His new album (and first for Sub Pop), En Garde, Society!, will be released in May.
The Soft Boys, "I Got The Hots"
Eugene Mirman: You literally don't ask me anything, and I'm supposed to just… Well, The Soft Boys is Robyn Hitchcock's first band, which I really like. I love Robyn Hitchcock's sort of sincerity and absurdity meshed into one. And lots of the songs are pretty. And funny.
Buddy Holly, "That'll Be The Day"
EM: Buddy Holly, as you know, created the traditional lineup of bass, guitar, drums, and then vocalist and maybe rhythm guitar or something, and that helped everybody. And I like Buddy Holly a lot. I like a lot of '50s stuff, like The Coasters, Buddy Holly, The Bobby Fuller Four. I know that [Buddy Holly]'s still alive. He lives here in Park Slope. A lot of people don't know that. But I could be mistaking him for hundreds of writers.
Billy Joel, "Sleeping With The Television On"
EM: I don't really know that song, but I do know the one that goes, "You may be right, I may be crazy." I'm not mad at Billy Joel, I like that song and I have that CD because of it, but I don't really know this one. I don't feel guilty for enjoying the song about being crazy. Plus everybody likes to hear it when you play it at a bar.
Mötley Crüe, "Come On And Dance"
EM: I grew up listening to lots of heavy metal. And yet I still respect women, so it didn't really damage me too much. In this song, I believe he wants people to come on and dance. And I think he succeeds. My guess is I've never really danced to it. Sometimes late at night, I might. I wouldn't be ashamed to dance to Crüe.
Imperial Teen, "Ivanka"
EM: I saw them at South By Southwest, like, five years ago and I really liked them, and I got the album On, which I enjoy a lot. Very fun. Sort of catchy, poppy, pretty album. And then recently I found out that the guy's main band was Faith No More. I think that's true. Or a totally unnecessary rumor. I don't have much to say, but it's a good time.
Emo Philips, "A Dreamy Dilemma"
EM: Oh, here we go! I loved Emo as a kid. He was my favorite comic, and I used to listen to his two records all the time, and now I have them on one convenient CD in my iPod. His jokes are very art-and-crafty. He had stuff about [Thomas] Aquinas, which I didn't totally get as a kid, but eventually I did. And then the stuff that I did get, I really enjoyed. But he was very different from the sort of seemingly traditional comedy about dating or whatever.
Belle And Sebastian, "You Made Me Forget My Dreams"
EM: Um, unless something triggers a high-school memory, all my descriptions are gonna be like, "It's a pretty song!" You know, actually, I do have something good to say about Belle And Sebastian. I saw them at Town Hall and they brought a girl onstage and they asked her what song she wanted to sing, and I believe she chose the duet ["Lazy Line Painter Jane"]. And it was amazing; she sang a duet with the lead singer of Belle And Sebastian. And she did a very good job and everybody cheered, because it was so exciting. It was very charming. And I believe that one of them maybe also did an impression of Elvis Costello singing. So they were fun live, and I always appreciated that, that they made some girl's dreams come true.
Jethro Tull, "Up The Pool"
EM: I have lots of Jethro Tull because I also am mad at organized religion. When I was in high school, I really liked Jethro Tull, and I still enjoy it. I think that I really loved and identified with their brand of arrogant orchestral rock. They do have a fair number of songs about religion being hijacked. Though I wasn't very religious or surrounded by it, I always was like "Yeah!" [Laughs.] I really extra-agreed with it.
Alina Simone, "Track Seven"
EM: She's a friend of mine from high school who just finished recording her album and is now shopping it around, and I believe her EP was well-received by Pitchfork and various things. She's also Russian and my first friend from elementary school. I just got it from her a few days ago, so I haven't heard the album, but track seven seems like a great one.
Jethro Tull, "Aqualung"
EM: [Laughs.] I believe his wife wrote the lyrics to this, so that's good. "Salvation à la mode and a cup of tea." That's a line from it.
EM: I don't think I know the song specifically, but I'm from Boston. I still love their first handful of albums, because they're great indie-ish rock 'n' roll. I bet if Aerosmith's first or second album came out right now, people would really regard it well in the indie community, and then in general it would become a hit.
Aerosmith, "No Surprise"
EM: Off of the same album, Night In The Ruts. And in that album title, they switch, I believe, the R and the N, so it's a joke about "right in the nuts." That's right before they broke up and then reformed to later release Done With Mirrors, and then of course the smash Permanent Vacation.
The Velvet Underground, "The Murder Mystery"
EM: It's funny that more Velvet Underground didn't come on, 'cause I do have a great deal of it. There's lots of Aerosmith and Jethro Tull, but it is dwarfed by the box sets that Velvet Underground release every few years. When I heard The Velvet Underground, I decided to become a comedian. I think The Velvet Underground are very funny in a very specific way that I do actually really admire and love. I think each one of these things that I like at different times convey a spirit of something that I really like in art from either being fun or very poignant or interesting or whatever. That's mainly the common thread. Though at one point it was "Yo Mamma" by Aerosmith, because of its furious riff. And now it might be "Beginning To See The Light."
The shuffler: Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, who's currently at work on the follow-up to 2004's commercial breakthrough Good News For People Who Love Bad News. After shuffling, Brock revealed to The A.V. Club that he's been writing songs for the new record with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. We were shocked and delighted, too.
Frank Black, "The Vanishing Spies"
Isaac Brock: Not one of my favorite songs off that record, but it's not bad. His solo albums are kind of hit-or-miss. At first, I felt like it was kind of wanky in a weird way, and then after I listened to it, I was like, "This is fucking great." Most of the songs on Teenager Of The Year were pretty damn good, like that song "Headache." That's a fuckin' great song. Probably the reason I bought the record—actually, I was gonna buy the record whether there's any good songs on it or not. I fuckin' love that guy. I haven't bought the last couple he's done. I'm sure I will. I haven't really had time to be in a record store buying shit for a while, to be honest.
Grandaddy, "Laughing Stock"
IB: I really, really love a lot of Grandaddy stuff. This wouldn't be one of 'em. It's a little sleepy. Jim [Fairchild] from Grandaddy was playing with us live for a while; I'd like to keep that going on. He's a great dude. Did you ever hear the fuckin' record that they did as a joke? They gave it to their record label around the time The Sophtware Slump came out. [Recording under the name] Arm Of Roger, it was a joke that they did, but it's actually better than, I think, the record that they did put out. They turned it in as a joke and it's got some great songs, like "Robot Escort." It's fuckin' good stuff.
Butthole Surfers, "Negro Observer"
IB: This is a fucking amazing record [Psychic… Powerless… Another Man's Sac]. At points in time, I felt really uncomfortable listening to it, 'cause it's called "Negro Observer" and you're trying to read in, you know, what the fuck it's about. To this day I'm not sure, but it's one of those things where you can fill it in to make yourself feel good. Maybe it's about people watching over African-Americans and shit, being suspicious. Some of [the early Butthole Surfers albums were] just gross and comedy, but I think this record was really fucking solid. It's one of the better fucked-up punk records out. The guitar on that fucking record is really cool, the singing on it is fucking weird as hell. This album sounds like a cross between good punk and goth and cowboy music.
Grateful Dead, "Cumberland Blues"
IB: The only Grateful Dead album I own, Workingman's Dead, which has that song, "Ridin' that train, high on cocaine." I've always had a fucking real issue with the Dead, to be honest, because Dead fans, there's plenty of 'em, and they fucking suck. I found out a friend of mine had been to, like, 40 shows, which bothered me, but I really respect him, so I was like, "Okay, what's one record by the Grateful Dead that I should get that won't annoy me?" It's an all-right record, actually.
The Skatalites, "Don De Lion"
IB: I never actually listen to this for any reason except for background music, but The Skatalites are fucking good. I don't know much about them. I ended up buying a bunch of ska on vinyl. Pick a name, any miscellaneous ska name, or just make up a name that sounds like a ska band. That's about as much as I know about it.
IB: When I was a kid, this guy I knew, he lived in an apartment next to me, and I traded him some Screaming Trees singles for a Dodge Dart. I think I got the better deal; at times it's hard to tell. He had some skate 'zine, and he'd hand me a stack of cassettes and say, "Hey, would you review these for my 'zine?" I was like, "Yeah, free music!" One of those tapes was Bedhead's Whatfunlifewas, one of my favorite records. It's really beautiful. It's really gentle nice stuff, and somehow manages to maintain being gentle and rock really hard. I think I tried ripping off these guys' style on a song when I was 18. One of the other records I got turned out to be another of my favorite records of all time, Red Red Meat's Bunny Gets Paid.
Bob Dylan, "Gates Of Eden"
IB: What the fuck can you say? Bob Dylan.
Belle And Sebastian, "It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career"
IB: These guys have catchy songs. I just wish they weren't such a one-fuckin'-trick pony.
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, "Bhindi Bhagee"
IB: This is a surprisingly good fucking record for where that guy was at in his career, especially considering all the world-music vibey attitude. You can completely fuck a record up by trying to get all international with it and start incorporating shit you have no understanding of. It starts feeling like some sort of TV teaser on the Discovery Channel or fuckin' National Geographic Channel for a vacation package, some shit like that. But this record was fucking great, a good one to just get stoned and fuckin' listen to.
Love As Laughter, "The Square"
IB: Love As Laughter is one of my favorite fucking bands, but I hate this song. Actually, hate's the wrong word. I just don't enjoy it. I fuckin' love so much of what that dude does. It's always kind of baffled me. I always felt like he was one of the more underrated songwriters out there, but this song doesn't fall into that category.
Daft Punk, "Phoenix"
IB: This is a fucking good one. It's a song of big ups. It's just a list of who's in the house, and it rules. I've never enjoyed hearing who's in the house more than I do on this song.
Andre Nickatina, "Ghost Of Fillmoe"
IB: A rapper from the Bay area… I think that's where he's from. I can't ever tell if I'm psyched or annoyed by the things that he uses as samples, like "Okay, Irish folk band with this weird dude rapping over it!" It's hard to tell sometimes if it's actually a good idea. Production level's a little low. It actually seems like he's involved in the production himself. Hats off, kudos, so on and so forth, but maybe he should call a friend. Get a little help fixing that up.
The shuffler: Comedian-actor David Cross, co-creator and star of Mr. Show; angrily heartfelt stand-up; Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development, and the man who gets Larry The Cable Guy all riled up. Oh, and one of the funniest people ever.
David Cross: What's this? I know he's saying "What can make a nigger do something." Oh, this is a good song! This is the "drinkin' again" song, where all the alcohol is being poured. Oh yeah, it's the question mark! That's the name. The title is the question mark.
DC: My feelings? I guess this makes me feel humble, and proud. Plaintive, ummm… Strong. Full of hope and pussy-whipped at the same time.
Crooked Fingers, "Doctors Of Deliverance"
DC: Absolutely one of my all-time favorite albums [Bring On The Snakes] ever. I wrote a screenplay that never got made—it got close, but ultimately never happened—and I wanted [Crooked Fingers' Eric Bachmann] to score it. It was kind of about unrequited love quadrangles and trying desperately to belong. It was funny; you would've laughed a lot, but it wasn't necessarily what you'd call a comedy. Poignant slice-of-lifeness.
DC: Another good one. I got fucking awesome taste in music, as the first four of my 3,497 songs that came up on shuffle will dictate. I've gone on a couple of killing sprees—this is off the record—but this is the song I always listen to.
R.E.M., "We Walk"
DC: Anything from Murmur is very evocative of my youth and kind of becoming a person, y'know? The idea of not fitting in and trying to fit in is pretty much the summation of my youth in Georgia. When I was kinda coming of age and that whole Atlanta/Athens music scene was happening, I had friends who were in bands and I had my fake ID and I'd go into shows at 688 and The Bistro. That's a feeling that I never really got over.
DJ Shadow, "Changeling"
DC: God, what a fucking great… I have amazing taste in music! This album is unbelievable, fucking great, not one bad second on there. If you played it now for people that are doing stuff influenced by DJ Shadow, it's still better than that stuff.
DC: I'm kinda over this particular song, actually. They've got that vocoder thing going. I think they should re-release it without that vocoder effect and give it another couple years of shelf life.
The Streets, "Who Dares Wins"
DC: Another great album. I'm so excited for his next album. Have you ever seen The Streets live? That kid is a spitfire! Bundle of English energy!
AVC: His accent sounds fake.
DC: That's because you were brought up on shitty movies.
Guided By Voices, "Buzzards And Dreadful Crows"
DC: [Bee Thousand] was the first Guided By Voices CD that I had. I got it, listened to it, and didn't really think about it or care about it either way. Then I had a gig in Irvine, and I was running late and grabbed a bunch of CDs and threw 'em in my car—that was one of 'em. I was playing it on the way back from the gig, and I was like, "Holy shit, this is amazing!" I had to look at the cover, like, "Who is this? This is great!" Then I became a huge fan. Same thing kinda happened with the first Pavement record. I bought some stuff for a drive down the PCH, from San Francisco back to L.A., and my little tradition when I was up there working… I would come back down and get really high and jacked-up on coffee and get a bunch of CDs. I bought that one and listened to it and was like, "This sucks! What the fuck is this?" I was angry. And then it came back around on my disc changer and I heard it that second time, and it was genius. Pure genius.
The Who, "Hall Of The Mountain King"
DC: They were my first favorite band, and I even went so far as to dress kinda mod-ish in high school—porkpie hat with buttons. I'd spray-paint "The Who" everywhere. I probably saw The Kids Are Alright 15 times, Quadrophenia 10 times… I went and saw them when I was 18, took a road trip because they didn't go to Atlanta, and then bribed a guy who worked at their hotel to get me a passkey. To get on the top floor, you had to put your key in the elevator, and there was a security guard. So I flashed him the key, went up there, actually opened up Pete Townshend's room—prior to that, John Entwistle held the elevator for me, and I was shitting my pants the whole time—then I got scared and ran away. I could see [Townshend's] leg and hand, and the TV was on.