I like music. I have a lot of music. And one of my specialties in life is making themed mixes for my friends. This activity allows me to play with juxtaposition, and get kind of nerdy about rare bands and off-the-wall themes, and proselytize about my favorite musicians. Occasionally I will post the mixes here and try to make some larger point about music and culture. But really, I’ll just be showing off (and, sure, trying to incite some conversation about your own suggestions for the theme).

Today this article appeared on SFGate. The headline intrigued me, so I clicked through and then became irate. Irate, I tell you! Partly because this list is terrible – “California Gurls”? SERIOUSLY? – and partly because my most recent masterpiece was a collection of songs about food, so I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. So, herewith, my track listing for the two-volume collection “Gastromusica”:

Part One – Savory

  1. Billie Holiday – Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer)
  2. Louis Prima – Closer to the Bone
  3. Guy Clark – Homegrown Tomatoes
  4. Sandman & Jen Grady – Ballad of a Salad
  5. Elvis Presley – Polk Salad Annie
  6. Otis Redding – Shake
  7. Carole King – Chicken Soup with Rice
  8. Frank Black – Song of the Shrimp
  9. Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down
  10. Billy Joe Shaver – Chicken on the Ground
  11. Robert Earl Keen – Barbeque
  12. Lucinda Williams – Jambalaya (live Hank Williams cover)
  13. The Texas Tornados – Guacamole
  14. Rube Waddell – Tamale Lady
  15. Eric Clapton – They’re Red Hot (Robert Johnson cover)
  16. The Mountain Goats – Yam, the King of Crops
  17. Ween – Pork Roll Egg & Cheese
  18. Guttermouth – Chicken Box
  19. Drive-By Truckers – Mama Bake a Pie (Tom T. Hall cover)
  20. Nerf Herder – Easy Mark
  21. Barenaked Ladies – If I Had a Million Dollars
  22. The Beets – Killer Tofu

Part Two – (Bitter) Sweet

  1. The Lemonheads – Kitchen
  2. The Cardigans – Happy Meal II
  3. Sia – Sweet Potato
  4. Sarah McLachlan – Ice Cream
  5. Tom Waits – Ice Cream Man
  6. Christian Kiefer – Sugar Plum Blues
  7. Tori Amos – Baker, Baker
  8. Rilo Kiley – Xmas Cake
  9. Dolly Parton – Hard Candy Christmas
  10. Harry McClintock – Big Rock Candy Mountain
  11. Jimmie Rodgers – Honeycomb
  12. Duffy – Syrup and Honey
  13. Hedwig & the Angry Inch – Sugar Daddy
  14. The Magnetic Fields – Sugar World
  15. Nina Simone – I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl
  16. M.I.A. – Sunshowers
  17. The Kills – Sour Cherry
  18. The Descendants – Sour Grapes
  19. The Flaming Lips – She Don’t Use Jelly
  20. The Mountain Goats – Jam Eater Blues
  21. Bob Dylan – Country Pie
  22. Tom T. Hall – Blackberry Dreams
  23. Roger Miller – Little Green Apples
  24. Cookie Monster – C is for Cookie

Some notes:

  • The final track of each album is a “hidden” track that I didn’t put on the listing but included as an amusing end to the musical meal. “The Beets” were the fictional vegetarian band from the early Nickelodeon cartoon Doug. And, of course, everything is better with Muppets.
  • “Shake” is included solely for the bizarrely random lyric “shake it like a bowl of soup.”
  • “Sunshowers” is included solely for the line “I salt and pepper my mango / shoot spit out the window,” which was my friend’s ringtone for ages.
  • As someone who loves eating jam from the jar, I fell hard in love with “Jam Eater Blues” the first time I heard it. Life is too short not to eat jam out of the jar.
  • Songs that were originally on “Savory” before I engaged in an epic battle with my computer over whether it would actually burn the damned CD already: George Strait, “Texas Cooking,” a Guy Clark cover that ripped poorly to my computer and turned into a corrupted mp3; the Kentucky Headhunters, “Dumas Walker,” a track that I cut for being too obscurely 80s-country (I tend to skew country on my mixes and I was trying to avoid that here) and replaced with “Closer to the Bone,” which I just happened to hear the day I was finishing these up; and Weezer, “I Want You To,” which went along with “Easy Mark” and “If I Had a Million Dollars” and was cut for time.

So what do you think? I find “Savory” to be stronger as a unified mix, but “(Bitter) Sweet” to be more varied. If I was making this mix solely for myself, there would have been more duplicated acts (oh, how I agonized over including “Sink Hole”).

Food is almost never simply about sustenance. It’s about family and love and culture and creativity. In fact, there’s a whole body of literature around food and the way humans relate to it. I’m not going to embarrass myself by writing some terribly trite and amateurish piece on the subject. But I will say that part of what drew me to this theme, part of what made me start to form the list in my head, is that these songs would catch my attention and force me to think more deeply about food as metaphor, about food as a cultural product, about food as art. And regardless of the presence of cupcake bras in the video, that is something that “California Gurls” is unlikely to produce.

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