1. “Martha” by Tom Waits
I’ve never heard more longing in a song. There are plenty of songs about love and regret, and there are plenty of sad chords. And then every once in a while, you hear something that is so much bigger than the sum of its parts. In high school, I had this girlfriend, and she would put on “Foreign Affairs” and we would make out. This song isn’t on that album, but I fell in love with his voice and when that relationship ended, I took Tom Waits with me.
2. John F. Kennedy Memorabilia
I have a lot of it around my house. Growing up, we had this J.F.K. bust; I don’t know where my dad got it. Then I started collecting J.F.K. busts, and all these great J.F.K. speech compilation LPs. There’s just such a heavy cultural context that comes along with it that makes you think of so many hopeful, tragic, bizarre elements of what it is to be an American. He’s become a really interesting symbol to me, in his complication.
3. “The Ben Stiller Show”
It was a sketch show on MTV with Ben Stiller, Andy Dick, Bob Odenkirk and Janeane Garofalo that was so incredibly far ahead of its time. I see it as kind of the architecture for a lot of more bizarre comedy that has gotten really popular in the past 10 years. And it just isn’t culturally recognized in the way that you can throw it into a conversation the same way you can “Kids in the Hall” or Upright Citizens Brigade or even “The State” — those things people have a context for.
4. Martín Ramírez
He was part of a field of outsider artists. There’s a great book called “American Self-Taught” that highlights a lot of this stuff: Henry Darger, Bill Traylor, William Hawkins. All these artists mean a great deal to me, because there’s something really incredible about seeing work that nobody asked anyone to make. It just comes from the desire to make it. Martín Ramírez had some real mental health issues; I don’t have much in common with him or his story, but when I look at his work, it really feels like the inside of his brain.
5. Magic: The Gathering
A couple of years ago, my manager and I were walking by this comic shop. When I was growing up, everyone bought Magic cards — it was a big deal, at least in my corner of Jewish New Jersey. We went in and started talking to this guy behind the counter, who was talking about Magic in this really beautiful way. So we bought some cards and started playing and got obsessed with it. There’s such an art of putting together your deck. It’s a crazy meditation on your life: You make these choices, and you put all these theories and road maps into it, but then you shuffle your deck and hope one of them will pan out. It’s just a beautiful game that requires so much of your intellect and soul. And I’ve only scratched the surface. But it’s fun to be a part of something that you could never get to the end of. That’s a bit how I feel about music: The goal is not to master this thing, the goal is to be a part of it.