Author Ransom Riggs is best known for the New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The evocative imagery and haunting quality that define his writings can also be found in all of his song picks, from an old blues tune to Tom Waits. A movie adaptation of his novel, directed by Tim Burton and starring Samuel L Jackson, will be out next year and a new book in the series, Library of Souls, is out September 22.
- Geeshie Wiley - "Last Kind Word Blues"
- Cesaria Evora - "Sodade"
- Morphine - "The Night"
- Levon Helm - "The Mountain"
- Tom Waits - "Come On Up to the House"
Chris Douridas: Hi, I’m Chris Douridas and I’m here with author Ransom Riggs. Good to have you here.
Ransom Riggs: Amazing to be here.
CD: Amazing to have you here. Ransom is best known for the book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. A movie adaptation directed by Tim Burton will be out next year and a third book in the series called Library of Souls is out now.
Now, today we’re going to be playing excerpts of songs that you selected that have inspired you over the years as a part of our KCRW Guest DJ Project. Ransom, so how did you settle on the first one?
RR: This is a song I first ran into, I think like many people, watching the documentary Crumb. And he, aside from being a sort of cultural powerhouse of cartoonists, is a big collector of old blues 45s and 78s and so the soundtrack to this documentary is these old sort of ghostly haunting songs.
This one, of all of the songs on that soundtrack, just jumped out at me and I just sort of felt like there were ghosts talking to me through the soundwaves of this particular track. I got a little obsessed with who these people were -- Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas. And all we really know about them -- they recorded this song in 1930, I think -- all we really know about them is their names and not even necessarily that. They’re these sort of phantoms of pre-war blues who various scholars and collectors have tried to track down and get more information about.
CD: When would you listen to a song like this?
RR: That’s a great question. It’s not a party song. [laughs] It’s not something you throw on when you’re blasting down the PCH with the windows down.
It’s something I’d listen to, I think, when I’m looking for inspiration. I write stories that are sort of like little mysteries. I love mysteries and investigations into sort of, you know, the unknown and what’s out there and the shadows scratching at the window in the night. And this song takes me right there in this sort of melancholy, you can’t quite put your finger on.
Song: Geeshie Wiley – “Last Kind Word Blues”
CD: That’s Geeshie Wiley, “Last Kind Word Blues”, part of the Guest DJ Project here at KCRW with our guest Ransom Riggs. Next up, what do we have?
RR: Cesaria Evora. I first heard this song in college and I had to know who it was and what this was. The song itself is called “Sodade,” which describes a feeling in Portuguese that you can’t translate into English. It’s a kind of nostalgia for things that are inaccessible but stronger, it’s stronger than nostalgia. I have a Wikipedia description of what this means on my phone and it’s so beautiful and it’s something I feel all the time but I can never quite put into words. This song describes this: a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist. Not an act of discontent, but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. So the fact that a song, some acoustic instruments and this woman’s soulful voice, can encompass all of that is just something that speaks to the mystery of music and the magic of music.
Song: Cesaria Evora – “Sodade”
CD: That is Cesaria Evora, “Sodade,” from the 1992 release Miss Perfumado. It is part of the Ransom Riggs Guest DJ Project here at KCRW. I’m Chris Douridas, what’s next for us here?
RR: Morphine, “The Night”. This song sounds like a snake slithering across a floor. It has such a unique atmosphere that I feel I almost never hear. It was just this sort of perfect moment in time captured by Mark Sandman, the man who was behind Morphine. His strange voice and this combination of the horns, the low horns and his fretless bass playing that no one else really did before him, I think, at least in rock music. And it’s about stories, it’s about folk tales of the unexplainable he even says it in the song. It’s so much to do with what I am interested in and the stories I want to tell and the feeling of those stories. And it’s another haunting song; it’s a song full of ghosts.
CD: Mark Sandman, he is the front man for Morphine. Morphine’s “The Night” from the album of the same name.
Song: Morphine – “The Night”
CD: “The Night”, from Morphine-Dreamwork’s release-late 90’s work from the band. It’s part of the Guest DJ Project here at KCRW with our guest Ransom Riggs, what do we have next here?
RR: This is a song by Levon Helm, better known as the singer and drummer from The Band. I love this song because it represents this sort of comeback from death to me. Levon had a serious battle with cancer, throat cancer I think in particular, in the early 2000’s, and his career ended. He thought that he could never sing again. Then he came back from that with a kind of new voice and it’s just this sort of rawness of his sound here feels like someone who has seen the other side and is coming back to tell us about it. I love this sort of Lazarus feeling to this song.
CD: Do you recall when you first heard this Levon Helm song?
RR: I have a friend named Jacob who made a documentary about Levon. It’s called Ain’t in it for my Health, and he shot a lot of the sessions that Levon and his daughter and his Midnight Rambler jam folk did in the lead up to his comeback albums. So that’s where I found this, but I love story songs and this is one of those songs that transports you to a different place and then into the mind and life of a person who you probably don’t encounter on a day to day basis. A downtrodden miner who, I think just closed the mine. I love the last couple lines, “There’s ghosts in the tunnels that the company sealed.”
Song: Levon Helm – “The Mountain”
CD: Levon Helm, “The Mountain,” from Dirt Farmer. KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. You’ve saved a KCRW favorite for the end of the playlist.
RR: I grew up on KCRW, so maybe I’m just giving back here, but I’ve loved Tom Waits ever since I was a young guy. I felt like after all of this minor key death music, it was time for a big injection of hope and redemption. This song is that, it’s got this church hymn piano backing and his voice, which just sounds like you know a devil redeemed and come up from hell to preach the gospel or something. I think he once described his voice as Louis Armstrong and Ethel Merman meeting in hell. But it’s got such raw power. I love music that’s made by people who just have so much raw innate talent that they don’t need much ornamentation.
CD: It’s the great Tom Waits, “Come on up to the House,” from Mule Variations, 1999. KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.
Song: Tom Waits – “Come On Up to the House”
CD: That is "Come On Up to the House" from Mule Variations, Tom Waits to finish up the Guest DJ Project appearance of Ransom Riggs, our guest DJ. Thank you so much for putting so much thought and care into this. It’s been great having you here.
RR: Thanks, it’s been a true pleasure and a treat to be here.