(Photo: sharonjonesandthedapkings.bandcamp.com)

Midlife Mixtape: Albums, Books and Other Music-Inspired Gifts

(Photo: sharonjonesandthedapkings.bandcamp.com)

O Holy Night, it’s already end of November and I’ve done zero holiday shopping so far this year – whoops. Normally all that’s left for me buy by December 1 are the tangerines for the toe of the Christmas stocking (that go uneaten in favor of the chocolate, but at least I try for the healthy option.) Not this year –  2016 kept knocking me down every time I got up.

Suck it, 2016. No tangerine for you.

I do, however, have lots of ideas for Christmahannakwaanzukah gifts for the music lovers, book readers, and sense of humor-havers in your lives. Some caveats: I believe in paying creative people for their work, so I still buy albums and print books (for which the musician/author gets a much higher royalty percentage.) I encourage you to shop locally. And this year in particular, I’m trying to find products that are made in parts of our country where manufacturing jobs have been lost. Maybe if people weren’t so disaffected and hopeless about the economy, they wouldn’t have been so quick to support someone offering them (false) promises.


Hamilton Mixtape I’m not even going to start on how the soundtrack to Hamilton is the most-listened album on my iPhone for the year, when I only downloaded it in October. (Join me on the latecomer’s bandwagon, where I am trying to make up for tardiness with evangelism!) But now there’s a new Hamilton Mixtape, produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Questlove, on which artists like Sia, Usher, and Nas reinterpret songs from the show. Which one is my favorite? Whichever I happen to have heard last, which today was “It’s Quiet Uptown” by Kelly Clarkson. Yes that was me sobbing as I drove down Park Boulevard at 8:20 am today. It drops December 2 but you can preorder and get a bunch of tracks now.

22, A Million – Bon Iver. It’s been forever since Justin Vernon and Co. have released an album, but totally worth the wait. With 22, A Million they’ve added on an electronica edge to the band’s more traditional folk feel, and it works in unexpectedly beautiful ways. This is what I play when we have dinner guests or when everybody just needs to calm the heck down, which is all the time lately.

Best Summer Ever, Har Mar Superstar I hate trying to pick my best concert of the year because frankly there are moments at every show when I think “this is IT.” But if I HAD to pick, I’d say the unexpected delight in discovering Har Mar back in May, at a live show in Chicago, pushed it to the top of the list. Afterward I started listening to Best Summer Ever on repeat and it reinforced that yes, this very funny and entertaining performer who looks like a cross between Ron Jeremy and your dentist has real chops with R&B, soul, and funk.

This is the song that Sean Tillman likes to sing as he moves through the crowd…dispensing sweaty hugs to a lucky few, like my friend Andrea.

Crowded House is celebrating its 30th anniversary with deluxe reissues of all the band’s albums. Check out the full list of albums here. (Honey, don’t bother buying any for me…I, um, took care of it a while ago.)  If you don’t have any Crowded House and don’t know where to start, buy Together Alone. Trust me on this.

Music Books

Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain by Alan Light. My friend Laurie has a theory that all the super creative geniuses leveled up this year, to leave our planet before it got Trumped. Between Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, I’d say there’s something to it. We’re all a bit nostalgic, right? This is perfect for the Prince fan still trying to cope – I wrote a longer review of it here.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield – a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in Bowie, this is basically a book-length love letter written by my favorite music writer of all time, Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield.

I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. This book came out in 2012 but if you or a Cohen fan in your life hasn’t read it, this would be a great time to pick it up. Acclaimed music journalist Simmons worked closely with Cohen in writing the book.

Born to Run: A Memoir by Bruce Springsteen. Ok, Bruce, you better not level up anytime soon. We need you. Loved this comprehensive and soul-searching account of Bruce’s days from childhood in Freehold, NJ, until today. Longer review here but a riveting account that reads like Bruce sings.

The Spitboy Rule by Michelle Gonzales. Let’s hear it for the girls in the bands – like my pal Michelle who was drummer for ‘90s punk band Spitboy. I love this memoir and its sharp observations about being a Xicana woman in a white male’s game. The Author Mixtape Michelle wrote for Midlife Mixtape is a must-listen.

Music-themed gifts

Farm to Feet socks – based in Mt. Airy, NC, Farm to Feet uses US materials, US manufacturing, and US workers. I bought this pair at REI – how cute would these socks be as stocking stuffers? Lots of other patterns available.


Concert Ticket Stub Doormats  from Lakeside Photo Works near New Orleans. I was really challenged thinking about which ticket stub I’d use, but then I remembered – we have a back door AND a side door!


Music Art prints from 17th And Oak on Etsy – I love the designs and muted colors of these lithographs. How cool would it be to have a “Mods” and “Rockers” poster next to each other on the wall?


Funny Music Themed Tea towels – I’m on the fence about these. Do they say, hahaha? Or do they say, “I’m a white privileged wanna-be creator of rap parodies who drives a minvan and says ‘On fleek!’ a lot?” You tell me. I’ll include the link in case it’s the former.


Insignia portable speaker – this little $20 Bluetooth speaker lives in my suitcase; it’s the perfect itty-bitty travel speaker, and the carabiner means you can clip it wherever it gives you the best sound. (Thanks to my friend and frequent conference hotel roomie Liz for turning me on to this one.) I attached this to my dad’s hospital bed back in July and he and I had an Avett Brothers Shuffle concert one evening, and it was kind of a transcendental moment.

And one final, last minute recommendation: last year Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings released “It’s a Holiday Soul Party,” and Santa left it under our Christmas tree. We will play it this year with extra reverence and gratitude for brave, brave Sharon Jones, may she rest in peace. The celestial choir just got a KNOCKOUT soloist.

Originally published on Mid-Life Mixtape

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