Matt Yglesias freely admits that he started writing his first blog in college when he needed “a new hobby to waste some time” when his girlfriend went abroad. But that hobby quickly turned into a job — a job with a succession of promising and prominent employers, as this time line of his career demonstrates. (Does having someone else put such effort into such a document say more about Matt or the Internet?)
These days, the man who earned the nickname Big Media Matt in the blogosphere’s virginal years, is writing for the ever-expanding ThinkProgress empire, where we were once “like-minded colleagues on a shared enterprise.” He is also writing an e-book about why rents are so high. When he first began working at CAP, he sat at a desk surrounded by piles of books. By the time I left, he was standing at a desk made out of a pile of those books. Matt being Matt, he blogged about that transition, which he does about most things in his life. For instance, when he was randomly jumped in DC, he turned the experience into a policy discussion on density and crime.
Despite being one of Robert Nozick’s last undergraduate students, Yglesias believes in fighting for “the historic liberal project.” A public intellectual of the polymath variety, he views his role in that fight as connecting “events in the news to elements of a bigger picture.” But he also likes music, particularly of a certain vintage. And that’s why I spoke to him recently.
What is the first website (other than your own or email) that you visit in the morning?
New York Times!
How would you describe your taste/interest in music?
I have a deep and abiding love for the nineties alt rock of my youth and now that I’m thirty I spend less and less time focusing on new bands and good music and more time immersed in pathetic nostalgia. But in general my tastes run toward female singers and generous use of synthesizers more than a traditional “rock and roll” paradigm. I also think I’m more into song lyrics than most people.
Name five of your favorite songs at the moment (in no particular order).
In heavy rotation right now I’ve got:
1) Ida Maria “Cherry Red”
2) Fucked Up “Serve Me Right”
3) Thao & Mirah “Sugar and Plastic”
4) Yelle “C’est Pas Un Vie”
5) PJ Harvey “The Words That Maketh Murder”
Name five of your favorite albums of all time (in no particular order).
1) Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones
2) Nirvana, Nevermind
3) The Clash, self-titled
4) Metric, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?
5) And because I think this kind of exercise merits naming something obscure to show off, let me cite Kathleen Hannah’s badly underrated Julie Ruin solo album.
What are some songs to which you have a particular emotional attachment?
I listened to Stars’ Set Yourself On Fire album over and over again during a very difficult period in my life so I feel strongly connected to a lot of those songs, especially “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead.” At the time I found that album very comforting, though it’s almost painful for me to listen to now. Perhaps less respectably, Everclear’s “Santa Monica” will for me always, always stand for a peculiar kind of desperate high school exuberance. Chumbawumba’s “Tubtthumping” was literally playing the first time I got so drunk in a bar that I puked, so that has deep meaning to me (obviously).
How did you first get interested in music and how has your taste developed since then?
I first started listening to music really around 1994-95. I didn’t have an older sibling and neither did any of my good friends, and the school we went to was strictly a K-8 affair so we were in some ways pretty closed off from outside culture. But this was New York City so we had a bunch of good record stores. I got Dookie after hearing some Green Day songs on the radio, and then guys at some store in the neighborhood got me to buy Kerplunk and 1039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and also Rancid’s stuff. Then onward into the Clash. I was never by any means a punk in high school, but that kind of music was generally my thing along with whatever was on the damn altervantive rock radio at the time. I wound up going in a different direction after college.
What are some of your musical guilty pleasures?
I don’t believe in guilt! It’s all pleasure. But I like Katy Perry and Lilly Allen.
If you were running for President in 2012, what song would you use as your campaign theme?
Rainer Maria’s “Catastrophe Keeps Us Together” seems like a decent song for our times.
What is your opinion on downloading copyrighted material without paying for it?
I have no problem with it, as a general matter. If there’s an artist whose work you really like and respect, you owe it to the world to support their work. That could mean buying merch or paying for their albums or going to their shows or whatever. But by the same token, it should mean spreading the news and enthusiasm for the band. Giving others free copies of great albums can be a good way of supporting a band, as long as everyone understands that if you discover you really like someone’s work you should go on to find a way to support them financially. But it’s not like downloading a copy of “Satisfaction” is going to send Mick Jagger to the poorhouse or eliminate financial incentives for bands to record cool songs.
To hear a mix, created by me and based on Matt’s description of his musical interests, click HERE or listen here:
Here’s the tracklist:
1) Frank Black & The Catholics — Blast Off
2) The Amps — Tipp City
3) The Olivia Tremor Control — A Peculiar Noise Called “Train Director”
4) Stereo Total — C’est La Mort
5) Robyn Hitchcock — Adoration Of The City
6) Bachelorette — Instructions For Insomniacs
7) Komeda — Happyment
8 ) Imperial Teen — Balloon
9) Butterglory — Waiting On The Guns
10) Todd Snider — Statistician’s Blues
11) Pavement — Embassy Row
12) The Mountain Goats — Pet Politics (Silver Jews Cover)
13) Harvey Danger — Cream And Bastards Rise
14) Big Audio Dynamite — Medicine Show
15) Carbon/Silicon — The Global War On Culture
16) Elastica — How He Wrote Elastica Man
17) The Wedding Present — What Did Your Last Servant Die Of?
18) The Monochrome Set — The Ruling Class
19) Field Music — A House Is Not A Home
20) The Concretes — Seems Fine