Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Random Rules: Daniel Handler

The shuffler: Daniel Handler, who has written novels under his own name—the most recent is last year's Adverbs—but is best known as A Series Of Unfortunate Events author Lemony Snicket. He's also an accomplished accordionist, and can be heard pushing and pulling alongside Stephin Merritt on albums by The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, and The Gothic Archies.

José González, "Deadweight On Velveteen"

Daniel Handler: I just put this album on, so I'm not that familiar with it. I bought this a couple weeks ago—or it might have been sent to me, actually. I get sent a lot of CDs due to the mistaken belief that there's something I can do to help indie-pop bands. [Laughs.] I know that even though his name is José González, he's from Sweden. Sweden is unreliable for music, I find. They had some highs and they had some very deep valleys. As I said, I don't know very much about this record, but the things that charmed me were: a) slightly Joy Division-ish packaging; b) self-recorded; and c) under 30 minutes long. I like a short album. What else can I say about this? There's a Swedish drink called aquavit—I home-brew it in my basement. So if José González ever came over and he were nostalgic for Swedish drinking, I could scratch that itch.


Silver Jews, "There Is A Place"

DH: I like them a lot. The song on this album, Tanglewood Numbers, that I really love is called "How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down," but this one is nice, too. David Berman, the singer-songwriter, has a collection of poetry that's really good. Also, Silver Jews are part of my theory that the side band is usually better than the main band, because they were sort of regarded as a Pavement side band for a long time, and I always thought they were better than Pavement. Further examples of this theory include Latin Playboys, who are way better than Los Lobos, and Bossanova—they're this great band that is being touted as a side project of The New Pornographers.

Prince, "4 The Tears In Your Eyes"

DH: This is from the B-side disc of his greatest-hits collection. I'm an enormous fan of Prince. As is my butcher, Bobby. Recently, I gave Bobby a copy of this book about Sign 'O' The Times from that 33 1/3 series [written by A.V. Club contributor Michaelangelo Matos —ed.], and he was so happy to receive some Prince paraphernalia that he didn't already own that he came out from behind the butcher counter and gave me a big hug. But first he had to tear off this enormous piece of butcher paper and sort of hold it to his body with his chin so that when he hugged me, meat juice wouldn't get all over me.


The A.V. Club: You seem to have quite an intimate relationship with your butcher.

DH: [Laughs.] It's actually because my 2-year-old son has a deep love for African-American men, and runs up to them and talks to them whenever he sees them. One of his first words was "Bobby," because he likes Bobby so much. So Bobby and I became friends because I sort of chaperone my 2-year-old son on his brief dates with our butcher.


AVC: It's very Brady Bunch to have a butcher be such an important part of your life.

DH: [Laughs.] It's nice to talk to Bobby, particularly when a new Prince album comes out, because then the next time I see him, we exchange theories about it. I have a memory of this song being performed via videotape at Live Aid. I don't remember what it's a flip-side to, and it might not actually be a flip-side. It just might be previously unreleased. I think Bobby came to respect me as a fellow Prince fan when I told him that I'd been listening to this Prince song in the car right before I arrived at the store called "Cloreen Bacon Skin," which is this crazy 15-minute-long track that Prince and Morris Day played together, just playing bass and drums and performing this really strange, hilarious monologue for 15 minutes. He said, "Oh, I love that song. And, you know, they loop part of the drum part for another Prince song." And I said, "Yeah, 'Irresistible Bitch.'" And he was so impressed by that—that cemented our friendship.


Lou Johnson, "Reach Out For Me"

DH: From disc one of the Burt Bacharach box set called The Look Of Love. I think I've bought four of these box sets and given them to people as presents. I heartily recommend that your readers buy one as well. The first disc is sort of mid-'50s through early '60s, and then the second disc is what people think of when they think of Burt Bacharach—sort of prime '60s, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield kind of stuff. And then the third disc is '70s, The 5th Dimension, and then it begins to sort of devolve into cheese like Christopher Cross. And then it makes a fairly decent save at the end with a track by Elvis Costello. I usually put on the whole box set whenever I have a party. This song doesn't really bring up anything in particular for me, but Lou Johnson is a fantastic vocalist, and no one's really heard of him. I hadn't heard of him until I bought this box set.


Aimee Mann, "Deathly"

DH: Magnolia soundtrack. Sort of a standard alt-rock choice, I guess. [Laughs.] I think this is the song, according to the liner notes, that Mr. Anderson got inspiration for the entire movie from. It's the one that begins, "Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing each other again?" Which is actually recited in the film as a line of dialogue. I've been an Aimee fan for a long time. I was a huge 'Til Tuesday fan, and their last album, Everything's Different Now, is really beautiful. I listened to it recently, and some of the production is a little dated, but the songs are fantastic. I'm noticing some background vocals—sounds like it might be Juliana Hatfield. Maybe it's just Aimee Mann singing like Juliana Hatfield.


Charles Mingus, "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues"

DH: It's from Mingus Plays Piano, which is a very nice album. Mingus was a bass player, and there's a recording of this piece on another one of his records. I think on Changes. But this record is just piano solo. He also has a wonderful autobiography called Beneath The Underdog that includes instructions for making a woman scream in bed.


Electric President, "We Were Never Built To Last"

DH: My iPod thinks the album is titled S/T, but I actually think it's just a self-titled album. Maybe it is called S/T. This was sent to me. I like it. It's sort of laptop pop, I guess. In general, I like albums where they never give up on production or on songwriting. This is one of those albums.


AVC: What do you mean by that?

DH: Well, some albums have wonderful sounds—there are bands that use interesting instruments or different tunings or something, but the songs are really boring. And then there are great songwriters who just sort of put electric guitar, bass, and drums, and they're done. And those albums often end up boring me. This album is great to listen to in headphones, in particular. But then the songs are really gorgeous. The singer has a sort of nasal voice. They're not unlike Postal Service, in that constant world-weary melancholy combined with almost house-music beats.


Hank Williams, "Wedding Bells"

DH: From this set I have of the complete Health & Happiness shows—this is from Health & Happiness episode seven. I'm very picky about my country music, but I like very old-time country music like Hank Williams, and then I like some of the new punky stuff like Silver Jews.


Beck, "Rental Car"

DH: From Guero. I like Beck as a party guy more than I like Beck as a balladeer, so I like this record a lot. I actually think this album is sort of a culmination of everything he's done. It has a lot of country-type acoustic stuff on it, and it has a lot of hip-hop stuff. It's a lot like Mutations.


Lilys, "Leo Ryan (Our Pharoah's Slave)"

DH: From The 3 Way, which is, I think, their best album. It's another half-hour-long record, and it's very Kinks-y. Actually, what it sounds like to me is Rushmore. So it's not only Kinks-y, but that exact slice of Brit-pop from the late '60s.


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