Best-selling author Evan Wright tells DJ Mario Cotto how punk music led to the “total destruction” of his life, the rock song he thinks deserves to go in the canon of great war literature, and how, despite being a combat correspondent in the Middle East, his closest near-death experience was actually at a concert in LA. Wright’s earlier work was turned into an HBO mini-series, Generation Kill, and he just released a new book of observations called Hella Nation.
1.) Sex Pistols -Pretty Vacant
2.) MC Moto - It's Re-Up Time
3.) Black Sabbath - War Pigs
4.) Beck - Satan Give Me a Taco
5.) Dodo Marmarosa - Opus 5
Mario Cotto: Hi this is Mario Cotto from KCRW and I’m here with best-selling author Evan Wright. His earlier work was turned into an HBO miniseries Generation Kill and he just released a new book of observations entitled Hella Nation. Today, Evan is here to talk about music that’s inspired him over the years as a part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Hi Evan, what did you bring for us today?
Evan Wright: I brought the Sex Pistols, the foundation of my life. I brought the song “Pretty Vacant” because the whole album is great -- Never Mind the Bollocks -- but that song was always a personal favorite.
Song: Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant
EW: They were doing a tour in 1977, I was 12 years old. I was reading these little stories in the paper about this band that was touring the country, spitting on fans and vomiting on them and all these things that I thought were really cool. A friend of mine had moved to Arizona and he was the first one to get their album and he called me on a long distance call and he played one of their tracks and it was even better then I imagined. and then the album finally came to Cleveland. I lived out in the country and I had to walk - this is like the Abe Lincoln story of punk rock – I had to walk 5 miles through the snow and ice to this mall where there’s like this counter where they sold Bruce Lee posters and numchucks and next to that counter they had like three Sex Pistol albums and I got one. And it lead to the total destruction of my life, being kicked out of school. Punk rock just destroyed everything and it was great.
MC: “Pretty Vacant,” by The Sex Pistols. I’m Mario Cotto and we’re here with Evan Wright on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. I have never heard of this, what is this MC Moto?
EW: MC Moto, that’s the name of Josh Ray Person, is the artist. Josh Ray Person who was fictionalized in the HBO mini series Generation Kill was the driver of a humvee that I rode in during the invasion of Iraq. When I first showed up at the tent in the desert to meet these guys that I was going to write about before the war they didn’t have music but somebody did have this computer with like military secrets on it and this song that Josh Ray Person had recorded in the barracks at Camp Pendleton and it’s a spoof on Marine Corp life. Although Person is a politically very conservative guy he’s also like a complete subversive to any sort of authority. He’s very conflicted that way.
Song: MC Moto’s It’s Re-Up Time
EW: That song, “It’s Re-Up Time,” has this great line where he says “if I ever find the person with the whistle I’m gonna throw him off the o-fo level.” And that’s a reference to when you’re on these floats, on these ships, the marines float around for six months on ships waiting to invade countries there’s like these whistles that blow all the time -- of course there is no guy, it’s just a machine.
MC: So that was MC Moto with “It’s Re-Up Time” here on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. I’m Mario Cotto here with author Evan Wright. Next one’s a classic, what did you bring for us?
EW: Black Sabbath. “War Pigs.” I’m from Ohio and Ohio is very backwards, like in the 70’s, kids were still wearing like ducktails at the mall, like the 50’s was just hitting, but there was this strain of super stupid kids that I grew up with and they all listened to Black Sabbath and so, as a young punk rocker, I didn’t listen to Black Sabbath. But this song, “War Pigs,” I selected it because a lot of my work has been covering war and the military and when I came back from Iraq and I had been in the spearhead of the invasion I saw all this death and destruction and I heard “War Pigs” on the radio and it blew my mind because the song, both the sound and the lyrics, captures the experience of being in a war.
Song: Black Sabbath’s War Pigs
EW: What the Americans did was sort of a blitzkrieg on Iraq, and I was right there and so where Ozzy Osbourne has these lines like “In the field of body’s burning” -- its very evocative to someone who’s been to a combat zone. A band that I always thought was like the cheesiest band in the universe, really this song deserves to go in the canon of great war literature, you know, it’s up there with Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage.
MC: It’s “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath here on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. I’m Mario Cotto, here with author Evan Wright, and we’re taking a look at some of these tracks. You’ve got some Beck in here.
EW: Beck is a favorite, I love narrative music. I’ve lived in LA for many years and I used to go to this coffee shop downtown in Little Tokyo called Troy and I think it was actually owned by Beck’s mom. He used to perform there and before he released “Loser,” which sort of made him, he would walk in there and he’d be performing and you’d be the only person in the audience. I don’t remember if I saw him perform “Satan Gave Me a Taco,” but it was the type of music he was doing then, just these long insane stories.
Song: Beck’s Satan Gave Me a Taco
EW: I specifically remember Beck appeared on KCRW at some point, and I went to the Troy Café and it was jammed, like I couldn’t walk in. I was waiting outside, by the door, talking to this woman, and this support eyebeam fell off the building and crashed into the cement and I almost died. I was completely unscratched. It’s funny, as a combat correspondent, I’ve been to the Middle East many times, one of my most vivid near-death experiences is at a Beck performance.
MC: Beck’s “Satan Gave Me a Taco,” here on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. I’m Mario Cotto, and I’m here with author Evan Wright. What’s this last one here?
EW: “Dodo Marmarosa,” Opus 5. I’m a big fan of lost worlds, and lost themes, and Dodo Marmarosa, he was one of the most famous jazz pianists of his day. And he just had some sort of crack-up and he spent the last forty years of his life living in the basement of his parent’s house, and the last ten years in this state home where he would occasionally perform piano for the other residents.
Song” Dodo Marmarosa’s Opus 5
EW: My father is a huge jazz listener and I grew up hating jazz. One time when I was a kid I went to like a Buddy Rich concert at the Kirtland Community College in Ohio and there are all these like dudes with like dentures and toupees, and I was like “Get me out of here.” That was jazz. But I find his music so haunting, and powerful, I’ve come to really appreciate jazz. You know when I hear rock now, I hear commercials for cars. When I hear jazz I feel like I’m hearing America still. So it’s become, actually, the most important music to me.
MC: I want to say thanks for coming out and joining us here on KCRW.com for the Guest DJ Project. Evan – it’s a real pleasure. Thank you.
EW: Thanks for having me.
[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]