Music To Live By – Rich Zahradnik

• “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. I was in high school from 1974 to 1978. The music was awful—disco and hair bands (Foreigner, Styx, Kansas). I discovered Springsteen and he saved me from all that. He mixed the DNA of an old-school rock and roll band with a new, powerful sound. And such great stories. As a writer, I’m drawn as much or more to the lyrics as I am to the music. It was only after setting the Coleridge Taylor series in the seventies that I realized I could have Taylor discover Springsteen and gravitate to him for somewhat similar reasons, though Taylor is older than I was at the time. At the same time, he got to discover punk a few years before I did.

• “The Best of Warren Zevon: A Quiet Normal Life.” Both Springsteen and the late Zevon wrote dark songs (and Springsteen still does), but only Zevon wrote weird in a way you could see it, feel it, even if you didn’t want to. It’s perhaps cheap of me to pick a greatest hits disc, but aside from “Werewolves of London,” these were never greatest hits for very many people. “Lawyers Guns and Money” and “Roland the Headless Thomson Gunner” – both noir rock and roll. The one song of his I wish were on here is “Carmelita,” a tune that, like many, helps me write faster.

• “Coming Up For Air” by David Massengill. This 1992 folk album by a master of the long story-song probably won’t be known by many. One song is about an illegal immigrant running from the INS and another about the decades long battle for civil rights that starts with the Freedom Riders moves to a KKK march in the present day of the song and ends asking if crosses will be burned on the White House lawn when a Black is president. All in 1992. Prescient writing.

• “The Crane Wife” by the Decemebrists. Tough to pick among their albums. They have a powerful folk-mixed-with-rock sound that also gets me writing. The lyrics often feel like they were dictated by Melville’s ghost. I am a storyteller obsessed with story, all sorts of stories. Not just books written in my genre. Not just books. This, like every recording that made it on here, has great stories.

• “I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen. The late master was both poet and storyteller. I want to read the novel that is “Everybody Knows.”

• “The Honesty Room” by Dar Williams. True folk. True tales. “When I Was A Boy” and “Alleluia” are particular favorites.

“Cry Cry Cry” by Cry Cry Cry. Williams (above), Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky formed a folk supergroup for this one album and to great effect. The deathbed confession of “Cold Missouri Waters” is the best track on an album that also includes great covers (REM’s “Fall on Me”). Cry Cry Cry came back together as group for the first time in 19 years at the Great Hudson River Revival in June and were right on it.

• “Blonde on Blonde” by Bob Dylan. Or one of his 247 other albums. I have to include a Nobel Prize winner on my list. Seriously, his influence runs through many of my other choices.

• “The Felice Brothers” by The Felice Brothers. The band comes from the Catskills, across the Hudson River from where I grew up, and turned Hillbilly Noir into music. Guns, stolen money, revenge, “Whiskey in my Whiskey” and “Murder by Mistletoe.” They’d be welcome at any Bouchercon.

• “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen. Twenty-seven years after “Born to Run,” Springsteen produced another “greatest album of his career” with a moving, powerful Kodachrome take on 9/11 and America after the attack. Dangerous territory. Easy to stumble. A lesson to anyone writing about the most difficult subjects.

• I must leave off 11-100 as I’m out of space. I have 23 days worth of music on my computer, boxes of vinyl downstairs and probably some CDs I never did get to rip. Picking wasn’t easy.