By John Moses
Greetings from Los Angeles. Admittedly, it’s been a while—perhaps too long—although I hope you’ll forgive my absence since I last wrote. The last couple of months have felt like years in themselves. Balancing the ambient dread of a pandemic with an eagerness to participate in our current generation-defining social movement, all while trying to fulfill day-to-day responsibilities as usual has gotten the best of me recently. I’ve also got a cat to feed!
Here in L.A., and all over, it seems like people are starting to think outside of themselves. I’m hopeful when I see protestors peacefully take to Hollywood Boulevard; I’m hopeful when I see middle school students march down Hinesburg Road; I’m especially hopeful when I see Charlotte Central School raise a Black Lives Matter flag in solidarity. It seems like no matter your age or understanding of the deeply complex issues taking hold of our country, many are recognizing that letting your guard down, following the golden rule, and active listening are absolutely necessary in working toward equality. It’s hard to think about anything else—the world doesn’t need any more DJs. It needs more listeners.
Did I mention I got married? The ceremony was over Microsoft Team Meetings. No matter the setting, gazing into your partner’s eyes and reciting lifelong vows is super romantic. Marrying Alison is the best decision I ever made, and I couldn’t be happier that we chose to get hitched when we did, in the comfort of our living room.
Listening plays a tremendous role in the success of my relationship and is a huge part of our everyday life as a couple (me being in radio and Alison supervising music for film and TV). Sharing sounds is truly the genesis of our partnership; our first-time meeting was at an outdoor music festival, and our first date at the now-defunct club night Low End Theory. In a celebration of our new chapter, and with a tip of the hat toward the power of active listening, I’m going to lay out some music that’s been important to both of us through the development of our affection.
I got to know Alison over a summer when I knew very few people in L.A. and had even fewer things to do with my time. My salad days, if you will, when I was interning for a few months trying to learn the ins and outs of the biz, but more so how to work a coffee machine. Through a mutual friend, we hit it off at a concert watching the future pop star Grimes (now partner of Elon Musk and mother of X Æ A-12) fiddle with a synthesizer on stage for 20 minutes, and charm the crowd as she joked about not knowing how to work her keyboard.
Like most L.A. days in June, it was a real scorcher and I was quickly burning to a crisp. Alison offered me sunscreen, a surefire way into my cold pale heart, and we talked about our mutual love for radio. In the following weeks she stalked me on Facebook, asking to hang out again. I happily obliged, and, just like that, I had a companion in discovering the ins and outs of the city.
We went to shows, tried restaurants, ate way too many cheap tacos, and, of course, hit every record store we could. I must have come back with about 75 vinyl records that summer that I hauled from hotel to hotel in an ever-stretching bright yellow plastic bag on my drive back to Vermont. While collecting these albums, Alison and I had stopped by Sick City Records, an outlet for T-shirts, records, collectibles and haircuts, with a separate dollar bin of lousy music laid out on the sidewalk outside the store. Most of their $1 selection included finds you see everywhere, like Barbara Streisand and anonymous classical records, but in this bin we found “So Good” by The Whispers, which I immediately recommended Alison pick up.
Sharing my joy of the song with Alison attributed an entirely new dimension to my appreciation. It’s sexy, it’s fun, it’s sincere, and for a while Alison and I would wonder out loud if the song is about the singer’s daughter or love interest (we now believe it’s about an adult love interest). We share different choreographed hand movements for the bass and keyboard lines. It’s our forever opus that gets better as time goes by.
Years later, after permanently moving to L.A., Alison and I were able to pick up where we left off in a more substantive way. We worked in the same section of the music industry together, connected with a shared friend group, and began to build a life together after we found our first apartment. We were a couple in every sense. Being two creative young people, we started a DJ night called Slow Dance, an event dedicated to music for squeezing your partner and staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. It was a blast.
Around this time, we formally combined our record collection and piled up titles that fit within our night’s theme. Records by Jerry Jeff Walker, Rare Silk, Cloe Martin, Linda Jones, and The Flamingos became the monthly soundtrack we celebrated over and over again. My personal favorite of our rotating adoration playlist was, and still is, Joe Cuba’s 1968 single “I’m Insane,” a slow-moving, smooth-crooning ode to feeling absolutely nuts about someone. Alison had a copy of “Lo Mejor De Joe Cuba” and spun this song relentlessly. Each time it set the tone perfectly for our dark, shadowy bar to morph into the moody, warm, chamber of desires we established together on the turntables.
There’s something especially spooky about “I’m Insane.” Perhaps it’s in the slinky vibraphone accompaniment or maybe the bridge of the song where the background vocals dip down a few notes, promising the subject of Joe Cuba’s attention that his desire is omnipresent: “I know I shouldn’t be with you, my thoughts are only you, knowing your ways, I count the days, when you’re away from me…”
The song’s subtle clash of sexy and scary ran parallel to a cliché in music supervision: pairing spooky covers of romantic pop hits with horror movie trailers, changing a song’s essence from innocent musings to murderous manifestos (see: “One Way or Another” by Blondie, “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, etc.). I’m still waiting for someone to place “I’m Insane” in the preview to the next big horror blockbuster. But for now, and always, it’ll be a song that reminds me of our individual lives folding into one another in a natural and wonderful way.
Cue dreamy harp sound effects and a wavy visual transition into the present day—Alison and I continue to share music we consider to be “our song.” Any track with a memento attached, or a strange endearing idiosyncrasy we find a shared sense of humor in, keeps us occupied for years. I love it, and I can’t wait to continue discovering more.
No new music recommendations this time around. Just listen to each other. I think it’ll pay in the long run.
Click to listen to the playlist on Spotify.
John Moses is a former Charlotter and a musical host of The Lab, a radio show on KCRW in Los Angeles (an NPR affiliate). You may reach John by email.